Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Preparing to Leave

We are really finally settled here in Georgia. Everything is unpacked. Everything has been designated a "spot" in the house, from toys to kitchen gadgets. We've been buying local art pieces, pottery, paintings, baskets and more to decorate with. The walls are finally displaying more than just paint. Family photos have been hung upstairs, paintings from Yerevan and from the local Georgian art market are gracing the walls downstairs. This is now our home.

And in a little over a month, I have to pack up myself and our 3 year old and leave. To go back to the states so that I can give birth in a safer environment than what is offered by Georgian hospitals. I want to leave and go to the states for the birth, but at the same time, I don't want to leave my home and my husband for 3 (or more) months. I just don't.

David and I will be celebrating 10 years of marriage in January. In those 10 years, we really haven't spent a whole lot of time apart. A week here or there when I would travel to Alabama to visit my elderly grandparents - but most of the time he was able to swing the time off of work and go with me. Since we have been in Tbilisi, he has gone to Yerevan on business 3 times. The first time was a 2 week visit and Blaine and I went with him. The second time was from Monday to Friday, so it was over in the blink of an eye. This last trip was another 2 weeker and Blaine and I did not travel with him.

It sucked. I missed him terribly. Blaine wanted to know where daddy was - every time we would go to the Embassy to pick up mail Blaine would light up "we're going to daddy's office!". I would try to explain that daddy wasn't in his office, he was in Yerevan, but Blaine just doesn't grasp the concept of that yet. How the heck am I going to explain that he isn't going to see his dad for upwards of 2 months? How do I tell him that? How do I prepare him to leave the man he absolutely adores and hero worships? Hell, how do I prepare myself?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hospitals from Hell

During my pregnancy here in Georgia, I have been doing all my prenatal visits through the US Embassy Health Unit. I was very lucky because a Navy doctor, who was here to do med support for the SSOP Marine operation in Tbilisi, was coming into the health unit every Tuesday to help out while we were waiting for our new Nurse Practitioner(NP) to arrive. The Navy doc was trained for OB work - he was even certified to do C-Sections. Unfortunately, his tour is up this month and he is headed back to the states. So, since I have at least 2 more prenatal checks before I head back to the states I just assumed that the NP would take over my care. I assumed wrong.

The NP is a lovely woman but she has little to no OB experience and she doesn't seem quite keen on gaining any. As a matter of fact, one of the first things she has done since arriving here was to find a local Georgian OB/GYN who speaks English. When I went to visit the NP last week to discuss some issues I was having with this pregnancy, her response was to make me an appointment with the Georgian doc.

So, on Monday I went to the Georgian doc, with me was Dr. Levan, who is the Embassy's Georgian staff doctor. He is fluent in Russian, Georgian and English and I figured if I needed anything medical translated, he would be my guy. Dr. Levan picked me up at 10:45 and we headed to a local hospital where the Georgian doc has his offices. When we pulled up in front of the building, the OB's nurse was waiting for us. She asked us to follow her inside and, a bit nervous, I did so.

First stop was the elevator. Normally the elevator ride to a doctor's office wouldn't really merit a mention. But this was a special elevator ride. You see, when we approached the elevator, I noticed that the door was propped open with a stick. It seems the elevator operator had to run out and no one is allowed to go anywhere in the elevator without her. So we waited a few minutes and finally she comes back. With a bag of pears. I guess she really, really wanted a pear. She takes the stick out of the door and then puts her hand out and everyone in the elevator gives her money. It cost 20 tetri (about a dime) to ride the elevator to the 6th floor. Once everyone had paid up, she pushed in the buttons and the door closed and the lights in the building all went dim as the electricity was sucked up by the elevator. At this point, as you may be able to imagine, I was about to pee my pants. I'm not a huge elevator fan in the first place - due to my claustrophobia. We arrive at the 6th floor and the doors open. And then the nurse cautions me to watch my step. You see, the elevator does not actually line up with the floor. So I have to step up and out of the elevator to actually get to my destination.

