Accepted paper:

Making blood ready for a surgery: reading hemoglobin levels in medical encounters in Germany

Author:

Malgorzata Rajtar (Polish Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

Hemoglobin level plays a major role in assessing anemia and in preparation of patients for a surgery. In case of elective surgeries Jehovah's Witnesses in my fieldsite “built up” their hemoglobin level. In more urgent cases they perceived it as not as dangerously low as it was claimed by physicians.

Paper long abstract:

In their analysis of "anemia" as defined by pathophysiology and laboratory statistics in the Netherlands, Mol and Berg (1994) emphasized that not only both defined it differently but also that principles and practices that governed dealing with anemia were divergent. Nonetheless, having its own place in medical practice both logics co-existed peacefully. Hemoglobin level of patient's blood plays a major role in assessing anemia and hence in preparation of patient's body for a surgery in the context on my fieldsite. Drawing on an ethnographic fieldwork with Jehovah's Witness patients and physicians in Germany, mainly Berlin in 2010 and 2011-2012, in this paper I address experiences of JW patients who insisted on "abstaining from blood" and blood transfusions. In case of elective surgeries they consciously went about assessing and "building up" their hemoglobin level. In more urgent cases, however, they commonly perceived their hemoglobin values as in fact not as "bad" or dangerously low as it was claimed by attending physicians. I argue that being frequently "updated" by JW literature and other media on blood alternatives, non-blood medical treatment, and ground-breaking bloodless surgeries that were successfully conducted despite patient's very low hemoglobin level, they acted on a different logic that the one utilized by physicians.

panel P108
From bodily sensation to symptoms: consequences for healthcare seeking?