Every day people stab each other, throw each other off bridges into the black Neva, hemorrhage from hapless or wretched childbirth. That’s how things are, that’s how they’ve always been.
In order to save the little man in the street, who pounds the sidewalks of big cities, firs-aid centers have been set up.
That is what they call it, “first” or “quick” aid. If you want to know what help you can expect in Petrograd, and how quickly you can expect it, then I can tell you.
A heavy silence hangs over the office of the “first” aid center. There are large rooms, laming typewriters, piles of papers, clean-swept floors. There is also a startled young lady who, about three years ago, frantically began writing pamphlets and magazine articles, and who can’t be stopped, by fair means or foul. And it might well be better if she did manage t o stop, because for quite a while now people have had absolutely no need for pamphlets or magazines. There is no one else in the office besides the young lady. The young lady is the staff. One could even say she is both the regular and part-time staff in one. As there are no horses, no gasoline, no work no doctors, no caretakers, and no one to be taken care of, one asks oneself why one would need a staff.
There is really nothing available. There used to be ambulances, “lie-downers” or “non-lie-downers,” as the crew calls them. The ambulances are still here, but they are not sent out on calls because there’s no gasoline. There hasn’t been any gasoline for ages. Recently, one of the people here finally had had enough of this dead-end situation, stuck a badge on his jacket, and marched over to the authorities at Smolny.
The authorities responded, “The maximum quantity of gasoline dispensed to urban depots is two and a half poods.” It is possible that the authorities were mistaken. But what is the point of objecting?
There are also six carts at the fire station that could be used. But at the present time they are not in use. The fire department refuse to provide horses”We don’t even have enough for ourselves!”
So all they have is a single cart. To pull it, they hire two horses from a carter at a cost of a thousand rubles a month.
Of all the countless emergency calls that come in, only two or three a day are dealt with. That is all that can be handled. The distances are great and the horses gaunt. To get to an accidentin Vasilevsky, for instancetakes two to three hours. The person has already died, or simply isn’t there anymore, having vanished into thin air. If the victim does happen to still be around, he is carted over to the hospital at a leisurely pace, and the cart, after a little rest, sets out again to an accident that was called in five or six hours ago. There is a special book in which all of the center’s activities are recordedthe rejection book. When a call cannot be answered, it is entered in this book. It is a thick book, a hefty book, the only book. Other books are not necessary.
The only working cart is manned by a crew of twenty-twoeleven are medical attendants, and eight are medical assistants. It is quite likely that all of them receive wages based on complex pay scales, with increases reflecting the rising cost of living.
The center has no institutions connected with its functions, no exhibits, no hospitals. In many Western European cities, such exhibits hold particular interest as a doleful chronicle of city life. They display instruments of murder and suicide and letters left by suicide victims, silent and eloquent testimonies to human hardship, to the disastrous influence of city and stone.
We don’t have that. We have nothingneither quickness nor aid.
All we have is an undernourished city of three million, rocking wildly on the foundations of existence. Much blood is shed on its streets and in its houses.
The center, formerly run by the Red Cross, has now been taken over by the city. It is clear that the city will have to do something.
( Isaac Babel, from “Reports from Petersburg, 1918”)