‘It’s my second home - even more than a home’
2017-02-01 18:38:39 -
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Fifteen years ago, Moldovan-born journalist Domnica Lazar made the difficult decision to leave her homeland over political reasons. While she arrived safely in Ireland without her two daughters, she also ended up spending her first two weeks in a Dublin hospital. She speaks to Metro Éireann about her experience, and her wish to meet again one of the doctors who treated her in her time of need

‘On my way travelling to Ireland, I badly hurt my leg in a motor accident. It was an open injury which required immediate surgery.”
That was how Domnica Lazar recalls beginning her life in Ireland – at the doorstep of a Dublin hospital.

“It was a very hard job for the doctors from St Vincent’s Hospital,” she recalls, “as I was five months pregnant, did not speak any English and there was not any background information about my health issues, vaccines, etcetera.”

Despite being proficient in Romanian, Moldovan, Russian and Italian, the challenge of lacking the English language and the ability to communicate with the doctors and other hospital staff terrified her. 

“I remember laying on a portable bed and Dr Dara O’Cavanagh asking me different questions on the way to surgery. I was looking at his lips to understand at least something, but nothing.”

She still remembers one particular word - “live” – used in a question by Dr O’Cavanagh at that time. While she did not understand what it meant or the reason why he used it, she said she memorised it with the hope she would one day find out its meaning.

Bridging the gap
Domnica was soon relieved to find the communication gap was bridged by an immigrant hospital staffer.

“There was an Armenian worker called Gary Barcegean in the hospital who spoke Russian, and the doctors called him each time to translate for me. We became friends after that.”

In the operating theatre, Dr Stevie Richards joined Dr O’Cavanagh to tend to Domnica’s injury, which required 14 stitches. Fifteen years on, she remains full of praise for the doctors who saved her life and that of her unborn child.

Following the successful operation, Domnica was moved to St Teresa’s Ward to recuperate, and later to St Rafael’s Ward, where she was lucky to meet two “lovely Irish women” with whom she later became good friends. “One of them became godmother to my daughter Maria when she was born later,” she says, recalling that with her Italian and that woman’s Spanish, they were able to converse in basic fashion.

Upon her discharge, Domnica says she felt she could not express her gratitude to the medical staff at St Vincent’s. When one of the women she‘d befriend brought her flowers, she in turn gave them to the doctors in appreciation for their efforts. 

This prompted some confusion from another woman in the ward, who wondered why she was giving flowers to a doctor who was only doing his job.

Coming from a working-class family of 14 children, Domnica explains that she was taught by her mother that thanking anyone for their help, even doctors whose job is to do just that, was very important.

Her challenging situation, the success of the operation, the pregnancy that was not affected by her injury, and the death of her mother in a Moldovan hospital – all of these things made her feel grateful, and made it important for her to show this gratitude.

Thinking back to her homeland, she describes a situation of serious corruption in the health system where lives hang in the balance. “There was a story of a medical doctor in Moldova who refused to see an accident victim because he had no money,” she remembers. “It later turned out that the patient who died was the doctor’s son.”

While she had good experiences with the Moldovan health system, particularly with the birth of her second child in 1996, in general she believes doctors in Moldova are not transparent with patients’ families. During the time her mother was seriously ill, her father learned from a meeting with the Moldovan health minister that she was actually dying when the doctors where saying the opposite.

True to her word

As Domnica left St Vincent’s, she says she promised herself that she would one day return to thank her doctors, once she has learned English. Within a few months she was well on the way to doing that, besides giving birth to her third daughter Maria. Even with all the challenges of motherhood, Domnica says she was fluent in English just three years on.

“I bought a television,” she recalls of how she picked up the language so quickly. “I looked at the teletext for English words and watched Fair City to find out the way people thought and acted. I spoke a lot to people on the street. Being an extrovert also helped me a lot.” 

Another useful strategy was memorising words she heard and then looking them up in a Russian-English dictionary, which helped her breeze through English classes at the Adult Education Centre on Dublin’s Mountjoy Square.

True to her word, Domnica returned to St Vincent’s, where she met Dr Richards. Dr O’Cavanagh had moved on, but ever the dogged journalist, Domnica resolved to find him.

“Then suddenly I got very sick with active Hepatitis B,” she recalls. “I had my liver biopsed. It took time to recover. Since then, I feel that I haven’t finished my job, so now it’s the right time.”

As her daughter Maria turned 15 years old recently, and is sitting her Junior Cert this summer, Domnica says now “is the perfect time to go with my daughter to meet those doctors who saved my life at that time.”

Mostly a rebel

It’s a life that Domnica says has been “hunky dory” for the most part, despite troubles with an unscrupulous landlord, and an abusive gang of girls in Mountjoy Square.

“People are friendly and warm-hearted,” she says of Ireland at large. “It’s my second home – even more than a home. That’s how I felt when I arrived here 15 years ago.”

One of the reasons why she is so passionate about living in Ireland, she says, is that “you get what you deserve”. It’s an attitude so unlike that in Moldova, where she says people are often discriminated against for their beliefs.

But Domnica stresses that Moldova is not quite the backwards country many in western Europe might believe it to be. Her two eldest daughters, with whom she was reunited in Dublin 10 years ago, are back home in Moldova progressing in their different careers – thanks in part to their Irish upbringing.

Moldova also allows for diaspora participation in politics, and Domnica has used that opportunity to continue to take part in activities promoting her country’s overall development, both here in Ireland as well as on visits home.

She says she was very active during the 2016 presidential race, and in the last two parliamentary elections in 2010 and 2014, writing and campaigning for the Alliance for European Integration, which has since put the Communist Party in opposition. That party’s regime, she says, is one reason why she and so many fellow Moldovans had left their country for a better life abroad.

Domnica – who sees herself as “a historian and journalist but mostly a rebel” – says she hopes one day that her small contribution would help in realising the positive change Moldova needs. But she also fears that the current establishment makes this process very difficult.

One example of this is when Domnica’s history teacher denied her the highest mark in a final school exam because “she had no Communist belief”. This was one of the reasons, she adds, why she did not accept an offer from her old school upon leaving to become a part-time history teacher herself, while studying part-time, with a full-time post following her graduation from university.

It’s this kind of corruption, she says, that must be fought for the good of the country.

Chinedu Onyejelem
TAGS : Ireland Domnica Lazar Life Story Life Living Journalist Experience
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