Today finishing my review of this “Day in the Life” story from RIA, about the Medical Cluster, in Barnaul, Russia. Yesterday we met a very interesting man, Doctor/Professor Yakov Shoikhet who, at the age of 77 is still teaching at the Medical School and managing his department in Hospital #5 in Barnaul. In the interview with AltaPress, Dr. Shoikhet reminisced about his happy days as a medical student in the 1950’s; one of the photos from that era shows him trying to study on his cot in the dormitory while two other students are having fun dancing. Such was life among the budding Soviet intelligentsia in Western Siberia in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
On the darker side, the medical students, like medical students everywhere, were forced to become resourceful when it came to practicing surgery, sometimes even secretly practicing on dogs. “I started to operate early (in my studies), already as a fourth-year student I performed an appendectomy. As a sixth-year student I performed an operation on the thyroid gland (на щитовидной железе). I did dozens of surgeries as a student. I can’t recall how I felt the first time. I do remember a colossal sensation of responsibility. Every operation – a new anxiety. Actually, my very first operation was in my second year. At that time at the Medical Institute there was a room where it always reeked of cologne, and nobody knew why. Well, I can tell you why. It was 1959. Along with some older students — their names were Viktor Suponitsky and Svetlana Gaponenko — we secretly transplanted kidneys onto dogs in the bomb shelter in the Railroad Station hospital, so that nobody would know what we were doing. It would have been considered bad form. Somebody ratted us out, and we had to move our project to the Physiology Department. We operated at night, by morning we would bring the dog back to the vivarium [the room where experimental animals are kept in cages]. And then we would spread cologne on the operating table [to cover the smell]. Several years later Suponitsky defended his dissertation, based on this work we did.”
What a difference a few decades can make! Dr. Shoikhet now commands the most technologically advanced equipment on the planet. But he has never lost that feeling of anxiety and responsibility. As he shows the RIA reporter an X-ray of somebody with ghastly black lungs, he comments: “If patients like this are not given respiratory assistance, they can die. Hypoxia of the brain will start in. Still, we feel pretty good about the fact that our survival rate [for such patients] has gone up to 89%.”
Dr. Shoikhet oversees the work of the medical students learning to become surgeons. Unlike him, they don’t have to practice on dogs, they have proper SIMS, as is shown in the photo. “We run this [simulation room] just like a regular operating studio, with 14 working places. These are 6-year students, learning to puncture arteries, pull out veins, get into the various crevices.”
The RIA reporters found that a single day was not enough time to see and visit every department of the Cluster. In particular, they ran out of time before their planned final visit to the “Nadezhda” Cancer Center. “Nadezhda” being, of course, the Russian word for “hope”. But they managed to speak to Sergei Nasonov, Deputy Minister of Health for the Krai, whom we met previously. Nasonov told them about the Oncology Center and the recent advances in cancer diagnostics: “We set up a Cancer Registry for all groups at risk. My name is in there as well, because both my mama and papa had cancer. When I turn 49 I will be invited to the Onco-Cluster for a full work-up. Moreover, we keep a complete (and integrated) database of all the patients and visits. Once I start going there, they will test me every 3 years for the onco-markers. This is why our region is one of the leaders in all of Russia for early detection of cancer. Our detection rate is over 60%.”
The second key metric, according to Nasonov, is the five-year survival rate after radical cancer treatment. This metric is also close to 60%.
Diagnosing cancer is a very complicated process, according to Nasonov. They take samples and consult with specialists in Moscow, and even in foreign countries: in Berlin and in Israeli clinics, for example. There is a lot of cooperation and consultation in this arena, even across national borders.
And with that thought, we end this series of posts. If there is one thing that all human beings, everywhere in the world can share, it is the wish to have a healthy body, and for their children to have strong healthy bodies. Good health is a component of human dignity. Hence, good health care is not just a privilege, it is a right!