Friday, October 05, 2007

What I'm Reading this Week


The spirit catches you and you fall down: a Hmong child, her American doctors, and the collision of two cultures
By Anne Fadiman

What are YOU reading this week?

In the early 1980s, I collected data about the immigrants settling in Lake County, Illinois. It was a time when a wave of new immigrants, from Laos was arriving in the United States and their impact was being felt in the communities where they settled. Several churches in Lake County were sponsoring Hmong refugees and helping them find homes and support in our area. You may recognize the intricate embroidery of symbolic and narrative description for which they are known.

What brought these refugees to the United States, what has their experience been since they arrived?

Anne Fadiman studied the Hmong who settled in Merced, California, focusing on difficulties arising from cultural differences in understanding of medicine, world view, and language.

Her book centers on the case of Lia Lee, a child of Hmong parents, who suffered severe epilepsy since infancy. During critical early stages, Lia’s epilepsy was misdiagnosed, and years of well intentioned interventions lead to a tragic conclusion. Ironically, the best doctors failed due to their inability to consider the cultural differences in treatment of Hmong patients. Specifically, the Hmong believe in the spiritual cause of disease and rely on the healing arts of their tvix neebs (shamans). The Lee family believed that the cause of Lia’s illness was the loss of her spirit, which required the intervention of the tvix neeb and they mistrusted the medical practices of her doctors. The doctors believed the parents to be uncommunicative and noncompliant with necessary treatment.

Fadiman sets this case within the cultural history of the Hmong, a, including their role in the in the Vietnam War for which they were recruited by the U.S. CIA, and which led to their flight to the United States during the 1980’s.

The suggestions given for improving communications and cultural sensitivity is instructive for anyone dealing with immigrants from other countries, and a must read for people in the medical and helping professions.

Find The spirit catches you and you fall down in the CLC Library

I hope you will share with me and others what you think of this selection and what you are reading this week. You may reply to this post by clicking on the header and then on the "Reply" button that appears at the bottom of the post.

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