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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 75-77

Beyond the Urals: Kurgan

Mangioni Hospital, Lecco, Italy

Date of Submission04-May-2021
Date of Acceptance17-May-2021
Date of Web Publication30-Jun-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Maurizio A Catagni
Mangioni Hospital, Lecco
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2455-3719.320065

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How to cite this article:
Catagni MA. Beyond the Urals: Kurgan. J Limb Lengthen Reconstr 2021;7:75-7

How to cite this URL:
Catagni MA. Beyond the Urals: Kurgan. J Limb Lengthen Reconstr [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 8];7:75-7. Available from: https://www.jlimblengthrecon.org/text.asp?2021/7/1/75/320065

2021 Forty year after my first trip to Kurgan

2021 One hundred year from the Ilizarov birth

I report my impression and emotion of my first trip to kurgan

(from the book ”Introduzione alla conoscenza delle metodiche di Ilizarov in ortopedia e traumatologia, 1983)

The airplane begins to taxi on the runway. It no longer touches the ground. We go up to the sky. Villa and I look into each other's eyes. He is a little bit pale, but quiet as ever. We feel like two cosmonauts launched into space towards an unknown planet. The planet Russia. I relive the anxiety of the last few months, since prof. Ilizarov had invited us to Kurgan, to visit his Orthopaedic Institute. We leave, we do not leave, there is a visa on the passport, but the trip is postponed. It has been months of intense preparation, and so we have been able to work with his inventive apparatus, which Ilizarov had left us. More than forty fractures and pseudarthrosis treated, various corrections of dysmetria, two achondroplastic dwarfs to which we are lengthening the lower limbs. But that's not enough. I remember the long evening talks with Prof. Cattaneo, our Master, and his friend Villa, in which we dreamed of creating a centre for the treatment of fractures and limb lengthening according to Ilizarov, and we discussed the details of the organization. Will we make it? I raise my head, crank my neck and look for Carlo Mauri. Three rows ahead, he is sitting in the armchair facing the corridor. As if he had caught my thought, he turns around, he smiles at me, his teeth sparkle on his curly beard, he looks at me and raises his right hand making a fist, giving me a thumb up. The Bergamo and Milan guys who are with us, Benedetti and Bianchi-Maiocchi, seated in front of us, near the cockpit, are chattering among themselves. All right then. There are few clouds below us, through which we can see the Alps. The snow-capped peaks are enlightened by the sun and they send us blinding reflections, gullies and valleys are in shadow and their depth seems to be endless. It is a shocking sight, even for a Lecco citizen, like me, who is used to seeing snow-covered mountains for many months of the year. We fly over cities, forests, hills, and after a few hours the landscape flattens out: large green expanses, still partially covered with snow, crossed by many asphalted ribbons and large and small rivers. I look at Villa, always silent. “Russia?” I ask him. “I think so,” he replies. There is still the sunshine when we spot the city in the centre of which golden domes are shining. Moscow. Soft landing, customs operations reduced to a minimum. The first impression, once you enter the premises of the airport and except for the thud of arriving and departing planes, is that of a great silence and order. It is clear that everyone knows precisely what to do and does it with discipline, measuring his gestures and words. The welcome is friendly and warm. Professor Ilizarov and Yuri Senkevic are there waiting for us, they take us over; we cross a twilight Moscow - it is sunset time -, wide streets with modern and imposing buildings, little traffic, and they drop us off at the hotel. Three days in Moscow. Our guests take turns accompanying us to visit the city. Memories are a bit blurred because the real goal is still far away. The subway, the Red Square, a quadrilateral that gives the impression of an immense living room, where people almost walk on tiptoe so as not to dirty the floor, the Lenin Mausoleum, at whose entrance at any hours, until late night, a long line of people waits patiently to be admitted to see the tomb of the great leader of the revolution, and the Kremlin, a city within a city, gleaming in its golden domes, and in its great palaces, the seat of government offices. Time passes quickly, between dinner invitations and long walks in the city. We are headed to the East. In the distance you can see the Urals - but what are they compared to our Alps? - then always the same flat expanses, entirely covered with snow.

