I decided to look into these reports, so I began calling around most of the more or less respectable hospitals. It turned out that no one was willing to comment without the explicit permission of the municipal health department. Only after getting their permission could I hope for a comment from the hospital administrators. And all I wanted to know was whether they were really postponing elective surgeries because of the heat.
So I called the health department. I was given the number of department press spokesman Vladimir Vladimirovich Yegorov and began earnestly trying to reach him. Vladimir Vladimirovich, though, turned out to be a very mysterious person. First, he took away any hope that anyone would ever answer the phone at that number. But then when I immediately called the number again, the line suddenly turned out to be busy. This gave me the hope that someone actually does appear in Vladimir Vladimirovich’s office from time to time, so I kept calling. But the same pattern was repeated again and again. First, the phone rang endlessly and then roughly every 20 minutes the phone turned out to be busy. For now, it remained a mystery where those people came from.
This little mystery was solved in a manner that was stupifyingly simple and painfully Russian. At 4 p.m. I called the office of one of the deputy department heads and in a tired voice explained that for more than two hours his press secretary hadn't answered his phone. The woman who'd answered asked me to wait and began talking to someone else in the office. She was trying to find out if the press secretary was at work that day or not. When she learned that he was indeed in the office, she naively asked why he doesn’t answer his phone. Then she called him up on their internal phone. And this is where Vladimir Vladimirovich's aura of mystery evaporated. I heard the woman's voice say to the other person in her office: "Oh.... Then I’ll say...."
And she came back on the line and told me: "Hello? You can call him now. He'll answer now."
I thanked her and again tried to contact Vladimir Vladimirovich. Even after all this, I couldn't reach him straight away. Strange at it may seem, the press secretary's phone was busy for the next several minutes. Maybe he was just in such a hurry to follow the secretary's orders that he mixed up someone else's call with mine, sparing that person two hours of the "no answer-busy" game.
So, after a few more tries, I finally heard the sacred voice of Vladimir Vladimirovich, sounding rushed and unhappy. I started by asking where I could get the needed permission to talk to hospital administrators. It turned out to be exceedingly simple: All I had to do was write a request on the letterhead of my publication and address it to the head of the health department, have the document stamped, and then mail it to the proper address. After that, the request would be considered in due course and then....
Then, Yegorov informed me, they might allow me to talk to the hospitals or they might refuse, "if the requirements of the application process are not fulfilled."
In hopes of avoiding this process, I decided to ask Vladimir Vladimirovich directly whether his department had advised hospitals to postpone elective surgeries.
"The first secretary has already answered that question," he dodged.
"Where can I find that answer?"
"So, you won't say any more?"
"The first secretary has already answered that question."
So I bade farewell to the stubborn Vladimir Vladimirovich and started poring through the Interfax feed. And, as I perfectly well could have guessed, there were no reports on this topic and no commentaries, not from the first secretary nor from any other deputies.
Vladimir Vladimirovich left me in a difficult position. Did it make any sense to call him again? Or should I go straight to the big Vladimir Vladimirovich -- Putin? Or did it make more sense to wait for the heat to break and let the matter resolve itself?
-- Kirill Podosyonov