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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Interpreting Health: Cultural Barriers at New York City Hospitals

by Sarah Kate Kramer

On Christmas Eve, a 31-year-old woman from Yemen, wearing a traditional black robe decorated with red embroidery, walked into Attieh’s office for help with a Medicaid application. Halima (who did not want to use her real name because she didn’t want her community to know about her struggles), has eight children. The first five were born in her village in Yemen, where it’s traditional for women to give birth in their homes while kneeling on a special mat placed on the ground.

“My father’s father, he cut the umbilical cord and cleaned everything, he took care of everything,” Halima tells Attieh, in Arabic.

But when giving birth to her first American-born child at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, Halima found herself lying immobile on her back, hooked up to an IV, feeling helpless and exposed. She wanted to be in her customary position, on her knees. So she asked the nurses, but they refused. “This is our business, not yours,” Halima remembers them telling her.

Not knowing hospital rules or her rights as a patient, Halima found childbirth in Brooklyn frightening and traumatic…

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