GROWING PAINS: No Place for Dr. Mom In Children's Hospitals

A friend of mine, Alla, has an 8-year- old son Denis who has just had his appendix taken out. In England this would have meant whipping him in to a hospital for an operation followed by a stay of up to three or four days with his mom constantly at his side. Sound logical? Not in Russia.

Little Denis, who under normal circumstances won't let his mother leave him alone for five minutes, found himself literally torn from her arms to be swallowed up by the vast Morozovsky childrens' hospital without sight or sound of her for three weeks.

This barbaric rule (I was going to say prehistoric, but cavemen would never do anything so perverted as to isolate a child from its parent at such a traumatic time) is supposedly intended to prevent infection from visitors. But as one doctor from the Filatovsky hospital told me, it's actually because mothers "get upset at what they see and are a nuisance."

Incidentally, I was at the Filatovsky because Bobby had poisoned himself with a crayon and though I too was initially barred entrance, I promised manna from heaven if I could only stay with my baby.

I then watched through a crack in the door as they attempted long and hard to get the antidote into one of his veins and when they finally brought him out he was splattered all over in dried blood.They then tied him up to the bars of a cot and fed a tube of charcoal into his stomach. All he could do was whimper and look at me pleadingly. I was upset, but I wasn't a nuisance. The ward we were in had a glass-walled, empty (for hygiene reasons) "playroom" where patients ages 2 to 8 stood wailing and sobbing in the numb, reflexive way of desperately unhappy children who had been weeping for a fortnight or more.

Denis made a bad recovery in the hospital. He cried so much that he healed slowly and ran a small temperature. "Of course he had a temperature!" snorted Alla. "Anyone's going to build up a temperature when they're in hysterics day and night." Incredibly, doctors wouldn't even let her talk to him by phone. Finally she stormed in and signed a release paper saying she absolved doctors of all responsibility and that against their advice she was taking him home. The next day he was right as rain.

A doctor friend of mine insists that if doctors got paid well, had good equipment and enough antibiotics to treat secondary infections, they would let mothers in and kids out earlier. Perhaps she's right.

It has to be said that some mothers also take the cake. An old friend of mine placed her perfectly healthy 6-year-old son Vova in a hospital for a month of "profilaktika," or health tests. Toward the end of his term Vova, not surprisingly, picked up an ear infection from a fellow patient and was condemned to an additional 20 days of quarantine from his "infectious" mother.