Kurgan! At the airport there were few people, mostly officials, few passengers. The contact with the city is rather freezing, because it is freezing cold. They accompany us to the hotel, where the heat is suffocating.

Tomorrow the hospital days are going to begin, we are finally in sight of the finish line.

The operating room. It is not perfect. From the walls oozes a bit of humidity, the linen, towels, sheets, denounce a few years of life.

The sick person enters. The assistants prepare the intervention.

He is a robust young man who has suffered multiple fractures in his leg in the past (ankle, tibia fibula), from crushing. The limb is deformed, with angles at the top of which press bone spikes. It is a matter of straightening it and lengthening it by a few centimeters.

Enter the Master. A look at the x-rays and the surgery begins.

A work of drill, chisel and bolts that are screwed and unscrewed, and we can see, in the space of an hour, under our astonished eyes, the leg resuming its original shape as if it had been modelled with wax.

I look at the surgeon. Two deep, perpendicular wrinkles appeared in the middle of the forehead at the root of the nose, which indicate its concentration. The gestures are fast but measured, getting to the point with pinpoint accuracy.

During the speech, he explains in his own language what he is doing; the interpreter translates his words but we have already understood by ourselves. What better interpreter than his agile hands and his eloquent gestures?

And so on and on for five or six hours every day.

Helpers and assistants, who are attentive and quick, follow the Master's work without speaking. And a silent and very close-knit choir, without any cue or smudge.

Interventions are over. The face returns smiling and serene as always.

Aids and assistants go back to the wards and to the laboratories - they do not have a card to sign like us Hospitallers - the Master precedes us with a quick step.

He goes to visit the new Orthopaedic Institute, which will replace the old one.

Iizarov inspects everything. Here he has a wall torn down, there he has a panel replaced. It is clear that, even outside the operating room, he's a boss.

But his day is not over. The clinic awaits him, where sick people from all over the world flow in Russia and Eastern European countries. There are hundreds of them.

Villa, I and the others who follow him in this frenetic activity remain perplexed and we wonder where this exceptional man draws the energy necessary to carry out this restless activity that must engage the muscles and the mind to the agony.

We leave him at the clinic, where he will visit patients until late night. Sick people who wait for days, without protesting, patients and silents.

Patience: I believe it is one of the main qualities of the Russian man living on the street. Patience in the long queues at the department stores, patience in the queues in front of Lenin's Mausoleum, at the shops, at the offices.

Two assistants guide us in the laboratories of the Institute.

The study and research are mainly dedicated to the observation of bones: regeneration, metabolism, enzymes, percentage of mineral salts in the various disease states, etc., The material for the experiences and the means is apparently unlimited.

Our stay in Kurgan lasted seven days and for six days we have spent several hours in the operating room daily.

We have seen a bit of everything: an infinite variety of fractures, lengthening of the limbs, malformations, and the Master was always victorious. Our eyes had become cameras. We have stored thousands of pictures, trying to guess the secrets of his art.

Every evening we were guests of different families, VIP characters of the city, and every evening the repeated dinners lasted hours, - caviar, smoked salmon, and many dishes of very spicy meat washed down with fragrant vodka, and toasts to peace and friendship between the peoples were infinite!

The story is over. The plane takes us home, to our hospital, to our sick people

Nobody wants to talk because each of us with closed eyes relives those days, the long sessions in the operating room, the peaceful hours spent with those friendly people, but dreams.

We dream of being able to go back to Kurgan again, to learn the secrets of the new surgical techniques, conceived by Ilizarov, in order to apply them to our patients, and - why not? - to make science take a few small steps, because science has no borders of nations or political ideologies. “We are close to landing in Fiumicino. Passengers are requested to fasten their seat belts”. That is the voice of the hostess that awakens us from our dreams.

After the customs visit, the terminal welcomes us.

Noises of all kinds; gesticulating people who speak loudly, foreign languages that intertwine, we must hold hands in order not to get lost.

Villa turns to me, winks at me and makes the diagnosis: “There is no doubt, we are in Italy”.


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