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My best friend, or born to be a doctor

 

Oleksandr PANASYEV reflects upon devotion to ones occupation and upon friendship, and to provide examples, presents a story about his best friend, Vadym Panaitidi, whom he once called a doctor par excellence. At present, Mr Panaitidi is arguably the best-known gynecologist in the city of Kyiv.

The little private incidents which you will also have to relate, will have considerable use The nearest thing to having experience of ones own, is to have other peoples affairs brought before us in a shape that is interesting [Your story will have] added so much to the fair side of life otherwise too much darkened by anxiety and too much injured by pain
From a letter to Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790; American public official, writer, and scientist who played a major part in the American Revolution; his numerous scientific and practical innovations include the lightning rod, bifocal spectacles, and a stove).

Probably every major language has words which describe various levels of friendship and intimacy between people. Among such words, the Ukrainian language has “‰ÐÛ„” (pronounced drooh) which indicates someone who is more than just an acquaintance. “Best friend” would translate the word “‰ÐÛ„” nicely. To raise the importance of such friendship to a next, or rather the top level, you can say naykrashchy drooh — the very best friend.

I don’t think one can have many, or even several “very best friends.” In my mature life I’ve been blessed with four “best friends” (among these friends were an Orthodox priest, now dead; a philosopher and philologist, dead too, and a historian and philologist who is very much alive, is a professor at a US university) and Vadym Panaitidi remains, after more than thirty years of close friendship, my very best friend.

This is an “objective” dispassionate story about Vadym as he truly is, but rather about Vadym as he is seen through my eyes. That is why I cannot guarantee a complete objectivity in my assessments except one thing — his status of a physician. A simple test can easily reveal this status — if you google his last name, you’ll discover that he is the most-sought after gynecologist in the city of Kyiv.

Being a male and a translator, I seem to have been an unlikely candidate for befriending a doctor in a rather specialized field of medicine. In the 1970s, when our friendship began, the circle of his and his wife’s friends included mostly physicians. I did not go to school together with Vadym either; neither was I his classmate in college. So it was a pure chance that brought us together.

This chance was prompted though by two circumstances — Vadym and his wife happened to be living in an apartment which was right beneath mine, in a house that contained a couple of hundred apartments. The other circumstance was Vadym’s amazingly gregarious and amicable nature.

Once, I walked into the elevator which was to take me to my sixth floor, to discover that the elevator cabin was full of carton boxes of various sizes, the lettering on which suggested that the boxes contained a reel-to-reel tape recorder and speakers. There was also a man in his early thirties there who had evidently just brought these boxes into the elevator. I began to back out, saying I’d wait a little. But he insisted there was enough space for me to take a ride with him and the boxes. As we were ascending — his destination was the fifth floor — I said that I had recently purchased a very similar piece of stereo equipment and was quite satisfied with it. When we arrived at the fifth floor, I helped to unload the boxes and take them to the man’s apartment. We struck a conversation, I said I could give him some of my tapes to listen to. He accepted my offer and invited me to come to his place in the evening, if I could. I could.

I had never thought I could be charmed by a man — but I was. Vadym proved to be profoundly, genuinely friendly, open-minded, with a lot of good humor in him, no pretense, and a very healthy approach to problems that life may confront us with — “If you can change something for the better, do so; if you can’t — just accept what comes your way stoically.” He could narrate even a simple story in a manner that would give the story some special significance.

The better I was becoming acquainted with the man, the more I was fascinated with him. I can’t imagine a company into which he would not easily blend to take center stage, no matter what kind of people this company is made of, or what their occupations in life may be. He seems to possess a miraculous ability to find a way to the heart and mind of anyone he meets. I know for a fact that he dispels his patient’s anxieties just by talking to them in his reassuring manner, and his confidence in the positive outcome even of the most complicated medical cases works miracles.

Right at the earliest stages of our acquaintance, I learned that Vadym was prepared to give whatever help you might be in need of, any time of the day or night. I can recollect only a very limited number of times when on my visits to his place he would not get a telephone call that would summon him to his hospital to deal with an emergency, or with an especially difficult case. He would sigh, apologize — and leave to deal with the problem.

He is a versatile and very knowledgeable doctor who can provide helpful advice if you happen to develop a health problem and turn to him for counsel, even though your problem may have nothing to do with his specialization. I think he is one of those rare persons who are born to be doctors. He is totally devoted to his profession but he shares this devotion in equal measure with his family (his father, his wife, his son and his daughter). Neither has a priority over the other — both his family and his work are his top priorities but I’d say that the family is just one bit above anything else.

