Siberia's medical train

A message from Life co-author, Helen Stephenson
Years ago, I lived in a place which didn’t have good health care. We had a fantastic book called ‘Where there is no doctor’. It gave us two things: information and confidence. Information to  help us when we were ill. Confidence that we could treat ourselves if we got ill. I wonder if the people in this article have a Russian version of this book?

The famous Trans-Siberian railway line goes from Moscow to Vladivostok, but there’s another railway line about 650 kilometres north of the Trans-Siberian. This is the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM). A special train, the Matvei Mudrov medical train, travels along its 4,000 kilometres. There are usually between twelve and fifteen doctors on the train. The train stops for a day at places along the BAM. The people who live in small towns and villages come to the train for medical attention. There are no doctors or hospitals in their towns or villages. For these patients, their health centre is on the train.

The Matvei Mudrov was named after a Russian doctor in the nineteenth century. Nowadays, the Matvei Mudrov visits each town or village on the BAM twice a year.  In the village of Khani (population 742), the patients include a man with two broken ankles and a teenage girl. She had appendicitis a month ago and she was lucky to travel to a town three hours away for an operation. The Matvei Mudrov doesn’t have any equipment to do operations. The doctors can diagnose their patients’ medical problems and recommend treatment and medicines. The train has a laboratory for blood and urine tests and a number of medical testing machines. The patients like the doctors on the train. They say they are honest and good at their jobs.

Next stop is a town called Berkakit. About 4,000 people live here. There is a queue to see the doctors. Mikhail Zdanovich is waiting for his turn. He’s 61 years old and he came to Berkakit in 1976. At the time, only about a hundred young people lived in Berkakit. It was a new town. Zdanovich met a woman who worked at the town bakery. They married and stayed in the town. When Zdanovich walks into the doctor’s office she says ‘Oh, Mikhail, I recognised your voice.’ He has a problem in his shoulder. The doctor writes a letter to say that he can’t work, he must have an operation. He leaves, happy, and then he returns a few minutes later. He brings freshly cooked pies and some goat’s milk.

For the people who live in this remote part of Russia, the Matvei Mudrov is more than a medical train. It’s a social connection to the community of their country.

diagnose (v) to say what is wrong with someone who is ill
appendicitis (n) an illness where a small part inside your body, under your stomach, becomes bigger than usual and painful
queue (n)  a line of people who are waiting for something


ankle (n) the part of the body between the foot and the leg
equipment (n) the things that you need to do a particular activity or task
medical (adj) related to medicine and ways to treat people who are ill
medicine (n) a substance that you take when you have an illness to make it better
operation (n) cutting the body to remove or repair a part of it
patient (n) a person who is being treated for an illness or injury
shoulder (n) the part of the body between the arm and the neck
treatment (n) the use of medicine, etc. when someone is ill

Listen to a recording of the text: 

Reading comprehension: 

Read the article and choose the correct option.

1. What is the BAM?
a part of the Trans-Siberian railway
a railway line that crosses part of Russia
a train for doctors to travel on

2. What main service does the Matvei Mudrov train offer?
diagnosing people’s health problems
doing operations in emergencies
visiting the doctors in small towns

3. Where does the Matvei Mudrov train stop?
in the towns that have health centres
in the villages and towns along the BAM railway line
in villages with under 1,000 people

Read the article again and choose the correct option.

4. According to the article ...
the BAM is 650 kilometres long.
the BAM is 4,000 kilometres long.
the BAM has only one train service.

5. What happens when the Matvei Mudrov train stops in a village?
People come to the train to see the doctors.
The doctors people visit people at home.
The doctors visit the local health centre.

6. According to the article ...
Matvei Mudrov was the name of a doctor.
the BAM was built as a medical railway.
the train was the idea of a Russian doctor.

7. In Khani ...
a girl needs an operation.
one patient has broken bones.
there are two patients.

8. What’s the patients’ opinion of the train’s doctors?
not bad or good

9. In Berkakit ...
the doctor sees a patient she knows.
the doctor treats a man’s shoulder.
the doctor visits the town bakery.

10. Mikhail Zdanovich ...
can go back to work after seeing the doctor.
isn’t satisfied with the doctor’s opinion.
offers food to the doctor after the visit.