Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Medical Tension

In the comical first half of the novel Kisses in Nederends by Epeli Hau'ofa, an issue that quickly emerges is a tension between alternative traditions in medicine. This tension is first alluded to as Makarita and Oilei search for a viable treatment for Oeli's "arse" pain. Oilei initially seeks treatment from his own home, by asking his volatile wife Makarita to sooth the pain inflicted area with hot water. However this treatment method is undermined when Oilei farts in his wife face, inciting her anger and causing her to douse the entire back of his body with scalding water. After this Oeli is brought to a modern hospital, however due to a fear of corruption and social politics that go on there, he decides not to tell them about his arse pain, and they do not treat him for it.
The next method of treatment that comes to Oilei is very much unsolicited, and comes in the form of the local witch doctor Marama. Oilei is perhaps ironically very wary of receiving treatment from this woman, due to a similar fear of her own corruption and political gossip bargaining. Witch doctors or any sort of tribal or "uncivilized" entities seem to be viewed in our culture as a bit more pure and innocent than modern "civilized people." This backhanded-complimentary idea of tribal people not being guilty of such political alterior motives is most likely a function of our culture seeing them as too simple and unintellectual to be capable of such strategy.
Once Marama's treatment did not work she decided it would be best for Oilei to seek help from a faith healer by the name of Losana. She is from a long family line that has been blessed with the power of healing. She comes to Oeli's dwelling with Marama to "cure Oilei. However the only thing she seems to be able to think about is sex. Having taken a vox of poverty when she became a faith healer, Losana remembers fondly her days of wild sex with many men, one of which being Oilei. She is kind of a perv. Furthermore as she approaches Oilei's house, she anticipates seeing his body parts that "used to bring her such pleasure. And the first thing she does once inside is have him strip naked and talk about his recent sexual conquests. Her motives do not seem to be altogether pure.
Most importantly none of these healers seem to take into account with any sort of sincerity the opinions of the others. Despite being Marama's friend and fellow "dottore" Losana's diagnosis/treatment of Oilei's malady does not take Marama's ideas into account at all. They both seem to find modern medicine completely laughable (and the feeling indeed seems mutual). This inconsideration for other types of medicine is made very clear in the chapter about the conference between all medical practicioners. This whole event, latently a coming together of diverse minds to promote a better understanding/respect of one another. Everyone plays along, but no one is being sincere. The modern doctors still don't have any real respect for the traditional curers, the traditional curers don't even know what being said and just pleased to get some money, the speakers give passionate and persuasive discourses in complete contradiction to what they actually believe, and everyone goes home happy. Medicine is often thought of to me as a definite science. Obviously medicine is in fact a science, but what I mean by this is that I go to a doctor, and he knows what is wrong with me and he knows how to fix it. This aspect of the novel however, this sense of alternate methods and corrupt intentions of medical practitioners made me second guess myself a little bit.
This is a homelands analysis, and I am writing about this aspect of the book for a reason. I live in Northport, a small suburban town on the northern shore of Long Island. There are 6 kids in my family. In my family, when you are 4, you go to Trinity Regional School. Trinity is a pre-k to 8th grade small catholic school a mile away from our house. Me and my older brother graduated from there, our 4 younger siblings are all currently enrolled there. My mother grew up in northport (also a mile away from Trinity). There were 6 kids in her family, and they all went to Trinity. My moms sister now lives in the house they grew up in, and my cousins go to/graduated from Trinity. There has been some memeber of family there (usually quite a bit of members) for most of the last 40 years. It is the natural progression in my family. Your first step into the outside world, your "homeland's" first expansion, is from your household to Trinity Regional School.
Trinity is a place were you meet 40 kids who will be in your grade for the next 10 years. These kids are almost always fairly close to exactly like you (Northport is not the most heterogenous place in the world). Everyone has similar backgrounds, religions, upbringings, etc. But there was this one girl in my grade (since this is a public blog I'll call her "Jane") who was different than the rest of us in some ways. She was Native American, not catholic, and had experienced an upbringing that was a bit more dissimilar than the rest of the 39 other kids in our grade. Sometime's when the teacher called on her during religion she would tell us about her family's traditions and parties. One day she came in with traditional painted designs all over her hands from a family party she'd been to this weekend, and everyone felt bad for her.
One day in 7th grade however, Jane was not in her desk. She was not in class the rest of the week, and in fact she never came back to Trinity Regional School. Northport/Trinity being a small community, people began to talk. Kids heard what their mothers were saying and soon what had happened--or some version of it--got passed around the class. Jane's mom refused to allow her daughter to get the necessary vaccinations that the school required for the children periodically. As everyone in my grade found out, the obvious jokes were made by us witty 12-year-olds at the absent Jane's expense. She was unhygenic. Native Americans were unhygenic. She/They had diseases. She/They only believed in witch doctors and eating berries and drinking potions for medical treatment. This was all very apparent.
But I remember sitting in my desk and remembering seeing Jane's mom pick her up one day. Her skin was darker but other than that she looked very much like my mom; wearing similar clothes and talking to Jane in a similar manner. Jane's mom was a regular person, so why on earth didn't she just let Jane get her shots (like a regular person would). Clearly that was what you were supposed to do.
A few weekends later, I opened my Long Island Newspaper ("Newsday") looking for the comic strips. But my school's name in big letters in the headline of an article caught my eye. I read the article, and it was about Jane being kicked out of Trinity. There was a few quotes from Jane's mom, and i don't remember them for the most part, except for one: "Other parents are just following blindly" she said "If they really knew what was going on they would not be letting their kids get these shots" (or something to that effect, i know the first phrase was definitely used). I remember dismissing Jane's mom as pretty much crazy. I laughed about the article with my friends later, and honestly haven't thought about Jane at all in a really long time. I kind of forgot she existed until I was reading this book today.
Our medical treatment is a really touchy subject for us. I think this is the area in which it is the most easy to fall into the "centre" and "periphery" mindset. The thought that our method of medicine isn't the best way possible is kind of scary and offputting. It is really easy to dismiss any alternative ideas as being stupid, or unfounded. Obviously covering yourselves with leeches to get rid of a sickness in lieu of antibiotics is probably not the best idea, but Jane's mom probably was not completely out of her mind. Because I knew very little about things that were different than my own life, she seemed like a lunatic back in 7th grade. However after reading the first half of this book, I kind of think that maybe other cultures and their medicinal values should be embraced. I'm not saying I'm never getting another shot because I, like Jane's mom, don't want to "follow blindly." I'm just saying other ways of doing things should be considered and respected, at the very least.

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