Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Biomedicine, Polymorphism, & "Alternative" Healing

Just about a year ago from today, I was finishing an ethnographic project for a qualitative research class where I spent 4-6 hours a week at the local health department’s free clinic observing the behaviors, conversations, and interactions among those waiting for vaccinations or check-ups in the waiting room area. Interestingly enough, after reading Dutta’s chapter contrasting the biomedical method of curing and healing with various other perspectives, my mind was full of examples of situations where the biomedical system was forced upon individuals as the only viable and legitimate mechanism for improving one’s health. I remember overhearing a conversation between two elderly women regarding a doctor’s disbelief in one woman’s accusation that her back pain was more than mere arthritis and old age. Numerous parents would share with one another their frustration in being forced to vaccinate their children for conditions that they “couldn't even pronounce.” The waiting room itself was plastered with posters, in both English and Spanish language, advertising local smoking cessation and childhood obesity programs, many of which were “graciously” offered at little cost to patients. Through appreciation of the lived experiences of these individuals, I was able to better understand their perceptions of health, illness, and curing.

Strangely enough, as I sit here coughing myself from the havoc wrecked on my body from spring allergies, my first reaction is to turn to a cure for my increasingly sore throat. And as I sip my cup of hot honey, sassafras, and chamomile tea, I wonder what aspects of my culture have led me to turn to the herbal remedy suggested years ago from my Cherokee grandmother instead of the Theraflu and Robitussin in my medicine cabinet. Perhaps it stems from my increasing distrust in the hegemonic pharmaceutical system? Is this a small act of personal resistance? Or, is the limitation afforded by the fact that I’m pregnant and unable to take many “normal” medications, as the biomedical system (and my obstetrician) suggests, regulating my decision? Why is my herbal tea any more or less primitive than the next way of curing? As I continue to engage with the polymorphism enmeshed in my own view of health, I struggle with coming to terms with how the complex nature of a polymorphic approach allows for reconciliation between multiple ways of healing such that equally meaningful treatment decisions, across systems of healing, can be made.

No comments: