I had a cold. Runny nose, runny eyes, a slight cough. Nothing special.
“Let’s go to the hospital, you need medicine”, Kurdish friends said.
Medicine for a cold? We in Holland say: curing a cold takes seven days with, and a week without medicine. A cold is one of those things you cannot cure with pills or antibiotics. Lots of vitamin C and fluids, some paracetamol and lots of sleep. You can ease the runny nose with nose drops from the pharmacy, and the cough with an ordinary cough mixture.
Yet in Kurdistan, people are convinced that when you do not feel well, a visit to the doctor and a pill will solve that. There is a complete different idea of ailments and cures than in most parts of the West. Here you go to a doctor and expect to leave with an injection, or a bag full of medicine.
In the five years I have lived here, I have not visited a doctor once, and I hope to keep it this way. Because most of the simple ailments do not need a doctors’ advice. An upset stomach? Then I just do a diet of tea and toast. Is my headache not leaving me – perhaps I am working too hard? Did the sun burn my skin? I will look after it with some soothing cream.
I learned this from the doctors at home, who refuse to give medicine unless it is really needed. Not to pester their patients, but to prevent them from getting addicted. And even more importantly, if you are taking antibiotics the whole time, it will not work anymore when it is really needed. As a result of the misuse of medicine, some strains of bacteria are no longer sensitive to antibiotics.
It is not only Kurdish doctors that are to blame. They react to their patients, who demand medicine. But I do blame the doctors, who do not get together to try and find a way to educate their patients.
Now Kurdish patients shop around for their health care. So every doctor starts from the beginning, without the patient’s files and medical history to work with. Doctors should send those patients away: bring me your medical file! Now patients say: this medicine is not working, I am going to another doctor. Yet they should understand that the doctor is not a magician. Medicines work differently with different people, and the doctor needs to see how the patient reacts and can then amend the medication.
What we need in Kurdistan, first of all, is good information. Good education about illnesses and cures. We need doctors working with patient files. And patients realizing that their body is not a machine that just needs a bit of oil to run well again.
This column can be read in Kurdish in Kurdistani Nwe, via this link