It was not accidental that he was eventually promoted to head the department of extragenital pathology (that is, the department that deals with all sorts of health problems pregnant women may have — heart, lung, stomach, kidney and a myriad of other diseases; the doctors at such departments must be truly versatile and very knowledgeable) at one of the maternity hospitals in Kyiv. It was Vadym who not only always advised me which doctor I should turn to when I happened to have health problems which required my staying at hospitals and a course of treatment and specialized therapy — he, being well known in Kyiv’s medical world, actually talked to the doctors “who would take the best care of me.” And they did! My children were born under his watchful care, and all of my grandchildren too!

It seems to me that the ability of a doctor to build confidence in the successful outcome of treatment is no less important in the exercise of the medical profession than the doctor’s skill and knowledge.

 

Vadym was born in the town of Drohobych in western Ukraine, in 1952. His father is of Greek descent (hence the name Panaitidi), and his mother combined in herself German and Polish bloods. They say that such a mixture of bloods in the parents produces talented and clever progeny. I am not sure it is a scientific observation but Vadym seems to be a proof of its veracity.

His parents were members of the Prykarpatsky Ansambl’ Pisni ta Tantsyu Verkhovyna (Prykarpattya Ensemble of Song and Dance Verkhovyna). Verkhovyna traveled widely across Ukraine and to other parts of the then Soviet Union with performances of western Ukrainian songs and dances. Once, at the tender age of only two Vadym traveled with his parents thousands of kilometers getting as far as the Urals in Russia.

For quite some time music seemed Vadym’s future — in addition to a regular secondary school, he studied at a music school, the piano being his chosen instrument. His parents supported and encouraged their son’s musical ambitions, but quite unexpectedly, at the age of about fourteen, he began to develop an interest in medicine as a future occupation, and by the time he was finishing school, he was fully determined to pursue studies at a medical college. It came as a great surprise to his parents but they did not attempt to talk him out of it. They just asked, “Are you sure it is what you want?” The answer being in the affirmative, the educational establishment was to be chosen. There were “medical institutes” in the city of Lviv, not far from Drohobych, and in some other towns in western Ukraine — that is, not too far from home, but Vadym insisted it was to be the prestigious Medical Institute in Kyiv.

“I really can’t say what inspired me to abandon music for medicine — I just felt music was not something I’d like to do in life, and medicine seemed to be a very noble occupation. But I do know why I chose Kyiv to go to study at — I was, and to some extent remain, a very enthusiastic fan of the soccer club Dynamo Kyiv, and thus Kyiv offered a very welcome combination of the place where I could study to become a physician and where I could attend soccer games played by my favorite soccer club. And that clinched it...

“My mother accompanied me to Kyiv and our relatives who lived there provided us with a place to stay at. I passed the entrance examinations if not exactly with flying colors but with enough points to be matriculated. The number of applicants to the Institute was much greater than the number of students who could be admitted and I think a measure of good luck, not only high grades at the exams, played a role in getting me in … Sure I was overjoyed when I learned that I had been accepted!..

“Why did I decide to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology? Now, many years later, I really can’t tell for sure. Probably the motivation was similar to my initial interest in medicine — I must have thought it was a greatly noble thing to help bring babies into this world… I’ve never regretted my choice…

“How many babies I’ve helped to deliver? Oh, I’ve never kept the count, but by approximate reckoning the number must be over ten thousand…

“Were all the complicated cases successfully and happily resolved? Unfortunately, in my medical career that spans over thirty years, there were failures too. As one of my wise teachers said, ‘You can’t expect to be always successful, you should be prepared for bitter and tragic failures, and no level of experience or skills can guarantee you a hundred percent of success in all the cases you handle. It’s not a matter of making mistakes — it’s the human body that plays all sorts of tricks on us and is at times unpredictable.’ But even knowing that, it does not cushion you from stress, and the pain is always great. But I’m glad to say that there’s but a very few failures on my medical record…

“Do some of my former patients turn up later to say ‘thank you’? They sure do. Probably the best sort of a compliment is when a woman who was delivered of her baby with my help brings her pregnant grown-up daughter to give birth under my supervision… Once, I was told that a woman with two daughters wanted to see me. I expected her to ask me for some sort of medical help but she said that she would be very obliged if I’d agree to have a photo taken of me together with her two daughters, aged sixteen and fourteen. ‘I want them to remember the person who helped bring them into this world’…

