THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD

Simon Green

In hospital in Thailand

This is without doubt one of the hardest articles I’ve had to write as it involves a very dear friend of mine, Lyubov Zolotova, a thoroughly upstanding pillar of the Moscow community. We had spent time at Christmas together as well as meeting in the New Year for seasonal drinks, before bidding her a fond farewell on her upcoming trip to Phuket, Thailand. She left Moscow on January 8 and arrived in Phuket after a lengthy flight, on January. I received a rather unflattering sms later that day detailing her fatigue, slightly disappointing hotel, but still upbeat about enjoying her well-earned holiday. After that initial sms, nothing- nada. I assumed (the mother of all crimes) that she was in some remote location with no coverage and would resurface in due course, and any mention of my concerns to close friends was met with: “Oh Simon! Stop worrying; she’s probably having a wonderful time getting away from the likes of you and everyone else!” My sixth sense has always served me well and I had a nagging feeling deep down that all was not right as this simply wasn’t Luba’s modus operandi, with absolutely nothing posted on social media, and any messages I had sent remained unread.

On January 18, I received an sms from another of her friends, Masha, also a friend of mine, instructing me to expect her call but to be sitting down when she called- I remained standing as is my wont when bracing for bad news. She detailed to me how Luba had suffered a life-changing accident after being cruelly struck by one of Thailand’s notoriously awful bus drivers which had rendered her unconscious with broken ribs, a punctured lung and a badly damaged liver. The bus driver was charged with dangerous driving and a poultry amount of insurance damage money (a couple of million roubles) was put into the pot of rapidly escalating costs. Luba had taken out a seemingly safe amount of insurance of $35,000, but this was eaten up in just the first week with various life-saving operations and other emergency body repair surgeries. The first 8 days were touch and go as Luba drifted in and out of consciousness, and when she finally came to, she was in hellacious pain with internal bleeding, and then transferred to the second hospital as the preponderance of insurance money had been depleted. Even today, as I met her for the second time, she still wonders how on earth the money disappeared so swiftly. At this juncture, we started getting to work at the Moscow end in a bid to quickly raise funds to keep her treatment going.

Recent photo

After this hospital, Luba was moved to a third hospital that were able to offer some more surgery that the second hospital couldn’t, trying to ease the pain she was enduring as well as drain fluid that was pressing on her brain. The first 4 days here were harrowing to say the least as this was an open ward for both sexes, and comprised of a potpourri of drunks, druggies and some general dregs of society, including a shit-faced Brit who was ranting and raving at anyone and everyone while striding around the ward muttering dark oaths after being silenced for a few minutes- hardly the sort of environment to encourage rehabilitation! Whilst the surgeons were up to the task, the nurses were clearly not, with not one iota of English spoken, leaving Luba having to resort to sign language. They kept offering her an “ex-ce-lie,” meaning Xray, and God knows how Luba managed to decipher that one. They were also completely lacking in any bedside manner, never better illustrated than when they brutally shaved her head in true concentration camp style, without so much as an apology or word of sympathy; tossing her lovely mane of brunette hair into a plastic bag never to be seen again. As a woman who possessed such gorgeous hair, this must have been particularly heart-breaking, and still is today, as progress in that direction back to her formal regal glory, will take years, not months.

By now, the jungle drums were beating, and the milk of human kindness had sprung into action, with money being pledged from far and wide and from so many people Luba had never even met. Various events had played out at such upmarket venues as the British Ambassador’s house and St Andrew’s church. At the aforementioned Ambassador’s house last summer, there was a wonderful photo of your scribe and Luba on his magnificent balcony, enjoying the hospitality afforded us. Who could have possibly imagined that just a few months later, a charity event to raise urgent funds for her would be held in her honour? Throughout this frightful ordeal, Luba has been fortunate to have an absolute rock beside her in the guise of Andrey. He must have suffered enormously in silence, yet carried on stoically in the face of adversity. One of his hardest battles, quite apart from witnessing his wife’s appalling condition day in day out, was to extract money from their original insurance company, whose job is to avoid paying out given any opportunity. Strings had to be pulled at the highest level to extract payment albeit with the greatest reluctance.

At the UK ambassador’s residence, summer 2018

That done, hospital number 4 loomed on the horizon, literally and metaphorically, as it necessitated the transfer out of Thailand back to the motherland. An ambulance met the Aeroflot flight, and hospital number 36 at Izmailovski was her next port of call. Having endured almost 5 weeks in Thailand with very mixed hospital staff, many of whom refused to give her any progress information after any tests, as doctors there operated under a sort of multitudinous hospital locum, where a cursory glance at any medical update ensured another box tick. At last back here in Russia, the doctors got to work with alacrity and dexterity, and her previous experience of hopelessness and helplessness, often accompanied by bouts of lachrymosity (hardly surprising) were gradually replaced by guarded optimism. After more weeks spent here, she was finally allowed home under close supervision of her immediate family. 

So what now?  Her liver is still prone to painful attacks out of the blue, and she must allow plenty of time for her lungs to strengthen again that will enable us to once again hear her dulcet tones. The long road to repair will be a frustrating one at times, and it’s thought that work might be able to commence again around Autumn time. Meanwhile, Luba and Andrey are extremely grateful for all the acts of benevolence beyond their dreams on behalf of their friends and family, which deserve an article of its own. I myself, having seen her 10 days ago when I was greeted with a rather skeletal appearance, am pleased to say that she looked a much better colour today and spoke with some of her original confidence interspersed with some laughter.

A lecture on the roots of the English Language at St. Andrews in October 2018, with musical interludes.

In synopsis, it’s imperative for people to over rather than under insure themselves when travelling abroad, as it’s the easiest thing in the world to imagine this is something that only happens to other people. That said, the Good Lord decided that our angel Luba still has a lot to give down here on Earth, and people’s prayers and generosity, not to mention doctor’s skills have enabled this to happen- welcome back Luba!

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