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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Doctors Know How to Bleed Their Patients

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Just when I thought our Azeri lessons were getting dull, last week we got onto the subject of doctors and the remarkable treatments they offer their patients. How any sick person gets better in Azerbaijan never fails to amaze me.

First of all we had to act out a role play in which I was a doctor and my husband was a patient with a headache, a runny nose and a temperature. Before the doctor even contemplates what is wrong, he tries to work out how much money he can get out of his patient.

In the mean time, the patient is considering how much he can afford to bribe the doctor to give him some decent medicine.

"Where do you work?" the doctor asks.

"In a factory," the patient replies.

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"That's good," the doctor says, but really he is disappointed because he knows this means slim pickings. In the end he writes out a prescription while the worker slips 20,000 manat, or $4, into one of his roomy pockets.

But aside from having to bribe your way to get medicine, the treatments themselves are nothing short of bizarre. In our next role play, I was a teenager with bad skin and my husband was the doctor. After the money changes pockets, the doctor suggests I "change my blood."

"What does that mean?" we asked Telman, our Azeri teacher. It sounded a pretty radical step to take to get rid of a few spots.

"Haven't you heard of it?" he said. "It's what the Russians call a perelivaniye krovy. It's very effective."

It turns out that a perelivaniye krovy, or a blood transfer, involves taking some blood out of, say, your arm and re-injecting it into the afflicted area.

"But that's ridiculous," I said. "Your blood is circulating around your body -- it's not good in one place and bad in another."

Telman told us that when he used to be a plumber -- he's led a varied life -- he used to get bruises on his legs from dropping basins or heavy pipes on them. (No wonder he switched professions.)

"I used to have regular blood transfers, and the bruises would always go away after a week or so," he said triumphantly. I suppose it never occurred to him that the bruises would have gone away anyway.

"Next thing, you'll be telling us you use leeches, too," my husband said.

"What would we use leeches for?" Telman asked, and my husband explained that hundreds of years ago, people used to apply leeches to their skin to suck impurities out of their blood.

"What a good idea," Telman said.

Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku.