Mycobacterium Avium

From a scientific view, intuition can be a curse.

I’d hate to be a family doctor and cope with folks who treat their illnesses based on intuition. Some mistakenly believe that indigenous medicine is intuitive and other-worldly, but it’s mostly based on reason, rationality and trial-and-error, just like Western medicine.

American Indians could not cope with the onslaught of diseases despite their medical knowledge: malaria, small pox, measles and tuberculosis consumed three-quarters of the Native people in some regions. My grandmother, raised on the rez, had TB as a teenager and one of her lungs was removed.

When my mother contracted pulmonary sarcoidosis in her middle years, it seemed odd that both she and her mother suffered from lung disease. Sarcoidosis is more common among African Americans and Northern Europeans, and is considered an immune disorder, like lupus and AIDS. And it found her, just like TB found my Ekoh (grandmother).

So this summer, when my doctor said I had bronchiectasis, a lung inflammation, intuition took over and I wanted to connect the dots between my mother and her mother. A rascal called mycobacterium avium invaded my lung tissue and my diet now includes antibiotics and more antibiotics. The bug is ubiquitous in the environment and likes to hang out in showerheads.

Three generations of Osage women in my family contracted lung disease and the intuitive mind yearns to make a link. Is there something about our genetic background that makes our lungs more susceptible to opportunistic bugs? Or is it just coincidence?

Lucky for me the bugs haven’t caused much lung damage; still the x-ray shows a clean white thread weaving its way through the tissues. I’ve been taken down a few notches and earned a dose of humility. Some days I’m as tired as an old dog. But intuition is a like a buoy: it keeps me hopeful.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, framing, health, Indian, Native Science, Osage, risk, science, science communication and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Intuition

  1. Interesting post. Thank you!


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