My mom was in pain for a month until she went to the ER Friday night.  They found out that she had a cyst in her fallopian tube.  She went into surgery Saturday.  She came home last night.

My grams was upset that my mom didn’t inform her about her health condition or that she was getting surgery.  And then to make matters worse, my grams wanted one of us to stay with my mom overnight.  “You don’t know what doctors and nurses will do to your mom once everyone goes home,” Grams said.  The nurse was kind and she explained to us that we’re not allowed to stay overnight because my mom shared a room.

What happened got me thinking.  The Hmong (traditional, ignorant, and uneducated) have this distrust in hospitals, medical procedures, doctors, and nurses.  They don’t know that even though it could happen, there are laws against using a human being as a test subject without their consent.  And even if doctors have the patient’s consent, there are ethical guidelines to abide by.

My aunt is on dialysis for kidney failure.  When her doctor first suggested my aunt be put on dialysis immediately three years ago, my grams refused.  She said that dialysis will kill my aunt because it has “killed” other Hmong people.  So, my grams took my aunt from the hospital and had a shaman perform a religious ceremony (ua neeb and hu plig) on my aunt to call back her spirit.  My aunt ended up at the hospital a month later and that was when we finally persuaded my grams to allow the doctor to put my aunt on dialysis.

My grams (and I’m sure many others) believe doctors test on humans, like scenes from horror movies where psychotic surgeons prey on weak patients and use them for horrible medical procedures.  This is derived from not understanding that there are risks involved in healthcare.

Many ignorant and uneducated Hmong folks believe that doctors should never make mistakes and medical procedures should not carry any risks.  And it is because of this belief that when the medication or the medical procedure goes wrong, then they automatically think the doctor had ill motives.

A patient who had knee surgery doesn’t recover well and ends up not being able to walk for the rest of her life.  People like my grams will automatically assume that it was the doctor who did it on purpose to “test” on that patient.  A patient dies during heart surgery.  People like my grams will automatically assume that the heart surgeon killed the patient on purpose.

It is because of this attitude towards the healthcare professionals that makes it hard for younger Hmong generations, like myself, to talk to the elders about health risks involved in getting treatment.  And it is even harder when a family member needs medical treatment or surgery.

The Hmong culture values family collectivism.  Every major decision is made as a family.  So, if a family member needs to get treatment, and the elders refuse to allow that because of their distrust in doctors, then there really is nothing much you can do.

In my position, I can disregard what my elders say and sign the papers myself and get treatment.  But, what about children?  What about those who don’t speak English or are not educated (like my aunt)?  They are left with someone else making the decision for them, someone whose beliefs cloud their judgments.

6 thoughts on “Distrust in hospitals, medical procedures, doctors, and nurses

  1. That’s pretty sad that your grandma has such a distrust in doctors and Western medicine. Some people just refuse to believe that anything good can come out of Western medicine. I also believe that “Hmong magic” or “ker khang” (my Hmonglish) that can sometimes help patients when Western medicine and doctors can’t.


  2. FYI all readers: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. It’s the story of one young girl and her family’s encounter with Western Medicine, recommended reading for all NHSC medical doctors, each of whom are required to work four years in a Health Professional Shortage Area. This facinating and spell-binding nonfiction book identifies and describes the broad gaps in communication and culture between Western Medicine and the Hmong people. It is helpful for any physician to read, because the conscientious physician will see and recognize disparities in communication with other sub-cultures in their practice population as well.


    1. I have read that book. Traditional, non-Christian Hmong rely on their shamans before turning to Western medicine. Any health problems a Hmong person may have is the result of their spirit or soul wandering off. It is the shaman’s duty to go to the underworld and being back the lost soul so that the ill can regain their health. And like adoseofmee commented above, sometimes calling back the spirit works wonders when Western medicine have failed.


  3. You know, I was talking to my grandpapa’s physical therapy about this, how i have to repeat myself numerous of times to tell my grandpa why he has to do physical therapy. One thing that really stands out is the cultural differences. One may understand the words of english, but at the same time, they’re not comprehending the meaning of it.


    1. I think I know why your grannies distrust doctors. When we first came to the United States, my dad was ill and went to the doctor. They exam him and gave him some pills to take, I don’t remember why he was ill. I think it was because of his leg or something, I was still young so I don’t remember much. He took the medicines as instructed and later on he would keep coughing up blood. My parents soon found out that it was because of the medicine so that was why they stopped trusting the doctors. And one time when I burned my arm on accident, the nurse gave me a blue little square thing that cools your burn and sticks on it. Well I put that on and when my I took it off to exam it, the skin on my burn torn off and was worse. I was kind of freaked out. I think why your grannies don’t trust doctors are because they might’ve have encounter something like that or knows someone that something like that happened to them. Now, my family only uses Thai medicine or Chinese. We rarely use medicines given by doctors, but we do use Vitamin C’s and the kind of medicine for kids to help them stop coughing or have a stuffy nose.


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