The term “culture of biomedicine” reminds us that while biomedicine positions itself as a purely objective and scientific form of healthcare, it still has culture and ritual of its own.  For example, the education and training of biomedical doctors is a rite of passage, and we can examine how it follows a clear progression from ceremonious events of separation from society, transition, and finally, incorporation as new members of society.  Like this week’s Quebbeman article explained, some traditions in Western operating rooms have little scientific basis.  Standard precautions like wearing surgical masks and booties to cover shoes are revered as ensuring the lowest risk of infection, but research has shown that not wearing these protective garments has no significant influence on infection rates in surgical patients.  Instead, rituals like this are steeped in the history of surgery and have remained purely out of tradition.  Recognizing cultural aspects of biomedicine is crucial to evaluating the cost-effectiveness and success of our health care system.

The Western dichotomy between “healthy” and “sick” can often be an arbitrary division on what I consider to be a spectrum between the two states of being.  This is especially true for cases of psychological illness.  Our biomedical health system changes the definitions of psychiatric conditions to reflect current ideologies within society, rather than new scientific discoveries.  Despite this subjective process, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DMV) neatly categorizes over 400 mental illnesses, so that the diagnoses of these have a seemingly logical and scientific basis.  My concept of sickness is a pathological or chronic condition that impairs the body and/or mind’s ability to function.  (For this blog post, I’m not going to get into the “body” and “mind” dichotomy!)  I think that every person has the power to determine whether or not she is sick, and that a personal claim to illness legitimizes it.  Health is when the body and mind are working efficiently and are sufficiently nurtured, but I also see it as a state without disease, or without disease taking a toll on one’s life.  For instance, someone with diabetes who controls his condition with insulin might not define himself as sick.  I think the dichotomy between health and illness is so starkly defined because of our medical system, where doctors have the ultimate authority of classing each patient as sick or healthy.  Thus, the sensations of sickness are not legitimized without a diagnosis.  In a society that prizes the restitution experience of illness, where a condition is diagnosed, then properly treated and cured, we accept and deepen the line between “healthy” and “sick”.

2 thoughts on “Healthy/Sick

  1. The healthy/ sick dichotomy is dificult to specify. Both of these things can vary across not only cultures, but also between certain people. For example, things that we consider to be a sickness in Western culture, such as PMDD and ADHD, other societies may not. Webster’s dictionary defines being healthy as “the condition of being sound in body, mind, and spirit; or freedom from physical disease or pain.” Sickness, on the other hand, is defined as “a disordered, weakened, or unsound condition.” Reading these definitions did not really help me formulate a clear idea of exactly each term means, because an individual could be “sound in body” but not “in mind,” or vice versa. Going by this definition, a person is not healthy unless all of conditions are met.
    I think that it is important for clinicians to understand this dichotomy due to the fact that it does not have a clear cut definition. Someone may feel sick, but not be expressing any measurable symptoms that a professional can diagnose. On the other hand, someone may feel completely healthy, but actually be suffering from a condition. This could lead to things like mis-diagnoses, further illnesses, and suffering of patients. A clinician must also realize that people react to pain and illness differently, and that not every one will have the same experience. I believe in order to fix this problem, clinicians need to listen more closely to patients to truly understand what they are feeling. Instead of just coming in, taking tests, and prescribing medications, they should spend more time with each individual to ensure proper diagnosis. This will help in the realization of what it means to be healthy or sick, and create an overall better lifestyle for patients.


    • Am coming to thing that this class is both anti science and anti-western (and filled to the gills with cultural relativism all narratives of life are equal bull S***. Medicine is (notice how I did not say biomedicine because that is opening the door for relativism) is objective.
      I was of the opinion that the surgical mask (and safety glasses for that matter) are more for the protection of the operating room state, the same goes with the booties. Trauma room surgeons often time were rubber work boots to protect their feet from the often prodigious amounts of blood flowing from an injured patient.
      Yes there are some cultural trappings but these go back to the roots of modern medicine, the Greco Roman times, and totally aside from a university environment I value western culture a great deal.

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