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VGopinath's picture

Subjectivity and Medical Treatments

    Although in class yesterday we seem to have come to the conclusion that there is no objective reality, we also agreed that there is a construct that our culture and community works within.  As we said in class, when we say numbers to each other in almost any American school, we are using the base 10 Arabic numeral system.  There are also more specialized terms that are agreed upon that vary within a larger community- "DC" at Haverford means the dining center, Washington DC in the DC Metro area and Davenport College at Yale.  And while I don't think that any construct is "more right" than another, when a person is functioning within a community, they have to adhere to the standards.  We have chosen how we label different deviations, for example "epileptic" or "schizophrenic."

      I have read the book "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down," which Sara referenced in class and David in his post, and I think one key practical element that we hadn't considered is the extent to which the family is a part of American society.  While the Hmong viewed Lia's seizures as messages from God, they lived in the United States and took her to the emergency room where all of our Western technology was used to stop her seizures and treat her medically as our culture would.  If she had these seizures at home, the extent to which we could use our constructs concerning medicine to judge her parents' treatment becomes murky.  But she was brought to an American hospital and an American doctor did what he thought was best for his patient, spending thousands of dollars every time she had an episode.   And I know that this book is read by many medical students in this country but I think they do so more to increase awareness of how other cultures treat diseases and not to teach new doctors that they should allow an individual with epilepsy to go untreated because an equally legitimate perspective on the disease is that it is a form of communication with Gods.  Within each community or construct, we have decided what's real and how we will behave.  This extends to symptoms of schizophrenia that are described as simply having abnormal emotional responses and not knowing the difference between real and unreal stimuli.  As a society, we have decided normal emotional responses and investigate any deviations.  In our culture, people who experience hallucinations, as we define them, are sent to visit a psychiatrist.  Within our community, while we can learn about how other cultures respond to what we view as mental illnesses, we will (and I believe should) respond to them according to our constructs.

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