Notes From Hairenik
March 23, 2010
In the last five years I have been fortunate enough to contract at various times a peculiar, random virus that causes fever and other oddities. Several years ago I laid incapacitated in Vanadzor with an obscenely high temperature and the delirious fear that my eyeballs would shoot out of my skull at any moment. While on a business trip to Irvine, California four years ago a different virus caused my gums to recede in response to a high temperature. My mouth was in such pain that I was committed to a diet of fruit-flavored kefir since I could not chew. This year, the fever brought fatigue and a violent, persistent cough along with it.

This cough is unlike any I have had before in that it literally drains me of any energy and ability to function normally. For the first couple of days the cough—actually a series of hacking coughs--produced no phlegm, but I felt that my lungs were being ripped apart with my body quaking, attempting to purge whatever had been obstructing normal airflow.

One week ago while at work I was about to take a long snooze at my desk, as if I had been belting back shots of vodka at lunchtime (Hovik, I don’t regularly do this, no worries). No amount of instant coffee or tea set me straight. I left late in the afternoon and went promptly to bed as soon as I got though the door. My weeklong sentence at home had just begun.

By the next morning the cough started along with a moderate fever. A work associate had been complaining of similar symptoms so I knew I either caught his bug or else something very close. Before long I felt as if a quarter-pound weight had been affixed to my upper chest limiting my ability to breath in deep—not an unbearable feeling but nevertheless there. My hips and elbows began to hurt and headache set in as well, undoubtedly brought on by the fever. But I never had sinus congestion during the entire week. The coughing, which came in waves, was nothing I had ever before experienced. Following each attack was a wall of fatigue that made me collapse into bed. The sound of each coughing episode resembled that of a man chopping wood at a rapid pace, and the force expelled was probably just as great. The amount of phlegm glued to my lungs seemed infinite. At night my body was deprived the luxury of sweet slumber as I was too busy coughing my lungs out. And Chi Chi was nearly always by my side, making sure I was all right.

As for treatment, the first night when I woke up from the nap after coming home I drank two cups of weak black tea laden with cornelian cherry (hon) preserves. The hon apparently has some kind of therapeutic properties—perhaps antioxidant, not exactly sure. They even distill vodka from it (if you can actually find the real thing). A friend from Boston once swore to me that a death of a cold was coming on during one of his visits here, and his host gave him a cup of tea with a spoonful of hon preserves sitting at the bottom of the cup. The next morning all the symptoms he had—congestion, sneezing, coughing and so forth—were gone. Too bad this miracle berry has never had such an effect on me.

Apparently, a heaping spoonful of red raspberry preserves (uncooked) is excellent for reducing temperatures, so Anushik was making me about five or six cups of that diluted with hot water a day. I was even making it for myself when she was away just out of habit. Then there was the honey. Armenians swear by honey for just about any ailment related to the nose, mouth and throat. They make special ointments out of it and rub it on various parts of the body to numb whatever pain is there. I must have consumed—I am guesstimating—about a half kilo of honey during one week’s time, but probably more. Usually the honey was mixed with freshly squeezed lemon in hot water which didn’t make it so sweet. I didn’t want to eat anything—I was practically forced fed baguette slices that were sometimes smeared with honey. A couple of nights ago I had a sudden craving for a kebab sandwich, and that made Anush and her mom happy as it was a sign of my health improving. Good thing there’s a great restaurant right up the street to oblige.

Anush also ended up finding some expectorants in the form of pills (no Tussin here, unfortunately). One was a natural concoction called “Melon” which seemed to help but not all that much. Then she found a drug produced by a German firm, Hexal (Armenians love German technology). That stuff basically opened up my lungs every 10-15 minutes to let me hack away, full blast. Sometimes I felt like I was drowning during these episodes, with my eyes wide open, mouth gaping, arms flailing. Terrible.

Now that most of the coughing has finally died down I’m hoping to return to the office tomorrow and to a normal way of existence. We went for a short walk today to test my strength—it was the first time being out in a week! Although I was moving about just fine I noticed that I was not able to breath deeply as I normally do, as if the air was thin. My lungs are still on the mend. I’m assuming in another day or two I won’t notice that any more. And by the weekend maybe I can get some more kebab into my stomach.

Blogger Michael said...
Glad to hear you are on the mend. Your blog is very interesting and I always enjoy hearing about life in Armenia.
Be well!