Growing up in the Mexican culture, I was introduced to a lot of home remedies to treat everything — coughs, colds, stomachaches, fevers, bug bites, and even “el mal de ojo,” or the “evil eye.” Mexican folk medicine was an important part of my upbringing, but as an adult with a rare disease, I rely on Western medicine to stay healthy.
It’s most out of character for me to be at a loss for words when talking about pulmonary fibrosis. I try my best to always help others understand this disease and how it affects me. However, I’ve had a hard time teaching people from my culture about my disease, and I realized how strong these beliefs about folk remedies are. I’ve had to examine and work to understand a few things about my own myths about folk medicineespecially when it comes to my family’s beliefs.
Healing through cultural traditions
In the Mexican culture, we put our trust in a person we call a “curandera” (female) or “curandero” (male). A curandera is a traditional folk healer whose practice often involves sage burning, exorcism with an egg, miracle teas and herbs, cleansings that rid the body of evil spirits, and offerings and prayers to a higher deity. In my family, my grandmother acted as our curandera when I was young.
My grandmother always had a remedy for any food. She would heal with herbs. My mother would call to consult her about what to give us when we were sick. I do remember the same for my daughter when she was young. I don’t remember my family ever relying on modern medicine. I don’t know if it was due to a lack of financial stability or because of traditional and cultural beliefs, or both.
As a second-generation Mexican American, my mother was the first to try to rely on Western medicine. I do seeing remember a doctor at the local community center as a young child. I can remember the smells of modern medicines, which were different from what was always being formulated in our kitchen at home. I remember when I received my first school vaccinations and how worried the adults in my family were. They were afraid of what was being injected into our bodies.
Before being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosisI tried my family’s folk remedies to cure my symptoms. I made some of the teas that my grandmother taught me to make, especially to ease the chronic cough I’d developed. I believed it would cure whatever ailment was causing me to cough and wheeze. It seemed the most natural concept for me. It was what I knew. I trusted this way of healing and never thought it to be odd.
When every remedy I tried didn’t relieve my symptoms, I had to research something else. I was getting sicker and experiencing shortness of breath, low oxygen, and wheezing, so I thing to see a doctor. It took several doctors to finally give me a proper diagnosis. Even with modern medicine, rare illnesses are difficult to identify.
Modern medicine versus folk medicine
I have nothing against folk medicine. It has been a rough transition leaving behind what I was most comfortable with. I do believe that some of the folk medicine I’ve learned about still has worth, but for my rare illness, I’ve chosen to put my trust in modern medicine.
With all the research and medical advice from my doctors, I found that certain medications could help with the stability of pulmonary fibrosis, such as Ofev (nintedanib) and CellCept (mycophenolate mofetil). For over a year, my lung function has held steady due to this modern medicine.
Today, my family still practices folk medicine traditions. The Latino culture is rich in this traditional way of healing. There are times when my family still asks if I want to keep trying folk remedies. For some, it’s hard to understand the seriousness of my illness. It is hard for them to understand why there’s no cure. Patiently and lovingly, I try to explain that “in this world, unexplainable things happen to some people, and I happen to be one of those ‘some people.’”
I do enjoy the tradition of sipping on different types of herbal teas. I still have my teas sitting on my kitchen counter, and I drink them every now and then. While it has been hard for some to see me stray away from our traditions, I still respect these beliefs.
There will always be a place inside me that will automatically turn to folk remedies first. I guess those cultural traditions will always be a part of me. It took being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis to convince me that modern medicine and technology would be the best choice to treat an illness, especially one so rare.
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