The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: Cultural Clash
This book focuses on the “clash” of cultures that occurs between the Lee family, immigrants to the US from Laos, and the doctors that treat their daughter, Lia, who has been diagnosed with epilepsy. Lia’s parents, Foua and Nao Kao believe that Lia has fallen ill because she has “lost her soul”. This clash of ideas highlights one of the problems that the Lee’s faced when dealing with the medical community in the US – the Lee’s believed strongly that all of life is intertwined, and that each individuals soul is in constant danger, whether being stolen by “dabs”, or demons that steal souls, or your soul may simply “wander off like a butterfly”, as Foua says. If a Hmong loses their soul, that is when they get sick – and they only get well when they have recovered their soul. The Hmong make use of tvix neebs, or shaman, who are versed in the rescue of souls. The US medical community, on the other hand, relies on blood tests, surgery, and a barrage of specialized doctors to detect, diagnose, and fix medical conditions. Some of their methods, mostly invasive procedures, are thought of as disrespectful by the Hmong – One example that stood out to me was when Lia had her “big” seizure and was taken to the Valley Childrens hospital. She was in desperate need of “real” medical care, and the doctor she saw, Dr. Kopacz quickly proceeded giving her some heavy medication that put Lia in a state of more or less anesthesia. Lia’s father, Nao Kao, was angry with Doctor Kopacz, because he gave Lia alot of medications, and also recommended Lia get a spinal tap to check and see if the sepsis had passed into her spine, but did not consult with him beforehand. “They just took her to the hospital and they didn’t fix her. She got very sick and I think it is because they gave her too much medicine.” –Nao Kao This is an exemplary example of the social construction of the ideas of health and illness (the US medical community vs. the Hmong spirit-based ideas) and also helps to illustrate the Hmong point of view that doctors are not to be trusted. Lia was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was very young, and she ended up in the emergency room many times over the next few years of her life. Each visit to the emergency room brought with it its own set of trials and tribulations dealing with doctors who may or may not have had any real understanding of the Hmong culture or the “normal” procedures that the Hmong used in the healing process. I was very surprised to see some quotes from a doctor named Robert Small, stating that “The Hmong breed like flies, as if the golden goose of welfare will continue to lay eggs forever” and also “They just come in late and drop it out … They’re almost stone age people. Hell, they never went to a doctor before [for birthing] They just had a baby in the camp or the mountains or wherever the hell they came from.” While there were some doctors and nurses who did come to care for Lia – but their actions (removing Lia from her parents home) as viewed through the Hmong “lens” would seem just as bad as the comments made by Dr. Small would seem to a caring person.
There are a lot of things that were interesting bits of “culture shock” throughout this book, but The complete lack of understanding (or the distrust of) that Lia’s parents seem to have of US medical procedures – from Foua’s experiences at Lias birth to the aforementioned invasive procedures and doses of medicine that made Nao Kao angry at the doctors, and the complete The lack of understanding of the Hmong culture (or impatience with “silly healing procedures”) of the Doctors that treated Lia and dealt with Lia’s parents were astounding. Even the efforts of some “caring” nurses and medical staff took actions that were awful in the eyes of Lia’s parents. I originally inteded to conclude this paper with some type of “solution” to these culture problems that stood out to me – I am, however, completely...
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