The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (August 2009)|
|The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down|
|Publisher||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Publication date||1997 and 1998|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-374-52564-1 ISBN 978-0-374-52564-4|
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures is a 1997 book by Anne Fadiman that chronicles the struggles of a Hmong refugee family from Sainyabuli Province, Laos, the Lees, and their interactions with the health care system in Merced, California.
On the most basic level, the book tells the story of the family's second youngest and favored daughter, Lia Lee, who was diagnosed with severe epilepsy, and the culture conflict that obstructs her treatment.
Through miscommunications about medical dosages and parental refusal to give certain medicines due to mistrust and misunderstandings, and the inability of the doctors to develop more empathy with the traditional Hmong lifestyle or try to learn more about the Hmong culture, Lia's condition worsens. The dichotomy between the Hmong's perceived spiritual factors and the Americans' perceived scientific factors comprises the overall theme of the book.
The book is written in a unique style, with every other chapter returning to Lia's story and the chapters in-between discussing broader themes of Hmong culture, customs, and history; American involvement in and responsibility for the war in Laos; and the many problems of immigration, especially assimilation and discrimination. While particularly sympathetic to the Hmong, Fadiman presents the situation from the perspectives of both the doctors and the family. An example of medical anthropology, the book has been cited by medical journals and lecturers as an argument for greater cultural competence, and often assigned to medical, pharmaceutic, and anthropological students in the US. In 1997, it won the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction.
Lia Lee (Romanized Popular Alphabet: Liab Lis, July 19, 1982-August 31, 2012.) is the central figure in the book. She was born in Merced, California to Nao Kao Lee, her father, and Foua Yang, her mother. She was the first child in the family to be born on U.S. territory.
She experienced her first seizure at three months of age, but a resident at Merced Community Medical Center misdiagnosed her condition, and the hospital was unable to communicate with her parents since the hospital had no Hmong interpreters. Anne Fadiman wrote that the Lee parents did not give medication as it was prescribed because they believed that Lia Lee's state showed a sense of spiritual giftedness and they did not want to take that away. The American doctors did not understand the Hmong traditional remedies that the Lee family used. The doctors treating Lia Lee, Neil and Peggy Ernst, had her removed from the house while she was almost three years of age, and placed into foster care for one year, causing friction with the parents. By age 4½ Lia Lee had been admitted to hospital care 17 times and had made over 100 outpatient visits.
Lia Lee slipped into a coma after suffering from a grand mal seizure in 1986, when she was four years of age. Lia Lee's doctors believed she would die, but Lia Lee remained alive but with no higher brain functions. Lia Lee had lived in a persistent vegetative state for 26 years. She died in Sacramento, California, on August 31, 2012 at the age of 30. At that age she weighed 47 pounds (21 kg) and was 4 feet 7 inches (1.40 m) tall; many children with severe brain damage have limited growth as they age. Outside of the State of California Lia Lee's death was not widely reported. Fadiman said that pneumonia was the immediate cause of death. Margalit Fox of The New York Times said "[b]ut Lia’s underlying medical issues were more complex still" because she had lived in a persistent vegetative state for such a long period of time. As of 2012 most individuals who go into that state die three to five years afterwards.
Theme of cultural dissonance
The Hmong religious belief in shamanistic animism asserts that malevolent spirits are constantly seeking human souls, especially those of vulnerable or unloved children. In Hmong culture, epilepsy is referred to as qaug dab peg (translated in English, "the spirit catches you and you fall down"), in which epileptic attacks are perceived as evidence of the epileptic's ability to enter and journey momentarily into the spirit realm. In Hmong society, this ability must be used to help others. Qaug dab peg is often considered an honorable condition and many Hmong shamans are epileptics, believed to have been chosen as the host to a healing spirit, which allows them to communicate and negotiate with the spirit realm in order to act as public healers to the physically and emotionally sick. In addition to these beliefs, Hmong also have many customs and folkways that are contradicted by those of the American mainstream and medical communities; for example, some Hmong traditionally perform ritual animal sacrifice and because of very specific burial traditions and the fear of each human's many souls possibly escaping, the traditional Hmong beliefs do not allow for anyone going through invasive medical surgery.
