This is your third medical mission trip to Guatemala, and you’d felt like you’d pretty much see it all. But this latest case has you floored.
You’ve just been told that the patient in front of you has pérdida del alma. Since you’ve read about it in Understanding the Guatemalan Patient, you have a grasp on its basic meaning – “soul loss” – and you know that your patient is exhibiting one of the common symptoms: muteness.
How do you handle a case wrapped in traditions and folk medicine practices like this? One thing you know: you’re glad you’re here to serve.
Have you heard of these Guatemalan folk illnesses? Search our “Word(s) of the Week” archives to see some of the definitions or have them all at your fingertips after you pick up your own copy of Understanding the Guatemalan Patient on Amazon.
folk illnesses (n.)
aire, cir, ciro, empacho, mal hecho, mal ojo, pérdida del alma, pujo, susto
f. a folk treatment with a candle and a glass which creates suction on the skin; often leaves a circular bruise; can be used to remove “aire”; also means flatus
f. fontanelle; “Se le cayó las varillas” is an expression meaning a child’s fontanelle is sunken. In folk medicine, this situation can be caused by sitting a baby up when he is too young and is treated by holding him upside down and patting the soles of his feet or by pressing on his palate. Also treated by “palaguear” with “Miel de Chicoria” (Chicorium intybus) on the gauze.
m. a fright; as a folk illness it is sometimes treated with a ritual (see ensalmar) or salty water; thought to cause diabetes
v. ritual treatment of passing children through smoke by a curandero; see desahumar
m. in Mayan thought, an animal spirit that sometimes causes illness
f. moon; thought to affect the activity of parasites and position of babies before birth
adj. refers to certain foods which are thought to cause wound infections, such as eggs, fish, avocados and beans. Patients need to be taught about diet to avoid malnutrition and poor wound healing.
m. cheeks; according to superstition, babies’ cheeks are thought to sag if you stand them up.