Anne Fadiman’s book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, chronicles the care and treatment of a Hmong child with epilepsy who is living in the United States.
At every turn, there are clashes of culture, understanding, language, norms, and even understanding of what “health” might mean. No one is right and everyone is right. No one is wrong and everyone is wrong.
Lia Lee was born in the United States. Her parents were refugees from Laos and settled in a small county in California. She was diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Her doctors and family all wanted the best for her, but they each defined “best” differently. The story is a compelling one where you will find yourself rooting for Lia and sympathizing with all of the other players in the story.
This book brings up questions of identity and cultural values. I wondered what I would have done if I was one of the players in the story. How have I , inadvertently disrespected the cultural norms of another person or group? This should be a must-read for anyone working with diverse populations or in a culture other than their own. This book never suggests that we will be perfect interpreters of other cultures, but the underlying message is one of effort. Health care providers should put in an effort to understand the lived experience of their patients and should understand their understanding of disease.
For those of you who have read the book–an update from the New York Times is here.