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New Europe

Day Eighty-five: Tallinn

The hirudotherapy clinic. 
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With three close friends, giving blood at the hirudotherapy clinic.
Michael Palin - New EuropeMs Agajeva is not happy.

'One is lazy,' she says, disapprovingly.

'Maybe it's a teetotaller.'

The other two have now punctured the skin and are tucking into my blood. The sensation is not painful, but it is uncomfortable, like a low-level electric shock or a nettle sting.

It will not last long, I'm promised, though I can still feel sharp discomfort after fifteen minutes. This is the leeches putting in anti-coagulant so they can do their work, checking out your blood, removing what's bad and replacing it with what's good. Selfless little buggers.

Every time I look down the leeches are getting bigger. They've only been at it twenty minutes and already they've swollen to twice their size. They lie there, black and glistening, like satisfied slugs. Ms Agajeva nods approvingly. They like me.

Alarmingly, I sense a trickle of moisture spilling down my right flank from the direction of the wounds. I'm assured that this isn't my blood, it's the leeches sweating. So not only are these three little workers cleaning out my bloodstream, they're perspiring with the effort. I begin to feel absurdly grateful to them and when, after fifty minutes, the time comes to pull them off me I feel we've bonded, become friends, shared something very intimate. But no time for sentiment. Having done their work they are unceremoniously disposed of in a solution of caustic soda, never to suck again. Leeches used to be reused, but not in these days of HIV-Aids.

Lyudmilla (I feel I can call her that now) dresses my wounds with a thick long pad and lots of plaster. During the 'procedure' as she calls it, around 25 millilitres of blood will have been removed, but after the procedure as much as 200 or 300 millilitres could leak out. I'm to take it easy, avoid alcohol and not take the dressing off until tomorrow morning.

Back in Tallinn the rush of relief at having completed the leeching and a light-headedness from the effects demand some kind of recognition, and I end up celebrating with more than a glass of wine or two in the excellent restaurant of the Hotel St Petersburg.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Eighty-five: Tallinn
  • Country/sea: Estonia
  • Place: Viinistu
  • Book page no: 205

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