In the U.S., the medical community rarely has ways to communicate with people of cultures so radically different from mainstream American culture; even a good translator will find it difficult interpreting concepts between the two different cultures' world-concepts. American doctors, unlike Hmong shamans, often physically touch and cut into the bodies of their patients and use a variety of powerful drugs and medicines.
Marilyn Mochel, a nurse and clinical educator at Sutter Merced Medical Center (now Mercy Medical Center Merced), who heads the hospital's cross-cultural program, said in 1999 that "The book has allowed more dialogue. There's certainly more awareness and dialogue than before. Both sides are teachers and learners."
Ralph Jennings of The Modesto Bee said "Hmong, including some among the 2,000 in Modesto, say the book typified conflicts between their culture and American institutions. But some say it didn't capture the complexity of the Hmong culture."
Cheng Lee, a brother of Lia Lee, said that his father and mother liked Fadiman's book.
Anne Fadiman's essay "Hmong Odyssey," adapted from the book, was published in the March–April 1998 Via. The Hmong community leaders in Fresno, California praised the essay, saying that it was thoughtful and accurate.
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (August 2009)|
- Fadiman, Anne. "Foua and Nao Kao." The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1997. 103.
- National Book Critics Circle - past awards
- Fadiman, Anne. "Note on Hmong Orthography, Pronunciation, and Quotations." The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1997. 292.
- Fox, Margalit. "Lia Lee Dies; Life Went On Around Her, Redefining Care." The New York Times. September 14, 2012. 1. Retrieved on October 23, 2012.
- Fox, Margalit. "Lia Lee Dies; Life Went On Around Her, Redefining Care." The New York Times. September 14, 2012. 2. Retrieved on October 23, 2012.
- Fox, Margalit. "Lia Lee Dies; Life Went On Around Her, Redefining Care." The New York Times. September 14, 2012. 3. Retrieved on October 23, 2012.
- Jennings, Ralph. "MERCED HOSPITAL FILLS CULTURAL PRESCRIPTION." The Modesto Bee. Sunday March 21, 1999. B3. Retrieved on March 12, 2012.
- "ESSAY VS. APOLOGY DIVIDE HMONG * FRESNO LEADERS SAY AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION SHOULD APOLOGIZE ONCE MORE, AND MORE DIRECTLY." Fresno Bee. Wednesday March 4, 1998. Telegraph A1. Retrieved on March 12, 2012.
- Fox, Renée C., Ph.D. "Cultural Competence and the Culture of Medicine." New England Journal of Medicine. 2005; 353:1316-1319. September 29, 2005. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp058066
New England Journal of Medicine article 2 
- Malina, Debra, Ph.D. "Compliance, Caricature, and Culturally Aware Care." New England Journal of Medicine. 2005; 353:1317-1318. September 29, 2005. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp058064.
- The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down at Macmillan Publishing
- "Ann Fadiman: 'Go to the Edge of Your Culture'." Inside Chico State. Volume 32, Number 4. October 25, 2001
- Yang, Yeng. "Practicing Modern Medicine: "A little medicine, a little neeb"." (Archive) Hmong Studies Journal. v2n2. northern hemisphere Spring 1998.
- Ernst, Neil T. and Margaret "Peggy" Philp. "Bacterial Tracheitis Caused By Branhamella Catarrhalis." Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. June 1987. Volume 6, Issue 6. Page 574.
- Lilly, Amy. "Influential Author Discusses How Culture Clash Became Tragedy." Seven Days. February 17, 2010.
- Lammert, Kathy. "When Epilepsy Goes By Another Name." Epilepsy.com. September 15, 2003.
- Chrismer, Ellen. "Fadiman visit stirs emotions, understanding." University of California-Davis. December 6, 2002.