YOUR HOLIDAY DISASTER

Ellen Stoner planned a winter break in Moscow. But the only break was in her leg
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The Independent Travel
Immediately prior to Soviet glasnost, my partner and I decided on a winter break in Moscow and Leningrad. So, in the first week of December, at 7.30pm, in pitch darkness, we touched down in Moscow. Unknown to us, wet ice covered the ground at the foot of the aircraft steps, and my first foot on Russian ground was whipped from under me and I fell, breaking my right leg, although I did not know this at the time. I felt an intense burning sensation and my instinct told me something was badly wrong.

I was helped to the airport bus, then into the customs and passport areas. I remember hopping on one foot through the scanner! We eventually met up with the Intourist and Thomson reps, got on the transfer coach, and arrived at the Intourist Hotel in Moscow. It was obvious that I needed medical attention and an ambulance was called. The crew decided I had a broken leg and needed to go to hospital. My partner was not allowed to go with me but, in response to my protests, the lady Intourist rep said she would escort me. After a long, cold, dark ride in an ambulance we arrived at a large run-down hospital. I was beginning to feel frightened.

An X-ray showed I had a bad break, needing, the doctor said, an operation to pin it. Horrific thoughts flooded my mind of bone infection, needle infection, cross-infection from unknown foreign sources etc. So I decided to politely decline an operation, take responsibility for myself, and to keep asking to be sent home.

Meanwhile the authorities decided to interrogate me. My handbag was emptied and gone through, item by item, and kept, and I had to fiercely resist the removal of my rings. By now it was well past midnight. Next, the doctor put my leg in a hip-to-toe plaster under a local anaesthetic.

Then,wearing only my panties and bra, covered with a kind of duvet, I was driven to yet another rundown hospital and put in a women's ward of about eight beds, so close together you could hold hands. I had managed to keep my watch, some Polos and tissues. My bed was damp and smelled of urine. I have never in my life spent such a long, cold, awful night, nor been so frightened.

In the morning, I was given sweet tea, a cold hard-boiled egg and bread. No-one else was given any food. A feeble old lady in the next bed, totally deaf, fed herself from a jar kept in her locker.

During the afternoon I admit I wept quietly under the sheet. Then a young English-speaking doctor arrived and said: "You are breaking my heart - I will get you back to your hotel to go home."

Miraculously at about 5pm a Red Cross crew arrived for me. I gave my Polos and hankies to an astonished old lady in the next bed and left to uncomprehending waves and smiles from the "Babushkas".

Next day I was hauled aboard an Aeroflot aircraft and flown home to Heathrow. As we were coming in to land, I realised my car was at Gatwick!

I still want to see Russia.

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