Prescription: Take the Great Balinese Panacea 3×1 with a Dose of Que Sera Sera
By Hannah Black
The Bali Times
SILAKARANG ~ Last week my husband, Ongky, daughter Lola and I all came down with the sore throat and hacking cough that strikes once or twice a year in Bali, usually around the change of seasons. After trying to fight it for a few days with jamu (herbal drinks) and Panadol with little luck, we decided a family trip to the puskesmas (community health centre) was in order.
There the doctor took Ongky’s blood pressure but not mine, looked in our throats and decided we all needed a course of antibiotics, some painkillers, cough medicine for Lola and an unidentified yellow pill, which seems to be part of the treatment for all ailments. The whole process took less than 10 minutes and cost the whopping sum of Rp18,000 (US$1.50).
Arriving home 12 minutes after leaving, my mother-in-law came to check out the spoils and having a cough and cold herself decided to take one of each pill Ongky had been given, including the antibiotic, which I explained would do nothing if it wasn’t taken as a course. This is where the quick cheap treatment of the puskesmas seemed to stumble.
Even Ongky, who by now has listened to me lecture on about every subject in the whole world, had no idea that if an antibiotic wasn’t taken as part of a course, it would not only do no good whatsoever, but could lessen the chances of it working in the future. I also questioned the little yellow pill, asking what it was yet again, but was told: “Don’t take it if you don’t trust the doctor.”
I admit I had been asked if I had allergies to any medicines, but what if on taking the pill I had a bad reaction and couldn’t tell anyone what I had taken? The plastic bag with “3×1” written on it wouldn’t help anyone save my life.
Before I came here I read a lot about Balinese people’s spiritual beliefs and their trust in balians, or Balinese witch doctors, and herbal medicines, but living here I see very little proof of this. Often older members of the family will rub boreh, a warming mix of spices, on their bodies to relieve rheumatic pains or colds, and drinking jamu is meant to keep you healthy; but apart from that, people rely completely on Western medicine.
The Balinese are very quick to rush to the doctor, a fact I think has much to do with not knowing the difference between illness caused by a virus and those by bacteria. My husband’s family rarely sits out a cold or flu without going to the doctor for some magic pill to make them better. I often find on reading the packets they bring home that the magic pills are only paracetamol or vitamins. It’s this unquestioning faith in pills and medical doctors that is so difficult for me to understand.
Last January when Ongky’s uncle died very suddenly, I asked what had happened. What did the doctors say had caused his death? The only answer I got was that he had “fainted” and never got up again. For me this isn’t enough. Did he have a heart attack or did he fall and hit his head? Perhaps he had cancer or a brain tumour. The significance of this question to me is that with the knowledge of something like a death in the family because of a heart attack or cancer, other family members could be saved, but this genetic link doesn’t occur to people here.
Often people are said to have died from kencing manis (sweet pee), which translates as diabetes. In the West we know people can be predisposed to diabetes and can take measures to avoid developing it, such as a change in diet. Cancer, especially lung cancer, is probably a huge killer in Bali, yet I don’t think I have ever heard it mentioned. Everyone knows smoking is bad for you, but how many guys know that if their father died of lung cancer, they may be more likely to suffer from it as well? I guess I have to ask myself whether that knowledge would even stop someone from smoking or eating the wrong foods here.
When I talked with Ongky about this issue, he offered that perhaps sometimes it’s better not to know. Is ignorance bliss or could it be knocking years off the lives of those who could be avoiding certain illnesses?