My body became drenched in alcohol as I slowly lowered myself into the salt bath, trembling. Why salt? Can’t I just go to the doctor? Is this dangerous? So many questions troubled my mind as I laid in the steaming bath. I was undergoing a Mexican home remedy that cures chills, with salt and alcohol. After an hour of treatment, I showered and examined my symptoms. Huh, no chills? It actually worked! This was one of many home remedies of my culture. Other methods of treatment include olive oil, egg yolks, and skin pulling. Skin pulling, or tirar el cuerito, heals indigestion by reverberating the intestines. Egg yolk is a spiritual cleanse, said to absorb mal ojo, the negative energy placed by enemies. I never understood how eggs, salt, and alcohol could cure or benefit health, but my family’s firm belief convinced me otherwise.
In my family of five, my mother is an illiterate, undocumented immigrant, with a language barrier and no job. She had no form of transportation and walked everywhere. Government assistance wasn’t available due to her immigration status, so she used traditional medicine taught to her by my grandmother, Abuela. Abuela lost her husband and eldest son to the drug cartel, which turned her heavily religious. Due to her poverty, doctor checkups were rare; creativity and belief were their only treatments. Praying to the One above gave them strength to overcome any illnesses or complications. For instance, when my mother lived on a ranch, she would feed the horses. One day, after placing a bale of hay behind the horse, it kicked her straight in the stomach and left her unconscious. Abuela anxiously prayed for her wellbeing, placed candles, and gave her aloe vera to eat. Remarkably, she was saved with no internal damage, turning my mother into a believer of remedies as well. Once she became a mother, she decided to use traditional remedies on me and my siblings.
In secondary school, I joined the Doctors Academy, which significantly changed my view on medicine. The Doctors Academy primarily focuses on the origin and dispersal of illnesses. In the program, we not only explored diseases but also universities and college campuses. We presented our research papers to medical professionals and learned how to properly address an infection. Learning these new techniques shocked me since I was only familiar with the home remedies of my people. I didn't understand the concept of going to a professional for a cold or flu; I’ve always gone to my mother and she took care of it. However, one time I fractured my ankle, but there were no remedies to fix it. My mom was forced to take me to a doctor, a moment she was dreading. The doctor addressed it, prescribed me the medications, and placed a cast on the ankle. “Cast? Medication?” my mother cried not knowing what would happen. At that point, I realized my mom’s remedies weren’t always correct. I had always trusted my mom’s instinct. since she treated my chills, headaches, and indigestion successfully, but she couldn't treat my ankle. My mind was once again in turmoil with contradictions, so I decided to study the background of modern medicine.
In June of 2021, I participated in a summer program called UCSF Virtual Experience to expand my understanding of medical pathways. I was matched with a mentor, and I witnessed medical professionals performing in real-time and listened to their journeys. The program made me aware of the surrounding viruses in my area, such as Valley Fever and the Spanish flu. I also collaborated with my mentor, Dr. Geetha Sivasubramanian, who is an infectious disease specialist, to design posters for Hispanic Americans. In the Hispanic population, high rates of diabetes impact almost every household, including mine; therefore, I wanted to raise awareness of unhealthy eating habits and improve their diet.
Looking back, I've experienced life without doctors by only relying on family remedies, a common method for those in poverty. I only knew one form of treatment which was my mother’s remedies. However, after participating in the Doctors Academy and UCSF Virtual Experience, I realized there were many other ways to treat illnesses. Instead of using herbs and oils, I have observed how healthcare professionals administer vaccines, prescribe medicine, and perform surgeries. Despite my newfound knowledge, I still respect my mother’s beliefs as they saved her life as well as mine. This background, rich in faith and resourcefulness, is an additive to my life that has helped expand my curiosity about Western medicine. In the future, I plan to become an Oncologist to fight cancer. Also, with my understanding of both cultural remedies and Western medicine, I hope to find an intersection between these two forms of treatment and help my Hispanic community learn ways to prevent common diseases.
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