Doctors and Hospitals in Mexico

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When Taboos and Human Nature Prevent Curing

"But son, that program is about sex!" "Yeah, you should watch it too"
Mexico's culture is different from American culture. For example, gender roles are more prevalent, specially in the countryside, marriage with children is seen as the expected and approved lifestyle, and authority is much more respected, and sex talk is filled with euphemisms.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend that reminded me how sometimes cultural or social norms that have nothing medical or biological components, get in the way of curing and healing.

This friend was telling me about how when she was young, her parents didn't talk to her about sex. Unfortunately, this is very common, but sadly, it is even more common in cases where the risk of teen pregnancy is higher (i.e. poor and uneducated single mothers). Because of this, she didn't use protection and when she finally found a boyfriend she wanted to have a steady relationship with, she had herself tested and found that she had a few STDs and infections.

She went to the doctor and was in treatment, but the results were not as good or as fast as she expected them. Later on, while she was in line waiting to be subscribed to a program that authorizes you to sell products through catalogs, in this case a line of beauty and care products, she and other women in the program started to talk about their experiences. It was at first, typical conversation topics such as how this or that cream cleared their skin, etc. However, one of them started to talk about having using one of their products for her "intimate parts."

I put "intimate parts" in quotes precisely to make a point. Many Mexican women feel bad about using the word "vagina." To them, it is a bad word that should be avoided, specially if children are around. Not all Mexican women think it's a bad word, of course, but generally the more religious, uneducated and conservative they are, the more they avoid the word. Instead, they use a lot of euphemisms. Some of them are very simple ("down there"), some allegoric ("the flower") and some are funny or strange ("the little treasure").

Anyway, it turns out that this woman had exactly the same kind of problem and even some sort of mild cancer. In fact, she was so ill and desperate that she didn't care about using the product for a vaginal douching. To her and her doctor's surprise, the diseases disappeared and the cancer contracted.

My friend later on looked for an opportunity to have a talk with this woman, because she felt it was too embarrassing to talk about her situation with the other women around. After chatting with this woman, my friend decided to try the same product. Like the woman, her illnesses disappeared.

But she didn't tell her doctor.

Why? Again, it was shame, although a different kind of shame. You see, in Mexico, a doctor is a figure of authority, and having a treatment or using a product that the doctor didn't prescribe is perceived as an insult, even if the treatment or product works. However, this meant that my friend didn't share her information with the doctor and thus no other women benefited from this.

The story didn't end there. Two years later, my friend thought that her experience might be useful to other women, so she decided to go back to her doctor and talk about it. However, it turned out that her first reaction was right. The doctor was not happy, would not hear about it, and scolded my friend.

Please note that I'm not endorsing this product or saying it does have medical uses. My point is that all the issues in this story had nothing medical or biological about it. It would have been much better if both doctors and patients focused only on these issues and decisions were about texting, experimenting, reporting, telling their experiences, to find whether a product works or not. Instead, decisions were about avoiding shame, respecting authority, and get around bad language.

Are there cultural barriers in your country that prevent people from getting cured or healed? What are they and how can they be avoided? Please tell me what you think in the comments.


Robert Ervin is a freelancer who writes about healthcare, medical tourism, and living in Mexico.

If you're considering traveling to Mexico for healthcare or retiring in Mexico, you may want to get yourself a copy of The English's Speaker's Guide to Doctors and Hospitals in Mexico, in order to find a good doctor or hospital in the main towns and cities of Mexico, or The English Speaker's Guide to Medical Care in Mexico, to understand how the Mexican healthcare system works. 

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