The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

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Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee Entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.

Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness aand healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, qaug dab peg--the spirit catches you and you fall down--and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Published on
Sep 30, 1998
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9781429931113
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Disease & Health Issues
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Well written and fascinating to read. This fine book takes a large step in...contributing to the only slowly dawning awareness of the general public, and the health workers too, of the significance of chronic illness. --Anselm Strauss, University of California, San FranciscoBased on in-depth interviews with eighty people who have epilepsy, this book gives a first-hand account of what it is like to cope with a chronic illness, while working, playing, and building relationships. The authors recount how people discover they have epilepsy and what it means; how families respond to someone labeled epileptic; how seizures affect a person's sense of self and self-control.Epilepsy patients explain what they want from their doctors and why the medication practices they develop may not coincide with doctor's orders. The variety of experiences of epilepsy is suggested both by the interviews and by the range of terms for seizures--Petit Mal, Grand Mal, auras, fits, absences.The principal difficulty for many people with epilepsy is not the medical condition but the social stigma. A person with epilepsy has to cope with discrimination in obtaining a job, insurance, or a driver's license, and he or she may be cautious about revealing this disabling condition to an employer or even a spouse. People with epilepsy may manage information about themselves and their lapses and look for safe places like restrooms where they can be alone should a seizure begin. Many of those interviewed complained of overreactions to seizures by colleagues or bystanders: epilepsy patients were embarrassed at having provoked a public crisis or were annoyed at waking up in a hospital emergency room.This is a book for people who have epilepsy, for their families and friends; for health care professionals who deal with chronic illnesses; and for students of medical sociology and the sociology of deviance.For anyone who would like to 'get inside' the experience of having epilepsy, this book is probably as close as one can come.--EpilepsiaIn dispelling the notion that 'the person is the illness, ' these interviews with 80 individuals reveal that those suffering from epilepsy have learned to accept it as merely another facet of their lives. A valuable contribution for those with epilepsy, for their family and friends, for medical personnel, and for the general public.--Booklist...carefully outlined and clearly written.... Those affected by chronic conditions may find the book most helpful.... Family and helping professionals may discover new insights.... Social scientists, especially those interested in chronic illnesses, will benefit from the research conclusions and suggestions for further research.--Medical Anthropology QuarterlyIt represents an important advance in the medical sociology literature as well as a contribution to qualitative sociology. I think that the book should become a contemporary classic in medical sociology.--Qualitative Sociology...an important contribution.... In focusing on what it is like to have epilepsy in this society, Schneider and Conrad have reversed an earlier concern for the medicalization of deviance, opting in this work for an understanding of the stigmatization of illness.--Contemporary Sociolog
“[A] masterpiece . . . an astonishing book that will leave you questioning your own life and political views . . . Kidder opens a window into Farmer’s soul, letting the reader peek in and see what truly makes the good doctor tick.”—Nicholas Thomas, USA Today

In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life’s calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Tracy Kidder’s magnificent account shows how one person can make a difference in solving global health problems through a clear-eyed understanding of the interaction of politics, wealth, social systems, and disease. Profound and powerful, Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes people’s minds through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.”

Praise for Mountains Beyond Mountains

“A true-to-life fairy tale, one that inspires you to believe in happy endings . . . Its stark sense of reality comes as much from the grit between the pages as from the pure gold those pages spin.”—Laura Claridge, Boston Sunday Globe

“Stunning . . . Mountains Beyond Mountains will move you, restore your faith in the ability of one person to make a difference in these increasingly maddening, dispiriting times.”—John Wilkens, The San Diego Union-Tribune

“Easily the most fascinating, most entertaining and, yes, most inspiring work of nonfiction I’ve read this year.”—Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News

“It’ll fill you equally with wonder and hope.”—Cathy Burke, People

“In this excellent work, Pulitzer Prize-winner Kidder immerses himself in and beautifully explores the rich drama that exists in the life of Dr. Paul Farmer. . . . Throughout, Kidder captures the almost saintly effect Farmer has on those whom he treats.”—Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

“[A] skilled and graceful exploration of the soul of an astonishing human being.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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