April 10th 2013
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
It was typically Hmong for patients to appear passively obedient – thus protecting their own dignity by concealing their ignorance and their doctor’s dignity by acting deferential – and then, as soon as they left the hospital, to ignore everything to which they had supposedly assented” (page 68). This quote by author, Anne Fadiman, of ethnography The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down demonstrates quite well the cultural clash between the Hmong and the MCMC doctors. This quote is important and meaningful because I believe this ethnography’s main theme was cultural understanding. This true story involves the life of Lia Lee, a Hmong child who is epileptic. She suffers severe grand mal seizures and eventually, as a result, becomes vegetative for the rest of her life. The key point of the book, however, is not Lia’s epilepsy as much as it is the cultural barriers that led to what simply destroyed Lia’s brain. Decisions between Lia’s doctors and her parents on treatment, healing, and what actions to make on saving Lia’s life is the base of the main conflicts we as readers saw. Fadiman uses this battle as a way of discussing Western and Eastern medicine and how each group views the patient in such different ways.
As the great ethnographer Anne Fadiman has many points to the book. I definitely see the most important one: cultural differences. The Americans versus the Hmong; two very different cultures together in one city Merced. These two cultures greatly show how just the difference in culture, location, and community make up to be two separate worlds. The American doctors saw (and still do see) all biomedicine as a necessity to healing, sickness, and disease. The Hmong see all aspects regarding health, illness, and the body very differently. The Hmong view cultural traditions as the best medication, while the American doctors can hardly bare to even consider such...
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