Integrating Medical Cultures


In reading Alyssa’s blog post, Home Remedies, she discusses different familial home remedies used in different cultures, such as a special soup when an individual is sick. Other cultural home remedies I have used came to my mind, such as sitting in front of a pot of boiling water to let the steam clear your sinuses, drinking orange juice when you feel a cold coming on, and a cold washcloth on your forehead for a fever. Although these home remedies have some medical backing, they are common treatments passed down through family generations. Different cultures have different home remedies in their cultures. When looking at different families in different cultures, each family will have different remedies when approaching healthcare. These different cultures have different healing practices deep-seated into their society. When medical care from different cultures come in contact with each other, integrating the different medical techniques is often difficult based on the ingrained cultural meaning behind the medical practices.

A major conflict arises when Western medicine meets medicine from third world countries. Western doctors often assume that their medical techniques are superior, and disregard medical practices in third world countries. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman details the conflict between Hmong family, immigrated to the US, and a US medical center. The Hmong family has an epileptic daughter, Lea Lee who started having seizures when she was three years old. The Lee family believed in spiritual healing, but brought her to the medical center to see if that would help as well. Between miscommunication and misunderstandings between the doctors and Lea’s parents, Lea’s treatment was not administered correctly. The Lee’s were unsure how to navigate the US medical system, unfamiliar with medical treatments, and barely able to communicate with Lea’s doctors due to the parents’ limited English. Ultimately, Lea suffered a grand mal seizure that left her brain dead. Lea could have lived longer if the US medical center had provided better interpreters and had a better understanding of the Lee’s family’s cultural medical beliefs. Since the medical center attempted to force their Western medical techniques onto the family instead of explaining and compromising, Lea’s medical care was disastrous.

Toni Morrison’s Home describes other cultural medical beliefs. Sun-smacking, a cultural medical technique used in Cee’s final stage of healing, was used to undo some of the damages Cee had from experimental Western medical techniques. Cee had to “spend at least one hour a day with her legs spread open to the blazing sun” (Morrison, 124). The women taking care of Cee agreed that this would get rid of any illness left in her body. This treatment is a home remedy with a cultural basis–I have never heard a doctor prescribe this. Although Cee was better after the sun-smacking, it is impossible to tell if she healed from the sun or just because time passed. The woman integrated this technique into their care because it has probably worked with other members in their community in the past. Their confidence in the technique  instilled confidence in Cee that she would get better, helping her along in the healing process. This “home remedy” healed Cee from the Western medical experiments the doctor had performed on her. Cultural techniques such as “sun-smacking” can be more healing than unfamiliar Western techniques because they improve the individuals state of mind because of their confidence in them, as opposed to a technique that is new and scary.

When African slaves were brought over to the US, they brought their medical techniques along with them. White American physicians initially were interested in these techniques, which focused on herbs, roots, and other natural medications (Washington, 49). However, when disagreements arose between white physicians and enslaved healers, physicians decided to “deintegrate black medical practice and impose punishment, including execution, among black healers” (Washington, 50). Instead of integrating the African knowledge of medicine to help the US medical field, the white physicians shut out the African healers, losing valuable information that might have helped further the field. The white physicians felt that preserving their pride of being “superior” was more important than using the African’s knowledge of medicine. This increased African Americans’ fear of medicine, as the techniques used by the white physicians employed by the slaves’ masters were completely foreign to the slaves.

Medical techniques differ around the world based on the cultures they originate from. No technique is superior to another. Integration of the techniques is difficult, due to miscommunication. However, by integrating medical techniques from different cultures, the field of medicine could improve as a whole, as increased knowledge from other cultures would lead to a higher level of care. When integrating different theories in medicine, individuals must be careful to not hold one theory superior to another. Respecting different cultural approaches to medicine is vital in providing medical care, especially if an individual is from a culture different than the one they are receiving care in.

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