Understanding Peruvian myths

“That cold water will give you a sore throat!” What myths and beliefs have you heard from family members?

Every country has its own set of customs, beliefs and myths that pass from one generation to the next. Being Peruvian born, one cannot escape hearing some of the beliefs and memories of many recommendations told by the old timers, grandparents, aunts and, of course, Mom. Having lived in the States for such a long period of my life, those beliefs and myths I grew up with eventually dissipated; however, since returning to Peru, I can now understand that this is part of our culture because these myths and beliefs are embedded in our people’s way of life.

Perhaps working in the medical field may have had something to do with my reluctance towards some of these ideas our people have. I’ve even tried explaining to my family members about how the myths don’t make any sense at all, but I failed at my persuasive speech.

As this summer continues to be unbearably hot, I’ve begun to notice these preconceived ideas even more. Why are people so afraid and worried about air conditioning getting them sick? It’s almost like they would rather melt rather than be in a slightly cooler room or office. As far as transportation, taking public transportation such as the Metropolitano at noon or basically at any time where the heat high at this time of year is almost inhumane. How can these huge buses transport so many people without air circulating? The worst part of it is that people don’t seem to complain about the uncomfortable situation, perhaps assuming there is no use in complaining and that they must simply ‘˜deal with it.’ I think how dangerous this situation could be for babies and the elderly, both at high risk of dehydration and heat stroke.

Then I see how sales of fans are booming in the capital because people are so overheated. As if blowing hot air around an area would cool you off! Oh and be careful, Grandma says, do not let the air stream blow directly at you, especially not on your back as it will cause you to get sick. Well, I explained, in the States you use air conditioning everywhere you go and the population of Americans hasn’t become extinct just yet because of this. I also explained that the reason why airlines give you blankets on board is because the AC is ran very cold in order to prevent foul air from circulating. Also, I mentioned, if you visit any hospital in the States you might as well bring a jacket because it’s freezing. The reason for this is to prevent the spread of infections which are airborne (another reason the mix of high temperatures and close physical contact in the Metropolitano make it unsanitary transportation).

The typical question at the store when you go to buy a bottle of water or a soda is whether you would like it cold or room temperature. You’re bound to overhear a parent telling their child that drinking or eating something cold will give them a sore throat. I find all of these episodes amusing but at the same time sometimes annoying.

Two of the myths that I really try to re-educate people about whenever I get a chance (and, should they actually pay attention to me) is to not overdress a kid in these high temperatures, and in case of a fever give them a cool bath. To be honest with you they look at me with such disbelief when I tell them this that I’m not sure if it actually registered in their heads. Nevertheless I give it my best shot.

Peruvian myths are amusing. I still remember when I was a little kid and how I would always fall and scratch my knees. My mother used to put on this cream (now called Prontosil, though has a different name in Spanish) that made me look as if I just went through a war zone. My skin would be stained red, making me look bloodier than I was, and it burned horribly. Later on in life when I was doing my internship at a hospital, I was allowed to watch an open heart surgery and I saw how they were preparing the patient with that same solution. I believe they still use this product now.

I also remember a good friend of mine and renowned pulmonary physician told me once how toxic the use of Vicks VapoRub is because it is petroleum based, damages the lungs, and can be absorbed by the pores. As far as I can see the product is still on the market. Yes, as I said before, time will pass but the myths and beliefs will remain from generation to generation.