Anne Fadiman’s book «The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down» is an exciting immersion into the Hmong culture, especially their spiritual beliefs, healthcare approaches, and familiar relationships. The differences between traditional Eastern and advanced Western medicine are both frightening and fascinating, making the comparative perspective exceptionally interesting. I felt surprised by the thoughtfulness and genuineness of the Lees family and concerned about their skepticism regarding medical care.
Despite the outdatedness of Hmong medicine, it shows to be remarkably thorough and somewhat delicate. The first surprising thing about the Lees’ perception of their daughter’s illness for me was that they had a precise «diagnosis» for it. To add up, they had a defined explanation of all the causes and consequences of it, although it was purely spiritual and had no scientific basis. The second amazing discovery was how Hmong families treat children in general: as «the most treasured possession a person can have» (Fadiman, 1997). They give a lot of care and attention to a child, and never abused or mistreated him. The Lees’ concerns about their daughter’s wellbeing were so high they decided to give up their principles and resort to American medicine to help her, proving to be very solicitous and loving parents.
On the other hand, the Lees’ attitude towards healthcare is concerning. They appear to be skeptical about giving Lia medication and are generally not too pleased with her frequent visits to MCMC. The father even suggests that the pills give Lia seizures and worsen her condition, which is a sign of very archaic and radical views. Even though I understand the parents’ finding it difficult to trust other people with their daughter’s health, I feel desperate about the lack of consultation or education on the effectiveness of advanced medicine.
To summarize, the book made me genuinely curious and even concerned about the Hmong culture and their communication with Americans. Despite their controversial and obduracy approaches that sometimes hurt others’ conditions, the Lees appeared to me as caring parents who always do what they consider helpful. I will definitely proceed in reading this book since I became actually engaged in Lia’s story and the development of trust between the Lees and the doctors at MCMC.
Fadiman, A. (1997) The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Farrah, Straus and Giroux, New York.