Photo project

Anguish in Green

“I was in pain, scared, and lonely. Often, I didn’t know what they would be doing to me or when, but I hoped that everything would be okay.” Ira Vasylenko told the story of being treated for appendicitis in a hospital in Chernihiv.

— Staying in a hospital is like going somewhere on a train in the cheap seats. The doctor is a driver, and it depends on him whether my life stays on track. Nurses are conductors. Hospital ward neighbors are fellow commuters: some snore, some stink; and it depends on them whether you get a good night’s sleep or not.

In the surgical department, everything is painted in green. Green curtains, sinks, tiles, and long green hallways. Green is one of the three main colors, the color of the visible electromagnetic radiation with the wavelength of 510-550 nanometers, the color of life.

Like a tourist, I looked around me and took pictures of the green world with my phone.

Iryna Vasylenko

Ukrainian photographer. Graduate of Bird in Flight Documentary Photography School. Member of the Ukrainian Photographic Alternative creative collective.

Saturday, Day 0

My gut starts hurting. A couple minutes in I start sweating and become unconscious. My mom runs to get some painkillers and calls the ambulance. I sit on a chair, dripping with sweat. They give me some pills.

The ambulance comes and they check my blood pressure. I ask them for a shot of a painkiller, but they give me one injection and then wait. It’s not better, I ask for more, and they give me a second one.

They bring me to the car, and we go to the hospital. It’s cold. On the way, the pain subsides. They write down something and call for the gynecologist. Some very old man comes in and says that he won’t be examining me on a chair, and that I need to visit a gyno on Monday.

We go back home, I am happy and I eat. After two hours I have pain in my abdomen. I think that I ate too much and go to bed. I suffer through the pain between my ribs and I can’t sleep. I take some painkillers and they don’t do a thing.

Sunday, Day 1

In the morning, we are back at the same hospital. The guard takes his time opening the door. A sleepy nurse comes out and calls for the surgeon. He appears, sleepy as well. He palpates my abdomen and says that it’s nothing. They call for the gynecologist again, he examines me on a chair and doesn’t find anything. We ask the nurse if she can give me a shot of painkiller, and she says: “We shouldn’t, to get a clearer picture.” My mom and I sit in the hallway; the nurse offers that I can lie down on a couch in the reception room. I lie down in my boots and jacket. It’s cold, and I fall asleep through the pain.

They say that it’s Sunday today and the surgeon won’t be in, and send me to another hospital. We go out to the street. It’s a frosty grey morning.

We arrive at another hospital at 8am. The doctor is unhappy that they didn’t admit me in the previous one. I am scared, I cry. First we’re in reception, and then urine and blood for tests, followed by a pregnancy test, and an examination in the gyno chair. I am admitted – it’s warm, clean, and sunny in the hospital ward. I had a shot and I calm down. At night, I wake up in pain every hour.

I lie down on a couch in my boots and jacket, and I fall asleep through the pain.

Monday, Day 2

Morning rounds; all doctors take turns to palpate my abdomen. The department head draws with a pen a place on my abdomen where they need to make a cut. It barely hurts, I am very hungry, but I am not allowed to eat: fasting is prescribed. They administer a blood test and an ultrasound, insert a gastric catheter, take another urgent blood test and perform another ultrasound, and finally, they give me an IV.

A chubby and cheerful girl named Yana leaves the ward: she had an appendectomy and she just had her stitches removed. Instead, a big woman from Pryluky appears. She came to get a surgery for her hernia. She is afraid of anesthesia and thinks that she won’t wake up. She tells us a story of someone she knows who didn’t walk or talk for a year after general anesthesia.

It hurts in the lower right part of my abdomen. I go to the pharmacy and forget to buy a disposable razor; the nurse gives me the razor with replaceable blades, I resist and cry.

They do a test for antibiotics. A calm woman, an anesthesiologist, meets me. She asks my age, height, weight, and when was the last time I ate (the day before yesterday). The surgeon comes in, he tells me what thread he is going to use for the sutures. He promises to make it beautiful, but warns me that I might need drainage tubes and that they are not entirely sure in the ‘appendicitis’ diagnosis. I tell him: “Make it beautiful.”

They bring a gurney, tell me to undress and take my earrings of. I am then wheeled away. My mom says that everything is going to be okay. It is bright and warm in the operating room. There are several nurses. My legs are tied to the table. They put a tonometer on my left arm and insert a catheter in a vein on my right. The anesthesiologist comes in wearing a yellow mask that says ‘Epidemic’ and has a biohazard sign on it. She looks me in the eyes and says: “I’m gonna give you a shot of Diazepam,” and warns me that it’s going to hurt. I feel a burning pain from my elbow to my shoulder and I doze off.

The anesthesiologist comes in wearing a yellow mask that says ‘Epidemic’ and has a biohazard sign on it.

