Another bright and sunny day and Marina was in the hotel lobby to take me to the First Moscow Hospice. There are now eight hospices in Moscow but this was the first to be opened in 1997. I met with Freke de Graaf, a Dutch nurse who has been working there as a volunteer for over 10 years. She explained the history of the place. It was the brainchild of Victor Zorza, a Polish refugee journalist who was determined to introduce the modern concept of hospice care which had developed in the UK. He was adamant that it would be free of any payments or bribery. Although the Soviet Union was the first country in the world to introduce state-funded health care, doctors and nurses were and still are one of the least well paid of healthcare professionals globally. The practice of greasing hands to gain favour for jumping queues or for basic things like taking a bed pan away became the norm and still exists in some places apparently. Known as a "gratitude for service", Zorza was determined to make palliative care available to all, regardless of the means to pay. Although political moves have taken place to stamp corruption out of everyday life in Russia, there still exists a residual culture accepting of it as the norm.
The Hospice consists of 30 beds and also has a home-care service going out to patients at home. Both adults and children are accepted although a children's hospice is soon to be built elsewhere in Moscow. The 4-bedded rooms are especially homely with traditional furniture and a central table with flowers.
Whilst I was there, I gave one of two interviews to journalists comparing my experiences of Russia and UK.
Click here for link to article (in Russian)
They were especially keen to hear about MND patients' rights in the UK to have ventilators which were keeping them alive switched off. A law in Russia made as recently as 2011 forbids doctors to deliberately omit or discontinue treatment which leads to the patient's death. I reflected that, even though there are big problems with the support to patients and families in Russia, services is the UK are far from perfect and often subject to a post-code lottery.
Just before we left the Hospice, one of the administrators asked me would I mind taking a package in my luggage back to the UK. When I asked what it was, she said it was a "glass". My immediate thoughts were of a vial containing some illegal substance but it turned out it was a microscope slide of a brain biopsy. One of the Hospice patients, an eleven year old girl called Anastasia, was currently in London receiving treatment for a brain tumour in Harley St. and they had asked for previous biopsies taken in Russia. Having been assured of the propriety of the request, I was happy to oblige. Details for picking up the package were to be finalised.
There's that woman again - the one who keeps following me around ...
With the afternoon free before an evening concert, Marina took me on a walking tour of the sights of central Moscow. We first went to one of her favourite outdoor sculptures, the controversial "Children are the victims of adult vices" by Shemyakin. In a park behind the British Embassy, it is based around the gold statues of 2 children playing, depicting "indifference". The surrounding sinister figures depict various adult vices which affect children including alcoholism, drug addiction, prostitution, child labour, war. Despite initial resistance by some on the basis that it would scare children, it makes a powerful statement.
Guarding Cathedral ice-sculpture (behind trees)
From there, it was across the semi-frozen Moscow River towards the Kremlin and Red Square. Floodlit and in the fading sunset, it all looked spectacular, especially the multicoloured domes of St Basil's Cathedral at the end of the Square.
By this time, word had got through to Marina by phone that Anastasia's father was going to rendezvous with us just outside Red Square to hand over the package. In a different context, I could imagine clandestine exchanges like this taking place during the Cold War. He was very grateful for the favour . We shook hands and went our separate ways in the crowd.
I mentioned earlier we had a concert to go to. Marina told me about Alisa Apreleva, a Russian singer, composer, multi-instrumentalist and poet. She lives with her family in Boston USA where Marina had met her and asked if she would come back to Moscow to take some sessions in music therapy at the weekend seminar. Alisa obliged and also arranged to put on a public concert in a cellar bar in Moscow during the trip over.
Her one-person act was amazing. Playing cello and singing haunting songs based on traditional Russian folk tunes, she simultaneously records tracks on a "loop station" controlled with foot pedals. In this way she builds up a piece made of layer upon layer of vocal and instrumental tracks. Incredible! And teaching on the seminar too !
Click here for a link to some of Alisa's music.
After the concert, Natalia picked us up to drive us to the seminar venue in the middle of nowhere 2 hours outside of Moscow. I'd have to wait until the morning to see what it looked like.