“Pavel and his wife are dead.” Hell of a way to start a letter and even worse way to start a visit to Russia, but this has turned out to be an interesting story, and we don’t have the end to it yet.
Pavel was Larisa’s uncle. Well, actually the ex-husband of her mothers’ sister. But “uncle” covers a lot of ground around here. He was a nice guy, particularly in his later years. At 61, he had beaten TB and suffered from cirrhosis and had learned from it. He quit drinking, quit smoking, and became an excellent grandfather and by all accounts, had always been a good friend to have.
Monday evening, he was returning from a day in the mountains with his family when a drunk driver swung into his lane and hit his car head on.
Lesson #1 for Americans. In an American car, they might have survived.
Occasionally even congress gets it right. Every American car made since 1968 has a collapsible steering column. Before that, over half of all car deaths were caused by steering wheels spearing driver’s chests in an accident. There are still a lot of Russian cars on the road without that feature – and Pavel was driving one of them.
Lesson #2 for Americans. In an American hospital, Pavel would probably have survived and his wife certainly would have – at least in a pre-Obama care hospital.
Shortly after his arrival at the hospital, it was decided that Pavel was dead. He was breathing, but everyone decided that he was going to die anyway. He was, after all, an old man of 61, he had had TB, had cirrhosis, and his chest was crushed. Major medical care consisted of putting him into a medical coma to die without pain. Even his relative, who worked in the intensive treatment ward, said that there was no point in wasting effort on a man who was going to die anyway.
He was still alive 36 hours later and from my reading of popular medical literature, that usually means that he could live indefinitely because there is time to repair his injuries. His surgeon said that there was a doctor in Nalchick, about 30 miles away, who could stabilize Pavel’s chest injuries to keep the broken ribs from doing more damage, but no one was anxious to begin treatment.
It required a consultation with his primary care physician and the family to arrange the treatment. In the States, seconds count in trauma situations. Here, the family doctor said he would meet with Larisa and Victor (the two doctors in the family) the NEXT DAY. By the time the surgery was approved, Pavel was much too sick to be moved, and he died the following day.
His wife had died the day before. Her injuries hadn’t seemed that serious. Her ribs were broken by the seat belt when the accident happened, but when we visited, she was sitting up in bed and chatting. Unfortunately, the instrumentation in intensive care here consists only of a blood oxygen level sensor. There was no monitor for her blood pressure and other vital signs, so no one noticed when she began to bleed internally – and died in the middle of the night. There had been no x-ray, no ultrasound, no MRI to see that she had dangerously broken ribs inside, and no real treatment.
Be nice to your HMO. They keep you alive.
Lesson #3 for Americans. Be nice to your police. The drunk driver will probably get away with it here.
Be grateful for the cops and courts in America, where they actually put bad people in jail. The drunk driver was a young Kabordinian man who suffered only a fractured jaw and a feigned leg injury that he claimed kept him from walking. The maximum sentence here for vehicular manslaughter is 7 years, but his influential family, rumor has it, has already been negotiating with the police on the size of the bribe needed to make the charges go away.
Lesson #4 for Americans. Forget lesson 3.
It turns out to be not so simple as a police bribe. Justice has an older face here. Much older. You may remember that when I was in a minor traffic accident, the cop stood aside while the owner of the other car and I negotiated a settlement between us. When we were done, the policeman asked if either of us had a problem and then did a little hand washing ceremony and declared that there was no problem that concerned the police.
Apparently manslaughter works the same way. Prosecutors don’t work the same way here as they do in the West. They don’t stand for election and therefore answer only to themselves and their bosses in Moscow, so they do not want to prosecute unless there is an interested party – or an order from Moscow.
Since the aggrieved parties are the relatives of the two victims, it is up to them to decide whether or not there is a prosecution. Frankly, I am not certain whether this is custom or law and Larisa is reluctant to discuss things that she thinks are embarrassing to Russia, so I plan to ask Oleg about it first chance I get.
I do know that throughout history this form of justice has been common. Before prisons were everywhere many cultures practiced compensatory justice. Pay up or get out. That is why Eric the Red discovered Greenland. He killed a man, couldn’t pay his family the usual price, and had to get out of town fast.
However, whether custom or law here, the families set a price on the crime. If the perpetrator can pay the family the agreed price, he either goes free, or gets a VERY short sentence. While I am not certain of the mechanics, I know the police are involved because they advised our relatives that their asking price was too high.
Ira (Pavel’s daughter) and the family of his wife have set a price of 600,000 rubles on the two lives. That’s about $20,000 , or $10K for each life. It will take awhile for the negotiations, so I don’t know the end of this story yet. I guess I misunderstood when I heard that the family was concerned that the drunk driver might not have to “pay for his crime.”
Pavel’s family will not have loved him less if they accept compensation rather than revenge – and may be it make more sense to break the bastard rather than put him in jail.
(I asked Oleg about this blood money custom. He said the he never heard of it in Siberia.)
I’ll let you know how it comes out.