The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collison of Two Cultures

Book - 2012
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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 proud 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 and 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.
Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus & Giroux, c2012.
ISBN: 9780374533403
Branch Call Number: 306.461 FAD
Characteristics: ix, 355 p. ; 21 cm.


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DBRL_IdaF Jun 07, 2018

This book originally was written in the mid-1990s, about events from the 1980s, but the lessons are still instructive. This is not a happy book, I will warn you.

Fadiman does an incredible job of presenting all sides of a situation without judgment of anyone involved. In the 1980s, Hmong in the U.S. were still relatively recent arrivals. The author supplies a lot of great background information about their cultural history and relationship to our country and our wars.

At the heart of the book is the story of one little girl -- Lia Lee -- and her family. She has severe epilepsy, and the failures of understanding and communication between her parents and doctors are heartbreaking. Everyone involved cares deeply and wants to help, but the cultural barriers to understanding are nearly insurmountable.

A fascinating, fascinating book.

Aug 19, 2016

How do two cultures communicate and solve the problem of a sick child? Is there a way to translate from one world view to another and succeed in improving the quality of life for this child? A tragic and true story full of attempts and missteps, misunderstandings and mishandlings.

Aug 18, 2016

Fascinating look at the cultural problems of providing medical care to a different culture. Good questions to ponder about what is appropriate, especially when patient and family do not speak English. Also a great look at the history of the Hmong people and their immigration to the US.

Feb 12, 2016

Balanced and compelling examination of cultures colliding, interwoven with a succinct history of the Hmong people and their culture, a lot of truth in it


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Aug 18, 2016

Marcia_McL thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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