Relieved that the elevator ride is over, and thinking that the worst is behind me, I follow the nurse and Dr. Levan into the waiting room of the Dr.'s office. This waiting room consists of 2 metal chairs, a sink, and a closet that holds all manner of operating gowns. Privately, I am questioning the sterility of the gowns in the closet when the door to the inner office/exam room opens and the Georgian doc comes out and invites us in.

Now, I am expecting an actual exam room. I am mistaken. In this inner office there are 2 desks with chairs, an extra chair and a leather (or possibly vinyl...I didn't look too closely) couch with rips in the cushions. I sit in the chair on the other side of the desk from the doc, Dr. Levan takes a seat at the other desk and the nurse has a seat on the couch and we discuss my pregnancy. Eventually the doctor decides he wants to examine me and he invites me to lay down on the ripped sofa. I know I must have had a look on my face like "you have to be shitting me!" because the doctor motions to me again, more insistent. I get on the couch, cringing inside as I lie back. The doc pokes at my belly a little and tells me everything is normal and helps me sit up. He refers me to a cardiologist for a consult (I have mitral valve prolapse and the way this baby is lying is pushing everything up into my chest, thus making my heart prolapse much more noticeable) and as we are saying our good byes, he is called into the delivery room. He reaches into his desk and pulls out a surgical mask from a pile he has there, puts it on his face and dashes out. I just hope he stopped at the sink in the waiting room and washed his hands.

Don't misunderstand me. I think the doctor is qualified, intelligent and he seemed to be quite a decent guy. But the quality of his surroundings leave a lot to be desired. I won't even describe the pictures I saw of women in the delivery room. I just couldn't do them justice.

The next day, Dr. Levan picks me up again and we head to the cardiologist. If I had thought the OB hospital was bad, well this one was worse. We pull into a small dirt courtyard - I asked Dr. Levan where we were as I did not recognize any of the surrounding buildings. When he tells me we are going to the cardiology hospital I am taken aback. None of the buildings look habitable, much less like hospitals. We walk across the courtyard to a concrete entrance way, once inside, the smell of mold and mildew, a deep mustiness, fills my nostrils. We climb 2 flights of crumbling stairs, all the while I'm marveling at the dirt and mold crawling up the walls and the people smoking on the landings. I ask Dr. Levan again if he is SURE this is a hospital. He tells me to wait and see.

We enter the building on the second level, make a quick right and walk through a set of double doors and I am astounded. This whole section has been remodeled. It was like walking out of the middle ages and onto the set of ER. New flooring, walls, ceiling. All brand new state-of-the art equipment. Everything is fastidiously clean. I am amazed that this actually exists in this building which from the outside seems to be held up by dirt and mold.

I meet the cardiologist, who is a highly credentialed doctor and quite a nice guy to boot. He does an echo cardiogram of my heart and tells me that everything is fine. The only real cure for my problem is to delivery this baby and get the pressure off of my esophagus, thus lessening the acid reflux that is making my mitral valve so much more noticeable. I thank him, pay my 30 Lari (about 16 bucks) and we leave.

When telling friends about my experience with Georgian hospitals, I like to joke that it's like an episode of that documentary "Scared Straight". If you recall, in "Scared Straight" a bunch of teen trouble makers were taken into a maximum security prison to meet with inmates who were on death row or who had life in prison sentences. The goal was to, as the title implies, scare them straight. I say visiting a Georgian OB/GYN hospital is like being scared celibate.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Booze, Bread, Baskets and Pottery!

David, Blaine and I took a trip out of Tbilisi today - we had no particular destination, we just wanted to head down the road towards Poti and shop along the way. David went to Poti on business a week or so ago and he took his GPS along and marked all the cool little shopping towns along the way, the ones that you won't find in a guidebook. There was the little town where Gomi Vodka is made, a small village where sweet bread is sold at stands every 5 feet, there was the basket shopping district and the pottery district. We also lucked into a boiled corn section of town (no I'm not kidding).

