Armenian elders overcome Covid-19

Journalist: Hasmik Baleyan, , Illustrator: Mananiko Kobakhidze
Edition: Transition
Topic: Health

Arusyak Aleksanyan was scared when the family learned her mother-in-law had Covid-19.

When 82-year-old Hasmik Aleksanyan was diagnosed in June, Armenia was struggling to contain the spread of the virus. At the time, the country, which has a population of just over three million, had among the highest number of daily new cases per million residents in the world. 

Pensioners make up a little over half of the deaths attributed to Covid-19 in the country—395 out of 723 as of July 29, according to the health ministry. Over the course of the pandemic, the elderly have been disproportionately affected by the virus around the world.

“When we learned that my mother-in-law was infected with coronavirus, we were very scared,” recalls Arusyak. “The worst thing is that my mother-in-law said that she did not want to go to the hospital; she preferred to be treated at home. We were afraid that in addition to the illness, going to the hospital would cause her greater stress.”

But Hasmik Aleksanyan was one of the lucky ones. She was diagnosed on June 21, a period when the caseload in Armenia was near its highest. But following 14 days of treatment at Nork Infectious Diseases Clinical Hospital, she was declared virus free and allowed to return home, Armenia’s western Aragatsotn Region.

"When I learned that I had to go to the hospital, I was very upset. I did not want to leave our home, to be away from my family, but I must say that the medical staff at the hospital treated me like a relative,” Hasmik recalls. 

“I had some problems with my lungs, I was short of breath, but thanks to the care and attention of the medical staff, I overcame the coronavirus.  When they discharged me from the hospital, they gave me flowers and sent me home with a smile.”

The country has struggled to contain the virus over the past several months, but doctors have successfully treated over 27,000 patients, including 101-year-old Nazani Simonyan who was diagnosed with Covid-19 and double pneumonia. 

Another elderly patient, 99-year-old Mekhak Avetisyan, was in serious condition when he was diagnosed but later managed a full recovery.

Doctors say the elderly, like many other patients, tend to wait too long to get medical treatment. 

They struggle with the reality that they need to go to the hospital early, as soon as there is any sign that they might have the virus, notes Dr. Ashot Kababyan, who treats Covid-19 patients at a hospital in Gyumri, Armenia. 

“Almost every day we deal with patients who wait too long to come for inpatient treatment. There are cases when they are seven to ten days late, consequently, they already have complications,” he notes, adding that usually they are people who never want to seek treatment at a hospital.

“Many older patients are suspicious when they are admitted [with Covid-19], but the care of doctors helps them understand that in fact receiving inpatient treatment is not terrible at all. Years of experience help us find common ground with such patients.” 

It has been a difficult process for Senekerim Senekerimyan, 83, a retired music teacher and choir director from Armenia’s Vayots Dzor Region.

He was diagnosed with Covid-19 in May, after his brother and his wife tested positive for the virus.

While the treatment was successful, he is staying in semi-isolation at home while he and his wife fully recover. Senekerim says it was difficult to adjust to life after his diagnosis.

“While we were in quarantine, we could not even go to the store. Our relatives used to buy food, bring it and leave it at the door. My wife could not have our neighbor over for a cup of coffee.  We all drank coffee from our own balconies and we talked to our neighbors from afar,” he says.

“These changes in a person's daily life are overwhelming. We still do not leave the house that much. Of course, it is not pleasant, but we have to follow the rules.”

Senekerim had been very active before his diagnosis: he worked in the fields and frequently hosted his former students, who would come by for a chat.

But the virus has left him physically weak, and while he dreams of returning to his old lifestyle, so far he still lacks the strength.

Senekerim notes that over the past several weeks, psychological support from his family has been nearly as important as the medical treatment he received at the hospital.

“I think the coronavirus should be defeated first psychologically, then physically," he says. 

“My relatives and friends helped me a lot in those days: especially my daughter, who kept repeating that I was a strong and active person, so I would definitely overcome this disease, and that's what happened.”

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