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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down Essay Sample

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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down Essay Sample

When this book was assigned I assumed it would be a book on cultural distinctions and how the Hmong struggled to be “American”. After finishing the book, I know it’s about the need for healthy communication. I thank Anne Fadiman for presenting this story on humanity and her ability to write without being biased for either side, except on the side of Lia. In the late 1970’s Hmong peasants Nao Kao Lee and Foua Lee and their children were political refugees fleeing Laos to seek refuge in the United States. The Hmong people were singled out for persecution from the governments of Laos and Vietnam. The Hmong people had supported the United States during the Vietnam War and were considered traitors when the war ended. When the Hmong people arrived in the United States it there wasn’t much concern for the government on how the Hmong people would be integrated. American culture had always been one of assimilation, ethnocentric in its beliefs. It was interpreted that the Hmong people would adapt to being American and would abandon their culture as others had done before them.

And just blend in. In the summer of 1982, Foua Lee gave birth to her fourteenth child. Lia Lee would be the first of the Lee children born in a hospital and the first of the Lee children born in the United States. This would be the first real contact the Lee family would have with medical doctors. Shamans were preferred healers by the Hmong people over doctors. They feel that doctors ask too many questions and are invasive with them. Simple procedures to like taking blood were great concern for e Hmong. They believed that we were born with all the blood we will ever have and taking blood for testing was just draining the person. A Shaman doesn’t do any of those procedures. The Shaman comes to your home and talks with you. Throughout the hospital stay, Foua was happy with the care she did receive and did have a good experience with her doctor. Upon leaving the hospital, the Lee’s were not concerned that one of their traditional customs of burying their infant’s placenta was not going to happen. They lived in an apartment and unable to bury it under their floor as custom dictates.

Also, the hospital had disposed of the placenta by incinerating it as medical waste. During Lia’s first three months of life, nothing was unusual about her. Lia was thriving, gaining weight and progressing as a normal three month old infant would do. One day in particular, Lia’s older sister had slammed the front door and Lia went into an epileptic seizure. Lia’s parents believed they knew what was happening, Lia’s soul, because of the door slamming, had been frightened off and is now lost, this caused the seizure. The Hmong call this qaug dab peg or “the spirit catches you and you fall down.” Lia’s parents were concerned for Lia over this, but not worried to the point of rushing her to the hospital. Some of the Shamans within the Hmong are also epileptics. They took this seizure with concern but also of a possible sign of great things to come in Lia’s life. Eighteen seizures would afflict Lia over the next four years. In some of the seizures Lia had stopped breathing several times. When she would stop breathing, that’s when Nao and Foua would rush Lia to the emergency room.

Nao and Foua were now able to recognize Lia’s symptoms for an oncoming seizure. They would respond with placing Lia on the floor to keep her safe. Lia’s parents would be able to identify the antecedents to Lia’s seizures and respond quickly by getting her into a safe location on the floor. Her seizures were of Grand Mal type. Deep guttering howls, all extremities rigid, cyanotic on the nail beds and in the lips, an indication of oxygen deprivation to the brain. All the trips to the hospitals, trips to the doctor’s offices, tests being done on Lia, medications given then taken away, changed, increased, decreased and new ones always introduced, the doctors formed an opinion of the Lee’s and their care of Lia. In the eyes of the Lees, the doctors were doing a poor job in treating their daughter, and Lia was worsening because of it. Neither side felt that the other was adequately caring for Lia. The biggest obstacle that neither side could see was that the language and the cultures of each side were getting in the way of treating Lia.

The doctors at a impasse with the Lee’s turned to the Social Services department of Merced County for assistance to intervene. This meant that removing Lia from her family and placing her with a foster family, would ensure that Lia received the medication that was needed to control Lia’s seizures.. After Lia was removed from her parents, she cried endlessly. Lia could not know how to comprehend why Foua or Nao were not coming to her when she cried. Dee Korda, Lia’s foster mother realized that Lia needed physical comfort. Dee would strap Lia to her own back, while her younger child was harnessed to the front of her body. This comforted Lia, the closeness of another person. Dee Korda had met with the Lee’s on supervised visitations. Dee was able to get to know the Lee’s and realized after a short time, that Nao and Foua were impeccable parents. After some time and watching the Lee’s interact with Lia, Dee and Tom Korda recommended reunification between Lia and her parents. But the Lee’s refusal to administer Lia’s medications properly would keep Lia apart from them.

Months had passed and reluctantly Nao and Foua agreed to give Lia the medications that were prescribed to her by the doctors. Upon signing the agreement to do so in the courtroom, Lia’s guardianship was terminated and the Lee’s were able to bring Lia home again. As with all patients diagnosed with Epilepsy, there is always the fear of “the big one”. The one that would be uncontrollable, the one the doctors could not stop, the one that could be fatal. Lia had her most serious seizure on November 25, 1986.

She was with her family at the dinner table when she looked up at her father with a look of fear. It was moments afterward that Lia was on her way to the hospital in an ambulance. At the hospital, Lia’s family was told of the severity of this seizure and that the doctors did not expect Lia to recover. Plans were made for Lia to go home with her family that night, to die at home. Lia did not die that night; she recovered from the grand mal seizure that nearly took her life. The seizure killed part of Lia’s brain, the part of the brain that caused her seizures. It was also the part of the brain that made Lia who she was. Lia is in a persistent vegetative state. Lia’s mother Foua cares for Lia around the clock at their home.

I did look to see if there was any current information on Lia Lee and her family on the internet, according to one website, her father Nao Lee passed away a couple of years ago but Foua and Lia are still in Merced, CA and doing well.

I come away from this story believing that the medical community should have done more to break down the cultural and language barrier that they were faced with. The assessment to remove Lia from her parent’s home was a proper one. Removing her from the foster home and allowing the Lee’s to care for her full time again was an error. Nao and Foua Lee made it clear that they were going to treat and care for Lia in the traditions of their culture. The doctors knew that if they pushed the situation with the Lees, quite possibly the Lees would take the position to “death before surrender”. There have been police reports of Hmong opting for suicide then losing face with their community. This situation could have had a much worse outcome.

I look at this like the families today in the United States who choose to heal their child through prayer or refusing medical treatment because of the parent’s beliefs. They are doing a disservice to their child by not permitting doctors to save the child’s life with medicine. Mythological, religious ceremony, cultural tradition or theories should never be used “in place” of medicine. If the parent of the child cannot or will not make the logical and proper choice, then the parent does not get to make the decision.

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