…I am in the ward, they keep saying: “Ira, don’t sleep.” I want to sleep. A nurse comes in and give me two shots in my thigh. I fall asleep.

Tuesday, Day 3

I wake up at 5am. It’s dark and it hurts. The nurse comes in and gives me a shot in my thigh. I fall asleep. At 6am they bring thermometers.

There are rounds at 8am, the doctor in charge looks at my stitch and says: “The surgeon must have liked you.” I fall back to sleep.

The big woman with a hernia is being prepared for surgery: her legs are wrapped with an elastic bandage. After three hours, she is back in the ward, glad that she is alive and out from under the anesthesia. The woman with an acute intestinal obstruction is brought into the ward, she is in a lot of pain.

In the evening, my mom comes and takes me to the bathroom. I am very hungry, I drink several sips of broth and fruit starch drink. I’m given a shot of painkiller before bed and I fall asleep.

Wednesday, Day 4

A thermometer at 6am and more rounds. The doctor in charge probes the wound with his finger, and I automatically grab him by the arm. He comments on the beautiful stitch again, and allows me to drink some yogurt and eat some soup for lunch. After three days of fasting, the soup tastes good. In the evening, I dare to have some mashed potatoes, and a neighbor gives me some steamed omelette.

An old woman turns up in the ward. She is brought in by an old man (her neighbor) who speaks very loudly. It turns out the woman is hard of hearing and has a hearing aid. She addresses him in a more formal way than he addresses her. She just lies there quietly. She doesn’t complain and doesn’t eat.

Antibiotic, painkiller, I can’t sleep on my left side.

Thursday, Day 5

A thermometer and more rounds. The doctor probes the wound with his finger. I grab his arm again. The entire department knows about my beautiful scar by now.

I eat mashed pumpkin and grated boiled beets, and I dream of coffee. A big woman with a hernia is informed that she has hep B. She cries. I am nervous because I used the inhaler after her. The woman with acute intestinal obstruction can go to the bathroom by now. She reads her prayer book after lunch, and in the evening tells us about her work in hospice, swearing: old people misbehave and are nasty. She says: “I like dolling up my women,” – she dresses village grandmothers in bright shawls and colorful dresses.

Friday, Day 6

Thermometer, rounds, the famous scar. I continue to eat food that is not tasty. I dare to eat a cookie – just one, with tea.

The old woman has a visitor. Her neighbor with some kompot, but she can’t have kompot.

She is taken to surgery. In the dressing room, they marvel at my scar.

The woman with acute intestinal obstruction is discharged, she and the big woman from Pryluky exchange phone numbers. The old woman remains in the ICU. Instead of her an active fake blonde of about 50 years appears – her gut hurts.

I refuse painkillers for the night.

Saturday, Day 7

At night, a new grandmother is brought in from the ICU. She is anxious – she talks, coughs, and is unhappy with her pillow and blanket. Turns out she is deaf, and her hearing aid makes a whistling sound from time to time. She had blood in her stomach: they say an ulcer opened. Her son died 40 days ago. They insert a catheter, liquid drips in an empty water bottle. In the afternoon, her great-granddaughter, granddaughter, and daughter come to visit – her daughter flew in from Norilsk. She is a fighter, and she talks loudly while she feeds the old woman.

Women talk all the time — to each other or on the phone.

I can’t fall asleep in the afternoon. In the evening I try to get up from my bed and faint. They give me a shot in my shoulder. I ask for the painkiller for the night again.

The entire department knows about my beautiful scar by now.

The women talk, the grandmother coughs, wheezes, and snores. She is 86, her name is Anastasiya, and the batteries in her hearing aid are low. She combs her grey hair for a long time. She says that she used to have hair such that everyone envied her.

I wake up at 1am because of a sharp smell. The old woman rattles plastic bags and napkins. They call the nurse’s aide. She changes her sheets and put a diaper on her. Women open the window, we stroll in the hallway until the air inside clears up. The grandmother snores and coughs. I fall asleep at around three.

Sunday, Day 8

Another thermometer. During rounds the doctor in charge says that in case of complications such sutures don’t hold well together. I get upset.

I am angry and complaining for the entire day. Women discuss pigs and chickens. The grandmother has four visitors at lunch and in the evening. The big woman from Pryluky has a daughter, a son-in-law, and two granddaughters visiting. Everyone is very loud. I go out of the ward into the hallway.

During the afternoon naptime women talk.

In the evening, I ask them to talk less.

At night, the grandmother snores and asks to pee. Ear plugs don’t help. At 5am they bring in another big woman after an appendectomy.

Monday, Day 9

Another thermometer. We wait for rounds for a long time. The department head looks at my scar. More jokes about how the surgeon must have liked me. I am getting discharged today. I take another selfie in the hygiene room and I say goodbye.


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