The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:27:48
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Anne Fadimans The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down explores the depth and complexity of cultural understanding, particularly between the American culture and the Hmong culture of Laos. To do this, Fadiman made of an account of a case of a Hmong child who suffered from epileptic seizure. Here, she elaborately narrated how Lia Lee, a seven-year old Hmong girl, got caught between the conflict in beliefs among her American doctors and Hmong parents. While Lias parents totally believe in the Hmong traditional way of healing, her American doctors on the other hand strongly believe on the power of modern medicine. From this theme the book of Fadiman mainly revolved.

            One of the subtopics that were discussed in the book also dealt with intercultural communication. Among all the characters in the novel, the Lee parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were the ones who learned most about this. From the story, we found out that the Lee parents belonged to the some of the Hmong people who migrated from Laos to America due to Laos War. With this a background, we could claim that the Lees did the adjusting with their new environment. However, in Fadimans point-of-view, the other way around happened.

            To prove this, Fadiman wrote that the Hmong people are one of the proudest cultural groups. She mentioned that ¦the Hmong do no like to take orders; that they do not like to lose; that they would rather flee, fight, or die than surrender; that they are not intimidated by being outnumbered; that they are rarely persuaded that the customs of other culture, even those more powerful than their own, are superior, and that they are capable of getting very angry (Fadiman, 1997; p. 17).  She also wrote that Hmong people migrated to America not to hope for assimilation but to resist it, just like what they did when they left China (Fadiman, 1997; p.183).

However, although the Lee parents seemed to be so proud and fixed with their beliefs regarding healing of their child, at the end, they finally agreed with Lias American doctors with her medication. However, the American doctors claimed that if Lias parents followed them earlier, then Lia would not end up having her brain dead.  From this, we could conclude that certainly, Foua and Nao Kao had learned that intercultural communication is important in dealing with problems. Moreover, the couple learned how to adjust and balance their own beliefs and practices with those of other culture.

            The conflict in cultural beliefs in healing was also the most significant topic explored in the text. The clashing of Lias parents and her American doctors was one of the reasons for Lias condition. The Hmong couple strongly believed that the condition of their child was qaug dab peg translated as the spirit catches you and you fall down. In the Hmong culture, this means that the soul has left the body, thus Lia would become spiritually-gifted. On the other hand, the doctors strongly believed that Lias condition is dangerous and must be taken with serious and modern medication. Because of this conflict in beliefs, Lias condition worsened.

            However, this could have been prevented if at the start, both parties valued the importance of intercultural communication. For example, instead of not complying in the giving of Phenobarbital to Lia (Fadiman, 1997; 220), the couples should have listened first to the views of Lias doctors regarding her condition. If this has happened, the separation of Lia from her parents due to an order court, which caused too much stress on Lias part, could have been prevented. The situation, as Fadiman described in her interview with Lias nurses, made Lia ¦ crying four days straight.

Smearing feces, intense crying again. Stripped herself . . . went on a wave of destruction. Had to sedate her (Fadiman, 1997; p.87). On the other hand, if the American doctors had acknowledged the importance of Hmong beliefs and practices for the Lee couples, then they could have helped each other in dealing with Lias condition. In addition, the American doctors should have shown an open mind for the couples opposite views regarding health and healing.

For example, they should not have pointed the blame to the Lee couples when Lias condition worsened. In fact, according to Fadiman, Lias condition did not worsen because of the non-compliance of her parents. In Fadimans interview with the pediatric neurologist who observed last Lia and who came from a different hospital, he said that Lias worse condition was due to her long stay in the hospital. Fadiman wrote that the doctor ordered her to ¦ Go back to Merced, and tell all those people at the MCMC that the family didnt do this to the kid. We did.  (Fadiman, 1997; p.255). Through this, at least intercultural communication and understanding had been observed.

            In relation to this, the people from MCMC, the hospital where Lia was confined, were one the significant people in not only in Lias life, but in the Hmong community in California as well. Their actions in dealing with Lias case could be said as a reflection of their understanding of Hmong culture.

If I were the hospital administrator of MCMC, I would suggest that the hospital hold a special division for Hmong patients. All people that would be assigned in here should have a vast knowledge on Hmong culture. In that way, the hospital could better serve the Hmong people. In addition, I would suggest that all hospital employees be sensitive and open with Hmong beliefs and practices.

Finally and the most important one, I would suggest that all hospital employees practice communicating culturally with the Hmong people. This would prevent both parties from misinterpreting and misunderstanding each other.  In dealing with the conflict with their medical beliefs, it is important that the hospital employees could explain well to the Hmong people their views regarding modern practice of medicine. In that way, Hmong people and American doctors could meet halfway to help one another.

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