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

Okay, this will be totally un-PC and I’m only on page 56 out of over 300, but the parents of this child seem like idiots.

I understand the cultural differences and language barriers. There should be skilled Hmong interpreters available in an area where there are so many Hmong. The healthcare professionals and hospital staff should all be aware of the cultural differences and acknowledge them when dealing with Hmong patients. But the Hmong parents have to give a little too.

People, you’re in America now. You’re no longer in your hut in the mountains of Laos. You’re in a different culture and you must acknowledge this culture as well, or at least realize that things work differently here, and that different doesn’t necessarily mean bad.

While the American doctors and nurses shouldn’t dismiss the Hmong as being completely ignorant, the Hmong shouldn’t dismiss the American HCPs as being malicious evil-doers. It’s superstitious and closed-minded.

What really got me was reading that writing down the medication administering instructions in Hmong wouldn’t do any good because the parents were illiterate in BOTH English and Hmong. I mean, jesus, how are people supposed to help you if you’re not even literate in your own frigging language?

I kept thinking they should show some gumption and go out there and learn English, knowing that they need this in order to help their daughter. Then again, they don’t think the doctors are helping their daughter at all.

Survival of the fittest, I also kept thinking. If they’re not equipped to live in America, maybe they shouldn’t live here. It’s horrible but it’s give and take. While American society and culture should embrace and accommodate other cultures, those cultures also have to frigging try.

I think of my own parents and the parents of other first generation Asian Americans I know. I get fed up with these people separating themselves from the rest of America and clinging to superstitions and other old-world ideas.

~ ~ ~

All right. So now I better see the point of view of the parents, the Lees. Their daughter Lia’s doctors really did dismiss them. Other doctors who’ve dealt with the Hmong have reached out and invited them to contribute in their own way, eg, by consulting with a shaman, using herbal medicines, acknowledging their hierarchy – asking the husband, brother, father, or grandfather first before the woman – even if it went against their own beliefs.

The Lees were right on some counts. They suspected some of the medicine was causing Lia’s problems. “Too much medicine,” they kept saying. For a while she did better when she was on no medicine. When the doctors finally decided one instead of three or four was best, the Lees complied and Lia thrived. Her doctors kicked themselves for not taking into account the Lees’ illiteracy (I guess Hmong is only recently a written language) and cultural differences, and realizing that fewer medicines would make them more adherent.

A sad and absorbing story. I tore through it in about a week.

1 comment

  1. […] to read this after The Spirit Catches You. There is some of the same mystery around medical conditions, in this case the debilitating […]