Saturday, January 29, 2011

My first Georgian doctor's visit

[I know you're reading this, Mom - don't worry; it's nothing serious!]

A few weeks after arriving in Georgia, I got a cold. It was nothing unusual, except that it seemed to settle in one of my eyes, causing that eyelid to swell and my eye to water constantly. I have had that happen before, so I didn't really think anything of it. My cold went away after several days, and my eyelid became less swollen, but then a small bump appeared where the swelling had been. It didn't hurt, so I just left it alone, hoping it would go away. It didn't. Tea suggested I see the doctor here in the village just before Christmas break, but the doctor was not in, and then break came and I was away; so, finally, yesterday I went to the village doctor.

The doctor's office looks like the one-room school-house from the old TV show, "Little House on the Prairie" without the bell (that's on my school!). Lika went with me to make sure that nothing important was lost in translation. The doctor, a small lady with gentle hands, understands English and can speak a little. She looked at my eyelid and immediately said that it was nothing to worry about, but I should see the eye doctor. She got on the phone and called an eye doctor in Zugdidi to see if their office would be open the next day. I told her that I have health insurance, and gave her my card. That brought a new flurry of questions and a couple more phone calls -- my Georgian insurance company does not have any offices in Zugdidi, so the doctor wanted to make sure that the eye doctor she wanted me to see would be covered. She called the eye doctor and my insurance company to get everything set up for me. 

This morning, Tea and I caught the marshutka into town to be at the doctor's office a little after ten. I had to go to an insurance-approved town doctor first, then if he felt it was necessary, I would go to the eye doctor with his recommendation. This clinic was in much better shape than Shamgona's office. It was in a large building with heat that actually worked (a rarity around here), and clean, dry floors (another rarity). The town doctor spoke very good English. He looked at my eyelid and immediately said it was nothing to worry about, but I should see the eye doctor. So he wrote up a referral form and stamped it with an old-school stamp that the Georgians love to use to make things official. When Tea and I were on our way out of his office, he told me that their left-over Soviet-style medical practice was probably a bit strange for me, but not to worry, the eye-doctor was very good. That made me only a little nervous!

Tea and I were off again, to the next doctor. We went into the office to register and were then directed up a set of narrow, rickety stairs to a room that had been added as a second floor space over the reception area. Whoever built that room must have been very short -- the ceiling was barely high enough for me to stand up straight. This was the eye doctor's office. It was pretty clean, by Georgian standards. (Mine have been significantly lowered in the last three months!) There were two older people sitting on the examination table. The doctor was sitting at her desk with an old desk lamp as the only lighting besides the small window at the far end of the room. On one wall hung a screen with two eye charts on it - one with Georgian letters, the other with Russian. 

Tea and I entered the room and sat in two extra chairs while the doctor looked at my referral form. She didn't speak a lot of English, but she spoke enough to ask me a few questions. She looked at my eyelid from the outside and then flipped it up to look at the underside. She immediately said that it was nothing to worry about. She knew what it was and said that I would need an injection and some ointment -- yikes! Needles are not my friends. 

Just then another lady came into the room with the same problem as me. She had gone to the pharmacy to get the serum that had to be injected into the growth, and the doctor said that there was enough there for both of us. I was slightly worried about sharing a shot with someone else…..mostly about the needle being shared. The doctor gave the shot to the other lady first, and I was relieved when she threw away that needle. 

Then it was my turn. I lay down on the examining table just in case I passed out (needles often make me faint). Tea stood next to me holding her heart - she was so nervous for me. Her sweet sensitivity showed in her worried expression as she told me that I would be alright - more to convince herself than me. 

If you've never had a shot in your eyelid, I hope you never have to…. I didn't realize how tender and sensitive that skin is. When the doctor put the needle in, I could tell that the needle was really small, but it felt horribly invasive and the liquid that she injected burned. It felt like fire was being pumped into my eye. At the very moment that I thought I couldn't take that needle in my eye any longer, she took it out. Relief. But the burning sensation continued. The doctor soaked a cotton ball in vodka, and put that on my eyelid. A new kind of burning took the place of the previous one. Nice. I wondered if this was the "Soviet-style medical practices" that the referring doctor had warned me about.

The doctor wrote a prescription for some kind of ointment that I would have to put in my eye and blink a lot to spread it around up underneath my affected eyelid. She told me to do this twice a day, and it should be gone in a couple of days. We'll see!

My Georgian insurance is pretty good. After three doctor's visits and a trip to the pharmacy, the grand total of my bill was the equivalent of $6.42. 

Now if the treatment actually works, that will be something!


  1. Thanks for sharing, Stef- now MY eyes are watering! :P
    Praying all heals as it should!

  2. As I read this, I sat here cringing for you!!! A shot in the eyelid?!?!?! yikes! Hope that's the end of it!