“Upon graduation, I worked first in the town of Fastov, not too far from Kyiv. Working there was an experience that made a true doctor out of me, a doctor who is prepared to deal with any emergency. At the local clinic there, I was the only obstetrician and gynecologist, so I could not expect help from anyone and had to rely only upon myself… Then, I served in the army in the capacity of an officer in charge of a medical unit. There were practically no women serving in the army then, so my specialization was of no use, but having to deal with all sorts of imaginable and unimaginable medical cases was very helpful in arming me with a much wider scope of medical knowledge and skills, and giving me a necessary level of confidence in dealing with emergencies and complicated cases…

“After my discharge from the army, I returned to Kyiv and landed a job at Polohovy Budynok # 5 (Lying-in Hospital). I’ve been working there ever since, and October this year will mark the thirtieth anniversary of my doctoring at this maternity hospital. In the early 1980s, I wrote a dissertation dealing with complications that diabetes may cause in pregnant women, and was awarded a Kandydat medychnykh nauk (roughly corresponds to Master’s or Ph.D.). Since 1886, I’ve been head of the extragenital pathology department. We provide medical care for pregnant women with pathologies who live in the city of Kyiv, and a similar department at another hospital takes care of women who come from elsewhere….

“What is our most pressing problem at the moment? Being underfinanced. We are a state-run hospital and thus the financing is provided by the city and by the state. But medicine in this country gets much less than it actually needs. We can’t have all the medicines we need, we can’t feed our patients properly — the money allotted is not enough to provide one decent meal for a patient a day, much less than three nutritious meals that pregnant women and those who have been delivered may need. It is the relatives, husbands and friends who bring the food. But in spite of the financial hardships which are particularly acute in the time of the economic crisis which has hit Ukraine hard, we’ve managed to make renovations and repairs in our department. Come, I’ll show you.”

And Vadym took me on a tour of his recently refurbished department. I’ve had the misfortune to have stayed in hospitals several times and what I saw at Vadym’s department differed greatly from what I had expected to see.

I believe (and this belief is supported by a number of very objective references and stories related by relatives, friends, friends of friends, and by media reports) that Vadym’s department is arguably the best of its kind in all the things that matter, in state-run hospitals in Kyiv, or even in Ukraine. The department’s halls, corridors, wards, bathrooms and lounges do not look — to my eye at least — like a part of hospital. Walls are in different light colors, pleasing to the eye; everything is brand new — beds, the height of whose mattresses above the floor and their tilt can be regulated to provide maxim comfort for “gravidae” and those who have just given birth; refrigerators, TVs, washbasins, even views from the windows facing the hospital’s park create an impression of a rest home rather than that of a medical institution.

Vadym looked definitely pleased to see the expression of wondering disbelief on my face. His was not a pride of vanity but a well-deserved and well-founded pride in achievement that had not come easy. I know only too well how state-run hospitals look like, both inside and outside, and Vadym’s department is surely a marvel in comparison.

He explained that a considerable contribution to the renovations and purchases of state-of-the-art medical equipment, bathroom equipment, etc., had been made by sponsors whom it had not been easy to find. “The state’s financial contribution should not be overlooked either,” said Vadym, and when pressed, grudgingly admitted that his own contribution in the form of time, effort and even money had not been negligible either. In fact, it was he who was responsible for commissioning designers to create the interior design, it was he who had approved the submitted designs, it was he who had supervised the purchase and installation of everything in his department, down to the door handles.

But in our conversation he kept insisting that his role was secondary — “It is the management of the hospital that played the leading role in all the innovations.” There was absolutely no obsequiousness in his words — he wanted to emphasize the point that it was “the hospital in general that was the beneficiary of all the improvements, not someone’s personal gain.”

To prove the point he took me to the surgery section of the hospital. “All the equipment here is at the cutting edge of modern medical technology, and it was not me who had it purchased.”

As I was leaving, he showed me memorial plaques with the names of the most distinguished doctors and best medical personnel who have worked at the hospital in the past several decades. I could not help saying that I was certain Vadym’s name would surely be put on one of these plaques too. He just dismissed my remark as irrelevant.

 

If a hospital manages not only to survive but introduce considerable improvements when the country is in the grip of a severe economic crisis, why can’t others study the experience of that particular hospital and implement it? There is no clear answer to that, but surely the vision, initiative, determination and persistence in achieving the set goals of such people as Vadym plays a decisive role.

Is he a man of no faults of character, a perfect doctor and a perfect personality? I’m sure that he has his foibles and idiosyncrasies but I’m also sure there are absolutely no deficiencies of moral strength or force of character. I admit he is a rare specimen these days — and all the more so such people should be written and spoken about to serve as examples for others.

 

 

 

 

Vadym and the author of the essay about ham at Vadym's place choosing the photographs.

 

Photos by the author

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