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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (1997)

de Anne Fadiman

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4,8781272,335 (4.23)334
When three-month-old Lia Lee arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely proud people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication. Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness and healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, qaug dab peg--the spirit catches you and you fall down--and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices.… (mais)
Adicionado recentemente porbiblioteca privada, mice_elf, Magpiebooks, robcabellilibrary, rdoyloo, jkolli10, TheLionAndLizard, ClimateBabs, calvson
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In the 1980s, a young Hmong child – whose people fought for the Americans during the Vietnam War – had epilepsy after her parents were relocated to California as refugees. Tragically, her parents never adapted to the American medical system, and equally tragically, the American medical system never adapted to them either. The child Lia Lee’s case resulted in a negative outcome, and the Lee family’s difficulty appears utterly humane upon further investigation. In this classic book, Anne Fadiman tries to learn lessons to instruct us all how to avoid such outcomes in the future.

This book fortunately received many accolades when first published in the late 1990s and has brought about significant change across the American medical system. It taught us – and continues to teach us – to be mindful of culture’s role in medical encounters. Medicine itself is a culture, and those new to Western medicine have their own culture with their own integrity. Learning to effectively mediate between cultures, for some patients, is at least as vital as the right diagnosis and treatment.

In a less heralded contribution, this book highlights the need for cultural brokers, especially among refugees. Refugees are people without a home. Unlike most immigrants, they come to America not as a goal but merely as an act of survival. They seek to leave a substandard refugee camp to anyplace else because they no longer have a home. Unlike other immigrants, they do not run to American culture and its Western medicine; indeed, they may harbor some suspicions of it. Refugee and other social organizations need to be mindful of this dynamic when refugees encounter foreign medical systems. Education and support are certainly required for those new to any land.

With the rising challenge of climate change and continuing wars around the globe, the problem of refugees will likely rise throughout this century. Cultural attitudes towards medicine is but a part of this complex problem, along with aspects like nativism, racism, international law, and homophobia. This book eloquently depicts what this looks like. It does not take sides but rather extrapolates both sides’ full practical and ethical ramifications. It concludes that this is an utter tragedy, one that must be learned from.

My wife has dedicated her career to educating refugee children, and having spent time on medical wards, I work in the healthcare arena. Thus, my family is familiar with both sides that this saga addresses. Let’s all hope this story is a “worst case scenario.” It seems that American healthcare has grown as has the communities supporting refugees. Reading this book can remind us of why we cannot go back but must push forward. ( )
1 vote scottjpearson | Apr 23, 2024 |
A great, if heartbreaking book. The author presents a relatively impartial history of how a group of thoroughly committed and well meaning people are caught together in a situation that somehow trumps all their good intentions. It has history, culture, folklore, humor, medicine and humanity. Highly recommended ( )
  cspiwak | Mar 6, 2024 |
Grin recommended this book to me after we had a conversation about different cultural perspectives re medicine and wellness. If you have any interest in global health and/or how the US health care system treats immigrants and refugees, this is a must-read. Anne Fadiman's a brilliant writer, and in this book she takes a personal interest in the Hmong family on which the story is based, so it's an especially moving account vs. what you might read about medical anthropology in a journal or magazine. ( )
  LibrarianDest | Jan 3, 2024 |
Well-researched and well-written. I'd probably give this 3.5 stars. I learned quite a bit about the Hmong culture and history, and a smidge about the US medical establishment, too. ( )
  CarolHicksCase | Mar 12, 2023 |
Author researches a Hmong family in California with an epileptic daughter and their experience with US Health care system, shows culture and doctors care deeply for child with radically different approaches to treatment. Also touches on racial, economic prejudice combined with low literacy as barriers to allowing the two approaches to become complementary. Fadiman is also a superb essayist, this is an outstanding book. ( )
  maitrigita | Oct 2, 2022 |
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If tragedy is a conflict of two goods, if it entails the unfolding of deep human tendencies in a cultural context that makes the outcome seem inevitable, if it moves us more than melodrama, then this fine book recounts a poignant tragedy.
adicionado por jlelliott | editarThe New York Times, Melvin Konner (Oct 19, 1997)
 
Ms. Fadiman tells her story with a novelist's grace, playing the role of cultural broker, comprehending those who do not comprehend each other and perceiving what might have been done or said to make the outcome different.
 
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If Lia Lee had been born in the highlands of Laos, where her parents and twelve of her brothers and sisters were born, her mother would have squatted on the floor of the house that her father had built from ax-hewn planks thatched with bamboo and grass. (Chapter 1 - Birth)
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When three-month-old Lia Lee arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely proud people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication. Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness and healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, qaug dab peg--the spirit catches you and you fall down--and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices.

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