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There is a traditional medicine man who works on site at the IHS clinic.  He is a tall, slight, wizened old guy w/ long fingers and deep lines creasing his face.  He sits w/ his eyes nearly closed and tells us stories of people plagued by the spirits of the dead, or even by consequences of killing ants.  He calls us white doctors butchers.  But he is kind and his eyes crinkle when he laughs and he admits that western medicine has its place.  He speaks of the importance of being part of nature and remembering who you are.  He speaks of the importance of knowing where you come from without holding on to the past.  He speaks, though in a tangential meandering fashion, of the importance of the connection between body and spirit.  Though I'm not sure about vengeful ant spirits, there is much wisdom in his words.  And I'm pretty sure I'm not a butcher. 

Some patients are very traditional, and it's not necessarily the folks you expect.  A very modern looking young lady pregnant w/ her 3rd child talks about taking her placenta home so that her uncle (a medicine man) can bury it (if it's a boy, she thinks) or put it in a tree (if it's a girl, but it may be the other way around... the old folks will tell her).  She didn't take the placenta home for her 2 boys and they were sickly kiddos w/ lots of colds and allergies.  Her uncle had to do a ceremony to help them.  So this time she'll take the placenta.

A hard-working fella w/ bad joints - most of them metal at this point - comes in w/ more trouble w/ his right leg.  He's got a new knee, new hip, plates and screws holding the bones of his lower leg together, deep scars on his thigh from an accident w/ a saw.  He needs another trip to the orthopedist and more physical therapy, but some folks have told him his leg would be better if he got the tattoo of a demon wearing a full feather headdress removed from his shin.  He's not sure, but thinks they may be right. 

A quiet, middle-aged lady took care of her mom when she was sick.  She touched her after she was gone, and now her bones ache and she's very stressed.  There is tension in the family.  She's tearful and in emotional and physical pain.  She wants some western medicine, but she thinks the medicine man will be able to help her get at the cause - her mother's death and her physical proximity to it.  She at least wants to try it first.  And you know, I think it will help her.  It'll be good for her to talk to the old man w/ his laugh lines and long limbs. 



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 29th, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)
We've had some families with very positive traditional beliefs in my unit at times. It was wonderful to see how incorporating those beliefs into the care for their babies helped them to cope with the stresses of being surrounded by a highly medicalized, rather "rigid" environment. Seeing traditional clothing, linens, pictures, symbols, etc turning a drab, cold hospital bed into a bright, warm, loving place is wonderful.

There was one that still makes me sad, though. Tradition stated that a mother must not leave her home for a month following the delivery of her child, so she was unable to visit her baby while in the hospital. Other than immediately after birth, she did not see her child in person until the baby was about 2 weeks old.

I get that it isn't my place to feel sad about their beliefs, but I did anyways.
May. 7th, 2011 07:05 pm (UTC)
There's definitely something to be said for traditions. I think too often we throw out the baby with the bath water in western medicine. But I think that there are decisions made - some based on tradition and some on medical science, that are unfortunate. It can make it challenging, for sure!
Apr. 30th, 2011 02:05 am (UTC)
Fascinating. I feel like Spock might, examining a culture very different from my own simply through your words.

Sometimes it is mind over matter. In the third case, at least, I suspect that the woman needs to ease her worries by talking to someone.
May. 7th, 2011 07:07 pm (UTC)
A friendly ear and a familiar voice - coming from a similar background - can do wonders.

Glad I could share!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )