The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

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  • Topic: Hmong customs and culture, Hmong people, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
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  • Published : September 22, 2010
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Cross-Cultural Family Assessment
Stephanie Boardman
University of Southern Maine

1. The client system, in this case the Lee family, defines Lia’s seizures as both a spiritual and physical ailment. According to Fadiman (1997), “…the noise of the door had been so profoundly frightening that her soul had fled her body and become lost. They recognized the resulting symptoms as qaug dab peg, which means ‘the spirit catches you and you fall down’”(p.20). To the Lee family, Lia’s condition was as revered as it was frightening. While a person with qaug dab peg was traditionally held in high esteem in the Hmong culture, it was also terrifying enough that the Lee’s rushed Lia to the emergency room more than once in the first few months of her life. 2. While the Lees recognized that Lia had an illness, I do not believe that they recognized the severity of her problems. One the one hand, the understood that it was a dangerous illness, but on the other hand, the Hmong believed that qaug dab peg “singles him out as a person of consequence” (Fadiman, 1997, p. 21). At times, the Lees believed that Lia’s epilepsy wasn’t as much of a medical problem as a gift. Fadiman tells us, “They therefore hoped, at least most of the time, that the qaug dab peg could be healed” (p. 22). So while they recognized that Lia was sick, they also had hope that she could be cured. Their hope was that if the spirits decided to keep hold of Lia, that long-term she would become a Tvix neeb, a “person with a healing spirit” (as cited in Fadiman, 1997, p. 21). If she did not become a Tvix neeb, then their hope was that the sickness would be short-term. It seems that either way, they had no idea what the future held for Lia. They could only hope for the best. 3. Fadiman does not tell us what the Lees did the first time Lia had a seizure. She does tell us that the Lees brought Lia to the emergency room for the first time on October 24, 1982 when she was only three months old (Fadiman, 1997, p. 25) and was admitted to the hospital seventeen times before the age of four and a half (Fadiman, 1997, p. 38). Because of the cultural and language barriers between the doctors and the Lees, there was a lot of mix up and confusion as to the medications that Lia should have been given As a result, the Lees were either giving Lia too much or too little medicine. Dan Murphy, one of the first physicians to encounter Lia at the hospital tells us that, “The parents report that they had discontinued the medications about 3 months ago because the patient was doing so well” (as cited in Fadiman, 1997, p. 53). Just before her second birthday, Lia was removed from her parents’ custody and placed in foster care for a minimum of six months. When the Lees “failed to demonstrate their ability to comply with their daughter’s medical regimen” (Fadiman, 1997, p. 89), the court decided that Lia remain in foster care. In February of 1986, Lia’s medication became a lot easier to administer when a doctor prescribed only one medication to take the place of the many she had been receiving. With the help the social worker, Jeanine Hilt, Foua Lee (Lia’s mother) practiced giving this “medication” with a syringe and water until she got it just right, and then was able to administer it to her own daughter. Thanks to the empowerment provided to the Lees by Jeanine, Lia returned home on April 30, 1986. When Lia did return home, Fadiman tells is that the Lees sacrificed a cow to “celebrate her homecoming and bolster her health” (p. 106). Fadiman also tells us that “In order to keep Lia’s condition from deteriorating further, the Less stepped up their program of traditional medicine” (p. 110). They tied expensive herbal amulets around her neck, pinched Lia to “draw out noxious winds” (Fadiman, 1997, p 111), sacrificed many pigs and chickens, and even tried changing her name to confuse the dab who had taken her soul. The final act of healing that Fadiman write about...
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