The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Description

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee Entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.

Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness aand healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, qaug dab peg--the spirit catches you and you fall down--and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices.

From Publishers Weekly

Sep 01, 1997 – When two divergent cultures collide, unbridgeable gaps of language, religion, social customs may remain between them. This poignant account by Fadiman, editor of the American Scholar, of the clash between a Hmong family and the American medical community reveals that among the gaps yawns the attitude toward medicine and healing. The story focuses on Lia Lee, whose family immigrated to Merced, Calif., from Laos in 1980. At three months of age, Lia was diagnosed with what American doctors called epilepsy, and what her family called quag dab peg or, "the spirit catches you and you fall down." Fadiman traces the treatments for Lia's illness, observing the sharp differences between Eastern and Western healing methods. Whereas the doctors prescribed Depakene and Valium to control her seizures, Lia's family believed that her soul was lost but could be found by sacrificing animals and hiring shamans to intervene. While some of Lia's doctors attempted to understand the Hmong beliefs, many interpreted the cultural difference as ignorance on the part of Lia's parents. Fadiman shows how the American ideal of assimilation was challenged by a headstrong Hmong ethnicity. She discloses the unilateralness of Western medicine, and divulges its potential failings. In Lia's case, the two cultures never melded and, after a massive seizure, she was declared brain dead. This book is a moving cautionary tale about the importance of practicing "cross-cultural medicine," and of acknowledging, without condemning, differences in medical attitudes of various cultures.

Customer Reviews

Seriously well written non-fic

Believe it or not, this is a real page turner about the meeting (read - total train wreck) of 2 cultures: American medicine & the Hmong. I learned so much.

Great

Wonderful book about 2 strong cultures. This is a must read for all medical professionals.

Must Read

This story takes place where I'm from and my family also struggled with western medicine and our ancestral shamanism ways. My sister was born with a hole in her heart and the doctors told my parents she needed a heart transplant or would die. The Hmong people do not believe in transplants. This was mid 80's where many doctors still could not understand why or how a Hmong parent didn't want to help their child. She got some western care at the Fresno children's hospital but not what she needed medically and sadly, her heart gave up at the age of 2, the night before my 6th birthday. I I'll never forget that night. Just like this family, my family truly believed they were doing the best thing for their child whether the doctors believed it or not. The two cultures just can't find an even ground.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, Android, Win, *Nix, and more.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: Sep 30, 1998
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Seller: Macmillan / Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC
  • Print Length: 352 Pages
  • Language: English

Customer Ratings

110 Ratings