WhiteCoat, RM35.00, ISBN 978-967-14956-1-2
Perang Melawan Mitos (The War on Myth) is a pain in the rear end to obtain, as its print run is very limited. This is a shame, as it is a uniquely Malaysian take on busting medical myths. Many of the myths and urban legends here are more prevalent in this part of the world, so it offers readers something they can’t usually find on WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and other usual online sources.
This book is the brainchild and baby of the local healthcare professionals that banded under the non-profit organization Medical Twitter Malaysia (#MedTweetMY for short). They normally operate on Twitter, but that platform may not reach some of the people who need to read this book – those living in rural areas, or those who believe that modern medicine, viewed as “Western medicine”, is heretical to their Islamic faith and hence something to be avoided. Hence, this book. And why I feel that it is a shame that it isn’t more widely available.
The impressive cover aside, the content is equally impressive. There is a big number of urban legends covering various aspects of medicine and health that is addressed her, and the people doing the answering are qualified healthcare professionals in their respective fields. Plus, the references they used while coming up with the responses are listed too, so everything feels authoritative and legitimate even if the narrative style and tone used are conversational. And, I have to admit, some of the things they discuss are new to me.
Some of the more interesting issues addressed are:
- Does a certain card, touted to emit far-infrared ray rays and negative ions, really work as advertised – to cure myriad diseases include cancer?
- Is breast milk sufficient to replace the need for vaccination?
- Will placing and using a laptop over a woman’s thighs lead to cervical cancer?
- Paracetamols are dangerous, right?
- Modern medications can damage the kidneys, no?
- Bathing at night can cause fluids to accumulate in the lungs… is that right?
Of course, some issues related to local superstitions are also looked into, such as whether demons and djinns are truly behind hysterical outbreaks, bloody coughs, and more.
The responses are pleasantly thorough and often go into more detail than merely answering the question, but not too much or too technical to the point of alienating readers unfamiliar with medical gobbledygook. It’s all very nice and informative, this book.
Now, let’s talk about the not-so-good aspects of the book. The editing leaves a lot to be desired, as there are obvious typos that stick out like sore thumbs too often and too many for my liking, especially considering that I paid RM35, not including delivery fee, for this book.
Also, some of the sections could use more editing from a readability point of view. Dr Aimi Rahayu Abdul Rashid’s response as to whether sugary drinks can cause diabetes, for example, has me confused at first because she plunges right into gestational diabetes before addressing diabetes in a more general context. I’m confused because the title of that section does not mention pregnancy, so for a while I assume that there are some missing words in the title.
Additionally, the contributors don’t seem to have decided on some general language style, as some of the contributions really stand out as… well, different from other contributions. Dr Kay Kamal’s contributions are a good example of this. Now, I like his conversational, informal tone and style. It is exactly the way of communicating that will resonate with the average person on the street. However, his contributions are very conversational in a manner that is more akin to a conversation transcribed onto paper, and stand out in stark contrast to the more formal and even professional stylings of other contributions. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the inconsistency in the style and language does make this book feel amateurish at times.
Lastly, and this is just a pet peeve of mine: Dr Afiq Rahim states on page 24 that promiscuity is a cause of cervical cancer (due to HPV infection), and I really wish he’d rephrased that to promiscuity increasing the risk of catching HPV and developing cervical cancer. Like most sexually transmitted infections, sometimes only one sexual encounter is enough to catch it, and you don’t even need penetration to contract HPV – oral sex can also pass HPV on from one person to another. The problem with saying that promiscuity is a cause of a disease is that, the moment the woman is diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, her moral is immediately called to question. Even if she had been a virgin until her wedding night and she only slept with her husband, who passed the HPV to her after catching it from a past sexual encounter, people will immediately assume that she must have cheated on her partner to catch the disease. And given how poorly understood HPV transmission can be, especially when the carriers often show no symptoms, I feel that we should be more careful in separating an STD from the implications of immorality for catching it as much as possible. Otherwise, instead of helping the infected gain access to necessary treatment, we invite the casting of aspersions and moral judgments on that poor soul.
Still, that unfortunate phrasing aside, I find that much of this book is something worth reading. The addressing of oh-so-Malaysian urban legends and myths is especially important these days, given the political and cultural landscape of the country, as it will hopefully help us understand that medicine is at its very core an atheist discipline, favoring no religion or culture and definitely harboring no Western propaganda. The access to medications and treatments (often related to cost) is the only discriminator in modern medicine, but let’s save that rant for another day. For now, if you can find it, give this book a look.
Really, these people should consider making this book more widely available. Or at least serialize the chapters in leading Malay-language magazines. Get the word out more, because I think we all need to read this.