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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lifesaving Tips in Case of Medical Emergency

Let's face it: The Russian health-care system is not patient-friendly, and since bringing my three children to the country, I have discovered it isn't parent-friendly either.

Having traumatized my kids a few times in polyclinics with sad-looking lines and bullying doctors, I dug into my purse and switched to the foreign medical services. But when it comes to emergencies there is sometimes no option but to dial 02, and if you have the misfortune to be forced to do so, let me offer some tips on how best to handle the experience.

My first mistake was buying Russian pastel crayons. I purchased a box as part of the list of necessities for my daughter's new school year, unaware that they contain potentially fatal toxins. (Need I say there was no warning on the box?) So, when on a Sunday morning she came running into the kitchen to say that my one-year-old son Bobby was eating a crayon, I calmly wiped his face and went on with the washing up.

Half an hour later he became sick, but even then I just presumed his milk must have been a bit off, and it wasn't until an hour later when he was throwing up every ten minutes that I called the 24-hour Mediclub Clinic, which offers Western-style outpatient care. The Canadian doctor on duty said it sounded like a case of poisoning and advised me to get to a hospital as quickly as possible for specialist treatment.

First tip: Don't rely on the ambulance. I felt panic rising inside me. My husband was away on an assignment and my nanny lived in the other end of town. I dialed 02 for an ambulance but they told me to call the local children's polyclinic. The polyclinic told me to ring back the emergency service. The emergency service then agreed to come "some time during the day."

I recalled the advice of a former nanny, who had worked as a paramedic and told me not to call the ambulance unless desperate. When my eldest daughter Sasha cut open her face by falling on ice, I thought she'd need major plastic surgery, but this nanny briskly wiped the wounds and sent her to bed. "If you call the ambulance they'll stitch her up and she'll be badly scarred," the nanny advised. "She'll do better at home."

Sasha turned out to be fine, but Bobby was by now white, limp and in a cold sweat, so I feverishly packed all the kids into the car and with map in hand set off in search of the Morozovsky Children's Hospital on Oktyabrsky Square.

Second tip: Beware of the hospital gate-keeper. This one sent me to the wrong building, and so I and other similarly misdirected parents barged around from one building to the other carrying our babies bundled up in blankets until we finally found the emergency ward.

Tip number three: Don't freak out. The process of stomach pumping is too terrible to relate -- I can only remember the horror in the eyes of other parents goggling through the glass. When it was over, I was told to go straight on to Filatovsky Hospital near Mayakovsky Square for the antidote.

This time the hospital gate-keeper wouldn't let me in at all. "I have a sick baby, he might be dying!" I hissed. "I need to get to the doctor immediately." His eyes narrowed. "Ten thousand rubles" he said.

Once in the hospital grounds an armed guard, whose job was preventing parents from getting to their children, barred me from entering and gesticulated towards a crowd by the duty doctor's door. Bobby was limpid and his face and hands were turning blue so I bit my lip and marched straight past the line and into the room.

Tip number four: Be tough. When the nurse tried to push me out ("This is a doctor's surgery, not a bread line!") I ignored her and thrust Bobby at the doctor. He glanced at him, then at the crayon I had brought along, and sighed: "We have four or five kids in each week who've eaten these pastels. He won't die but he's in a semi-critical condition and needs to go straight into intensive care. You just take your girls on home." And he took Bobby and walked out.

Tip number five: Never leave your child. Quickly I shook myself free of the nurse who was trying to hold me back and charged after him. "I'm not letting him go without me!" I panted. "If you won't let me stay, I'll take him away." It was a gamble, but he wavered. "I'll be grateful [otblagodaryu]," I added, remembering my Russian mother-in-law's formula for offering a bribe. He nodded and replied, "Just for a bit then."

I arranged for the nanny to come and pick up my daughters and then trotted thankfully after the doctor up to intensive care where they shut the door on me. When they emerged half an hour later the nurses were inexplicably splattered in blood, and they were hurriedly mopping it of Bobby's arms and face. I was beginning to see why they didn't want parents up here.

After three unsuccessful attempts to feed a tube with charcoal in it through his nose they sent me back out into the corridor. When I was permitted back in, I found him looking pleadingly up at me, spread-eagled naked in his cot with his wrists and arms tied to the corners of the bed, a tube in his nose (which had already blocked) and a drip in his arm.

With the help of a sedative he slept soundly for the next sixteen hours, not even waking for his jabs of antidote or the screams from intensive care next door. I wandered down the corridor and found myself staring into a large glass room with a bench, a few stools and the sad remains of some toys. Three boys aged about 10 stared at me in amazement and six toddlers, with faces blotchy and swollen from constant crying, crowded round the door, sobbing "Mama, mama!"

"Are you a mother?" asked one of the boys in disbelief. "Where did you leave your coat?" It turned out he wanted his own jacket because he had been here for three weeks without sight or sound of his mother (parents are not allowed to phone, let alone visit) and was planning to run away. Another of the boys was there because he had been given a tumbler of vodka by his father -- to introduce him to the real world. It nearly introduced him to the next one.

Tip number five: Try not to leave your child in the hospital. The next morning Bobby woke up as bright as a button and ran off in search of breakfast -- yet I was told he would need to be kept in the hospital for three weeks. My heart sank. Why so long? Couldn't I look after him at home? The doctor (still on duty!) shook his head. Was he sure? Well -- he supposed I could take him home if I kept him to a strict diet. With sincere gratitude, I slipped him a crisp bank note, suggesting he buy toys for the "playroom." And Bobby had breakfast at home.

Juliet Butler is a journalist living in Moscow. She contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.