Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When Ill in Russia


One of the things I have learned when studying abroad is cultural perspectives on hygiene, health and illness. For Russians, naturally, their historical experience surviving the Siberian winter has shaped most perceptions of health. For example, Russians never put ice cubes in their drink as they believe cold beverages will give you a sore throat that will become infected, give you cancer and cause death, as one would never consume a cold drink during the freezing winter. (I am partially exaggerating here)

Another Russian myth on health is to never leave a window and a door to a room open, as the draft flowing through the wind will cause you to catch a cold that will turn into pneumonia and ultimately prove fatalistic. Again, a function of geography.

Let me remind readers that we have bizarre notions of health in the US. If you have a cut on your finger and put a band-aid on it, you are not supposed to let the wound breathe at night and remove the band-aid, but leave the band-aid on until the wound has healed completely.  Bottom line -- in every culture, one can find myths on personal hygiene and health that are not scientifically sound.

Yesterday, my friend unfortunately discovered the Russian cure for nausea. My friend was feeling nauseous and left school after lunch. When she went to the director's office, they gave her charcoal pills (yes, charcoal pills), which subsequently prevented her from throwing up. We've all been nauseous before and know that it is better to get whatever bug out of you then to keep it inside. After all, her body was probably reacting to something she ate -- totally normal when abroad.

After being forced to take a charcoal pill and sent home with another one, her host mother insisted she go to the hospital. After refusing, her host mother then insisted she rub an "antibiotic" liquid on her stomach. My friend's host mother then lifted up her dress and basically forced herself on her.

This morning, my friend read the label, which was in English, and discovered that this magical antibiotic liquid was mouth wash. She told me at the time it smelled minty so she figured it was some random antiseptic. But no -- it was mouth wash (like Listerine). Ironically, her host mom told her to never consume it as it is a very powerful antibiotic.

Fortunately, my friend drank plenty of fluids, took some American over-the-counter drugs, rested and was alive and well today in class.

I could not help but to share this story with you, as it illustrates the painful student experience of being sick in a foreign country as well as foreign perspectives on personal hygiene.

While I have not yet been sick in Russia, I have been sick abroad and was told to drink hot milk with butter and honey. Here in Vladimir, Olga has been treating an ear ache by inserting a cotton swab of vodka into her ear everyday.

The combination of these views on public health and widespread smoking an drinking result in a pretty bleak demographic situation: the average life expectancy for Russians is 60 for males and 73 for females. While I appreciate the Russian perspective on personal hygiene and genuinely love Russian people, it is time Russia incorporates health into public school curriculum.

1 comment:

  1. This is SO wild! Hoping that Russia invests in public health sooner rather than later!