The first stop was at the Gomi Vodka factory store and restaurant. Mainly because I had to use the bathroom and we figured the restaurant would have something better than a squatty potty, which in my pregnant state is just not a feasible thing to try to do. The store itself is small - once Blaine, David and I were inside, there wasn't room for anyone else other than the cashier. We really had no intention of purchasing vodka as neither one of us are fans of the stuff, but we changed our mind when we saw how much a half-liter bottle of the stuff cost. It was 3 Lari and 60 Tetri. Which translates roughly to 2 bucks US. How can you turn down a 2 dollar bottle of vodka? Especially when they come in such nifty flavors? We purchased 5 bottles: Pepper, Honey, Lemon, Mint and regular vodka flavor. We also ended up getting some khachapuri in their restaurant to munch on before we hit the road again. Oh, and our assumption was right, they had quite a nice bathroom.

We left the vodka stop and headed down the road, on our way to pottery, baskets and bread. We decided to pass by the bread and baskets and head all the way out to the pottery town and then work our way back. The pottery place was just amazing. I had no plans to buy any pottery (I was planning on spending most of my cash on baskets) but once I got there, I changed my mind. We bought vases, wine pitchers, wine horns, keti pots, and a little piggy bank for Blaine. The stuff was amazing and amazingly cheap. I plan on going back an buying more.

After pottery, we turned the car around and started working our way back toward Tbilisi. Our next stop was for baskets. The basket stands had some very beautiful things and some really crappy things. This is where it pays to be careful and inspect what you are buying, especially as the baskets are not all that inexpensive. I did end up with a nice basket to put all my crafty cross-stitch stuff in and a basket for baby blankets for when the baby arrives. I also got a neat little basket for the kitchen to toss fruit into.

Along the way back we stopped to check out the corn stands. Now, we have tried buying corn at the farmer's market here in Tbilisi and it's not sweet and kind of tastes blah when boiled - even if I add sugar to the water. But this stuff? It was delicious. It only costs 1 lari for a boiled ear of corn on the cob and it's some of the tastiest corn I've ever had. We stopped and bought one ear from a little old lady on the side of the road and after David and I both took a bite, we decided to stop again and bought a few more ears from a young boy tending the fire a few blocks down the road. It's hard to explain, but literally this corn comes from people's private gardens and they just build a little wood fire on the side of the road and set a pot with corn on to boil. Then they sit and wait for someone to stop and buy from them. If it weren't a 2 hour drive away, I would go there at least every other day to get fresh boiled corn. Seriously.

A little further down the road we drive into what David refers to as "the Colonial village" and what I called "bread town". As far as the eye can see lining each side of the road are little stick and mud shacks, each a little bigger than the size of an outhouse, where bread is made. Regular Georgian Lavash bread and also "slotkey hleb" which translates as "sweet bread". The little shacks each house a raised, round concrete oven in which the breads are made. We stopped and bought a sweet bread from one of the stands, which tastes like it was made with honey and cinnamon. It was delicious.

Our last stop on the way home was at a small farmer's market on the side of the road. I bought a kilo or two of delicious tomatoes (Georgia has some of the best damn tomatoes I have EVER had). I also bought some apples and peaches to make a crisp and a cobbler, respectively. Oh, and we got Blaine some bananas and a small watermelon for me.

All in all, it was a great day in Georgia.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

From a world away

I watch.

I watch when hurricanes start forming off the coast of Africa.

I watch as they move closer to Florida. Closer to my parents, my family, my husband's family, my friends.

I watch as they grow stronger or weaker and I breathe a sigh of relief as they pass by, sparing the ones I love.

But this one? Katrina? She missed my family and friends in Florida, but she hit my family in Alabama. My friends in Mississippi and Louisiana. And thousands upon thousands of people I do not know but my heart breaks for.

I watch what little news we get on our one news channel on the Armed Forces Network. An hour or two of CNN, then an hour or two of MSNBC, then and hour or two of Fox news (if I can stand the hype and hysterics of the anchors on Fox, which is, by far, the worst news channel in the history of the WORLD. Bill O'Reilly. Enough said, yes?).

I watch stories unfold online. I look at pictures of the devastation, not just to the landscape, but on the faces of the people who are caught up in this tragedy.

And my heart breaks.