Running Head: THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN 1
THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN 2
Anne Fadiman’s, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” tells quite the ingenious story of a Hmong child named Lia Lee. When first reading this book, I did not know what to expect, but I could tell from the cover and title that it would involve a clash of cultures. In the books first chapter, we learn about the birth of Lia Lee and her family origins. A child with epilepsy, who would eventually face the dangers of a lack of cross-cultural communication in the medical profession. The author paints quite the picture of Lia’s birth, and even describes a Hmong tradition of burying the placenta after birth and its value amongst their culture. We even learn about the evil spirits that the family tries to stay away from known as ‘dab’. Lia was among the first of her family to be born in America. Her parents and twelve siblings were all born in the highlands of northwest Laos.
When Lia was around three months old, her older sister Yer slammed a door and Lia had her first seizure. Her parents, Foua and Nao Kao, believed that the noise of the door had caused her soul to flee. They diagnosed her illness as qaug dab peg, which translates to, "the spirit catches you and you fall down", which is where the title of the book comes. While they were concerned for Lia's safety, they also believed her seizures made her special, as many epileptics were chosen to be ‘tvix neebs’, or ‘shamans’. They brought her for treatment to the Merced Community Medical Center (MCMC), but they also utilized traditional healing methods and engaged a tvix neeb to call back her soul. The family believed in "a little medicine and a little neeb," but worried that too much medicine could limit the effectiveness of the spiritual healing. We also learned a lot about the Hmong history throughout the book and I was fascinated by how different they are from the western culture.
After being brought in for treatment at MCMC, Lia's doctors treated her epilepsy purely as a neurological disorder. This seemed to go against what her parents believed in, but she needed all the help she could get. Her primary physicians tried to provide the highest standard of medical care possible. However, the problem was not even correctly diagnosed until a few months after Lia's first visit, due to a lack of interpreters. Lia's medical regimen was complicated, and her parents were either unable to follow the doctors' instructions, unwilling to do so, or both. They were unhappy with the side effects of the medication and may not have understood the connection between a seizure and its effect on the brain, nor the necessity of giving anticonvulsants. This issue was a real struggle for her parents and one that made me feel upset.
Her parent’s noncompliance would eventually have devastating effects. Lia suffered more and more severe seizures ...