The day I got my first period was notably one of the most humiliating days of my life (at the time, of course). I was watching cartoons with my little sister during summer vacation from school and I felt different. The pain I had been feeling all day was quickly confirmed, and I remember feeling really scared. I wasn’t afraid of the lifetime of horror that I had imagined would be in front of me. But I was afraid of telling my mother.
I knew I would have to tell her. I paced and paced around until I mustered up the courage. When I began to tell her what I was going through, the first words out of my mouth were, “I have to tell you something…but DON’T TELL ANYONE.”
The anxiety of being a young girl in a changing body can be humiliating at times as you are trying to figure things out. But when you are a first generation Hispanic-American, you have to deal with what feels like the whole world knowing.
To no ones surprise, the moment I went back to the last little bit of my childhood in the living room, she did it. She called my grandmother. Within minutes, every single one of my aunts was calling me to share their happiness. Getting ones period is a rite of passage after all—one that should be shared with extended family, of course.
Hispanics also often have a hard time understanding what patient privacy means when we go to the doctor or to the hospital, but we are protected by it. Many south Florida hospitals, for example, have adapted to this cultural nuance and adopted patient—and family-centered care philosophies that allow the whole family to be included in the care plan if the patient grants permission. There is science to back up the idea that social support can greatly improve clinical outcomes and healing.
The University of Washington Medical Center suggests health practitioners consider the following Culture Clues when it comes communicating with Hispanic patients and their families:
- La familia (the family) – is an important source of emotional support during recovery.
- Patients like to be able to see and embrace their family members. Be aware of the importance of this and consider extending visiting hours. Explain the visitation policy at the time the patient is admitted or before a surgery, so that the family knows what to expect.
- The family may want to allow the patient to remain passive during recovery while they provide complete support for activities of daily living.
Have you ever been sick and had the whole world know it? Do you welcome your entire family to participate in your medical care or do you prefer to keep it private? We’d love to hear your story.
This post is part of a series dedicated to the cultural nuances that we have encountered in our personal and professional lives. We hope to create an ongoing conversation on a topic that is pertinent to our everyday interactions with patients, and we encourage you to share your own experiences.