My name is Eliane K. N. Aguiar, I’m from Recife (a big city placed in the northeast of Brazil) and I was about to finish the 4th year when I went abroad for an Internship in General Surgery. Why did I choose Russia? Actually, in the beginning I was assigned to a clerkship in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but my Application File (AF) didn’t arrive in time. So I had the opportunity to go to Mexico, and again somehow it didn’t work out. Finally, when I applied to Russia everything went well: AF and CA (Confirmation of Acceptance). As John Lennon would say: “-There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be”.
A dip into a Frozen Lake…
The Epiphany, celebrated in Russia on January 19th marks the Baptism of Jesus in the Orthodox Church calendar. Russians all over the country cut holes in the ice of lakes and rivers, often in the shape of a cross and a priest blesses the water before it starts. Participants in the ritual generally dip themselves three times under the water, honoring the Holy Trinity, to symbolically wash away their sins from the past year and to experience a sense of spiritual rebirth. Before arriving at one of the lakes, which was placed in front of an Orthodox Church, I was wondering how that could be possible to be done. Because it was almost one o’clock in the morning, -27ºC and I was freezing with my coat on. I confess that I’ve thought to myself: “-They must be crazy!” But when I finally got there, I’ve found my answer: faith and a strong mind. It was incredible to see: women, old people, skinny people; dipping into the lake. From that moment, I realized there was nothing to do with the body and physical preparation, it was all about getting your mind focused in what you believe and then nothing is impossible. This experience was amazing and very inspiring, made me think about all that I had done in 2011 and what I should do differently for now on. Maybe the ones who dip into the water are not the only ones who get some kind of purification.
Continuing my adventure threw the Russian Culture, I think it’s time to take a break and grab a bite to eat. In the beginning when I wasn’t with my Russian friends or the restaurant didn’t have an English menu or a waiter/waitress who spoke English, I can compare buying and eating Russian food to a Kinder Egg. Why? Because, you only get to know the surprise that’s hidden inside, after you eat it. Despite the odds, I just had very pleasant and tasty surprises. Moreover, once you learn a bit of the Cyrillic alphabet, you can order: Peraski, Borscht, Pelmeni, Russian pancakes and Russian salty pies; knowing exactly what the waitress will bring.
Although the Russian language was a challenge, communicating was not a brain surgery. Chelyabinsk’s citizens were always kind and helpful, even the ones who didn’t speak English. One thing I’ve learned: Brazil is a very powerful word there! Whenever my roomies and I needed some help at stores, supermarkets, pubs, restaurants; we just had to say in Russian, that we were Brazilians and we didn’t know how to speak Russian. Quickly, the other person would try to communicate using mimics and saying the very few words in English that they knew and in the end it always worked out. That was when I discovered the first similarity between Russians and Brazilians: we do it all to help someone in need, especially foreigners.
Cutting to the chase…
Most people take surgeons as the medicine butchers: it’s all about blood, flesh, muscles, bones and organs; just cutting you open, repairing the damages and closing you up. Thinking about the experiences that I’ve had so far in my country and in Russia, I can prove them wrong! During my clerkship at Chelyabinsk’s Railway Hospital I realized that the Russian surgeons do care about building a good doctor-patient relationship, like in Brazil. In addition to that, my roomies and I were extremely surprised about how humble the Russian surgeons are. Most of them are as good as the Brazilian doctors but without the typical arrogance that we are used to.
Every Monday I would go with Dr. Dmitry Smirnov and other doctors to make the post-operation rounds and he translated everything to me. The rest of the week, I used to spend assisting Dr. Dmitry in general surgeries or watching the Plastic Surgeon perform face lifting’s. Dr. Dmitry Smirnov is an exceptional doctor and a very attentive tutor; he did all that was possible to make my clerkship perfect. I remember one specific Inguinal Hernia procedure when I was helping him up and suddenly the radio station started to play “Bossa Nova”, a well-known style of Brazilian music from the 1950s and 1960s. It was unbelievable and also unforgettable, made me feel at home! We continued the surgery talking about what he knew about my country; surprisingly it was way beyond samba and soccer.
Furthermore, it was very rewarding to see the patients getting out of the OR thanking Dr. Dmitry, the nurse and even me. Those were the most meaningful “spaseebas”-thank you(s)-that I’ve heard and the most remarkable “pajalstas”-you’re welcome(s)-which I’ve said. Among all doctors, I believe the surgeons should be the most careful ones, because underneath their precise incisions, clamps and sutures rests more than a body, but a soul. That’s the kind of doctor who I want to be, the type who heals the body and takes care of the soul.
The social program couldn’t have been better! Therefore, I must thank all IFMSA students and my roomies: Bruno Ceranto, Fernanda Gurgel and Leonardo Schiochet. If you’re thinking about the names and wondering if they were all Brazilians… You’re right! I was pretty lucky to meet them and to have them by my side making history in Chelyabinsk.
We went to: clubs, pubs, parks, restaurants, the zoo, the ballet, a hockey match. Moreover, we engaged into some winter sports: ice skating, snowboarding and skiing. I have to admit that it wasn’t easy, but we had some fantastic teachers helping us up.
Trips? Yeah! The first one was to a Frozen Lake, on where I even had a running race against my friend Natalya Borovaya, in the middle of the night. When we got to the other side of the lake, each one of us took our turn sliding down a ramp. The next day, we had barbecue for lunch. I’ve never thought that I would have a barbecue in Russia, especially in the wintertime. Our second trip was to Yekaterinburg, which is placed almost on the border between Europe and Asia. This city is also famous because the Romanovs (the last Royal Family of Russia) were murdered there. We had the chance to visit “The Cathedral on the Blood”, which stands on the site of the Ipatiev House (where the Romanovs were killed).
As you might know, Gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But it was impossible to remain as a pure Christian during the Russian and Brazilian dinners at Elena Belyantseva’s house. We ate, laughed and danced a lot at both dinners. Our Russian friends taught us how to dance according to the Russian tradition and in return, we taught them how to dance: samba, forró and frevo (three completely different styles of Brazilian music).
The end of my stay in Chelyabinsk was marked with that old cliché: if you’re Brazilian, you know how to play soccer. So we played snow soccer twice and I’ve had tons of fun on both days.
Some people might say that one month is nothing; I disagree, because it felt like a lifetime. So that we incorporated part of the Russian traditions, such as receiving a friend’s visit with cookies and tea and also bringing gifts every time we were invited to a friend’s home. Furthermore, the friends that I’ve made in there are responsible for giving me the best time of my life.
Tears of Joy…
Dr Seuss once said: “-Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”. Therefore, no tears were dropped! Instead of sadness, we chose: tight hugs (to say how much we care about each other), big and honest smiles (to show how much fun we had together) and an “I’ll see you soon” (in place of a hurtful Goodbye). I must say thank you again to all of my Russian friends, specially the IFMSA students, for doing everything to make me feel at home and have a great time.
I decided to finish this article with a quote from a movie - The Lovely Bones -because it expresses perfectly my feelings about the exchange in Chelyabinsk: “-Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams you never even knew you had”.