Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/837

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817
RACE INFLUENCE AND DISEASE.
RACE INFLUENCE AND DISEASE.

By G. BERNARD HOFFMEISTER, M. A., M. D.

IT has been my lot to deal professionally for some years with people of divers colors and races, nations and languages in many different parts of the world, and in varied and constantly changing climates. I have thus had exceptional opportunities and sufficient leisure to ponder over racial variations as they present themselves to the medical eye.

Perhaps the most interesting races with whom I have been thrown into contact are the African, and I will consider them first. I have more especially had to do with the natives of East Africa, who are Mohammedans of a somewhat lax and unorthodox type, and yet, owing to their implicit acceptance of Mohammed's fatalistic doctrines, their submission to kismet is so complete as distinctly to influence the course of their illnesses.

Indirectly it does so in the following way: When a Sidi-boy incurs, for instance, a wound on his leg, he thinks that if Allah wills that this should get well its healing is certain, but, if the divine wish is otherwise, no human skill or care can do one iota of good; on this account details of simple dressing and protection are quite neglected by this poor fellow, or as much so as the surgeon will allow. If under discipline, he is willing to have his name on the sick list for the privileges which belong to it; but in his heart he despises surgical treatment. Clearly, then, the prognosis with such a case is much worse than it would be in other subjects.

The same argument applies with much greater force to medical cases, on account of the childlike ignorance which exists among such people as to what disease actually means.

This extreme and apathetic dependence on fate forms the greatest difficulty with which the physician has to contend. It speaks well for the blind religious faith of these races, and puts to shame many professing Christians on their sick-beds; but it costs many lives, and entails much extra work on medical attendants, who have perhaps to administer remedies with their own hands, and that often under great difficulties and at much personal sacrifice.

Another more direct point, and one which adds to the gravity of the prognosis, is that these men are not at all anxious to recover; their idea of the value of life is very low, their present existence is usually a hard one, while their religion promises them better times in their heaven, so that if Allah wills to take them they are in luck, and by no means to be pitied.

Now, we all know what it is in the crisis of a severe illness for