no surgery, please (part 2)

So my husband and I (despite the fact that we were still exhausted from the previous day’s events) were obligated to return to the hospital the following day to check on mother-in-law, who was doing as well as could be expected given her fear that she was still going to die.

We took some time out of our day there to visit my husband’s cousin, who had been admitted last night and who was only down the hall from my mother-in-law.  Typical teenager that he is, he merely laid there pretty much indifferent to the happenings around him (apparently for Chinese people, when someone ends up in the hospital for whatever reason, it is reason to have the entire extended family visit) playing with his Nintendo DS.  His mom was glad to see me because she wanted my medical opinion about her son’s case.  No amount of reasoning on my part was able to convince her of the fact that I am but merely a med student with very limited clinical experience who really has no place commenting on her son’s case.

Apparently, my cousin-in-law had also fractured his tibia and fibula in his fall (though not as badly as my mother-in-law) and the orthopedic surgeon (the same one who treated my mother-in-law) also decided that surgery with insertion of plates was the best course of action for him.  However, this was not settling well with his family, but for a different reason.

His mom explained to me that Chinese people believe that the body is sacred and that it must remain whole in both life and death (Confucianism), meaning that surgery was a definite no-no.  She wanted to know if her son really needed the surgery to get better, which was something I could not tell her because I was not his doctor and definitely not an orthopedic surgeon.  Ultimately, all I could say was if the doctor thought it was the best thing to do, then that it probably was.  She was much more open to my opinion than she was with the gwai lo doctor, as was her husband (who was overseas and communicated with me by phone).

As glad as I was that they were much more reasonable people, at the same time, this experience showed me just how much trust certain people will place in me despite my woeful lack of knowledge and experience just because I am seen to be of their same culture (though technically, I’m not because I’m not Chinese).  Would they have also so quickly listened to a dentist’s opinion on their son’s ankle just because he was Chinese?  I also learned that despite being more knowledgeable about Asian culture than most, there are many things in Asian culture regarding medicine that I do not know and that I need to be aware of because Asian people (such as my in-laws) will be trusting me to know and understand these things based on my appearance as an Asian person.  And lastly, did this Confucian belief in the sacredness of the body also play a role in my mother-in-law’s extreme fear of having surgery and distrust for gwai lo doctors because all they ever seem to want to do is violate the sacredness of her body?

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