Saturday, November 5, 2011

"The Hospital is a Place of Death"
Susana Hospital, Hagåtna, Early 1900s

Many old-time Chamorros had a fear of the hospital.  First of all, they weren't used to hospitals.  The first real hospitals didn't start on Guam until the American period.  Before that, the Spanish government maintained homes for people with Hansen's Disease (leprosy) or conditions thought to be leprosy, but no hospitals for general medical care.  Under the Spaniards, there was often one military doctor or medical officer.  At times there was also a practitioner of sorts; for example, someone who had previously served as a kind of doctor on a whaling ship then settled on Guam.  Still others were just in charge of giving people vaccinations.  Delivering babies was the work of midwives or pattera, and this was done in the home.  Many people were also used to going to the suruhåno and suruhåna (herbal doctors).

When the first hospital went up in Hagåtña, Chamorros did not avoid it entirely.  Many gladly went to it for medical attention. 

But some didn't.  They reasoned that they saw many people go in, but not all of them come back out, except in a wooden box.

They said, "Fanmatåyan i espitåt."  The hospital is where you go to die.

FAN+MATAI+AN = fanmatåyan.

Of course, many people did go to the hospital, only to die, because they waited till it was too late to profit from medical attention.

To this day, there are those who refuse to see doctors, much less go to the hospital.  And there are still others who would rather see the suruhåno and suruhåna, than see someone with an MD after their name.  One lady who lived past 100 told people the secret of her long life : avoid doctors.  She only drank Chamorro herbal medicine.

I see doctors all the time.  But I have also benefited from åmot Chamorro (herbal medicine).  I like using both approaches.  But then, again, I am mestiso.

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