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Differences In Health Care Illustrated In Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down

1737 words - 7 pages

What would it be like to come to a country and not understand anything about its health care system? To many this would be a very daunting task. Unfortunately, this is the scenario that the Lee family has to deal with in the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. The Lee family, and the other thousands of Hmong immigrants, try to understand and navigate the complex and sometimes confusing health care system of the United States. As the book points out, the values and ideals of the Hmong culture and the United States health care system are not always the same and sometimes come into great conflict with each other. Lia Lee was unfortunately the person stuck in the middle of this great conflict.
The two Hmong cultural values that were demonstrated by the Lee family are portrayed by their belief and view about the cause and method of cure for an illness. The Lee family comes from a culture that believes in holistic healing. They have an animalistic view about health and medicine. For instance an epileptic is seen as someone who has been chosen to be a healer. Most Hmong epileptic are shamans, therefore even though the Lee’s wish that their daughter’s illness will be cured, they also have a mixture of pride because “although shamanism is an arduous calling that require years of training with a master in order to learn the ritual techniques and chants, it confers an enormous amount of social status in the community and publicly marks the triv neeh as a person of high moral character since a healing spirit will never choose a no account host” (Fadiman,1997, p.21). It is not surprising that their view about health is reflected mostly in their traditional belief in the causes and the cure of an illness. For instance the Lee’s diagnosed their daughter’s illness as the spirit catches you and you fall down and believe that they are caused by the loss of soul. Their view about epilepsy therefore reflects their cultural belief. After Lia was born a ceremony was performed in which strings were tied on Lia’s wrist in order to “bind her soul securely to her body” (Fadiman, 1997, p.11). This is why they may have believed that her soul left after her sister banged the door, and that this must have caused Lia’s sickness.
The Lees believe that for an illness to be cured the soul has to be called back through the ritual sacrifice of animals such as chicken and pig. That is, they believe in the “Shamanistic ritual performed by a trix neeb in which an animal is sacrificed and its soul battered for the vagrant soul of a sick Person” (Fadiman, 1997, p.100). According to Lia's father Nao Kao “Sometimes the soul goes away but the doctors don’t believe it…The doctors can fix some sickness that involve the body and blood but for us Hmong some people get sick because of their soul, so they need spiritual things. With Lia it was good to do a little medicine and a little neeb” (Fadiman, 1997,p.100). The medical care that the...

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