Chapters 3 & 4

Chapter three of Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down explains the title and nature of Lee’s condition. Quang dab peg or “the spirit catches you and you fall down” is the Hmong equivalent of epilepsy. While these terms are, on a very technical level, translations of one another, their social implications are vastly different. This continues the recurrent theme of cultural opposition and furthers the divide between Hmong medicine and western medicine. For western doctors, epilepsy is seen as a very clinical neurological condition that is characterized by unpredictable seizures and it is considered a severe disorder that necessitates professional care.  However, for the Hmong, Fadiman explains that quang dab peg is a well-known disease and is often regarded with a strong indifference. In fact, within the Hmong culture, those who suffer from epilepsy are considered divine and often set on paths to become shaman. This opposition between Americans, where the disease is something to be treated and medicated, and the Hmong, where the disease is less of a concern and a reason to be revered. This causes significant friction in hospital settings where each side believes that theirs is right and due to the lack of translators, the messages between either side are often lost. This language barrier is something my Chinese-born parents often struggle with. Lee’s parents’ struggle is then a struggle that I know my parents find highly relatable. My mother has never learned English, save for a few words, and my father has a very elementary grasp on it. This makes purchases, doctor visits, and other day to day activities more difficult in a society where English is a dominant language. While they can get away with going to the abundant that speak their languages since we live in NYC, there are still instances where speaking Chinese is not an option and the ability to find Chinese speaking places becomes increasingly more difficult in less culturally diverse states.

Chapter four concerns itself with more instances in which Hmong medicinal practices and values conflict with that of western doctors. For example, because the Hmong believe that the blood inside the body is finite, it is a threat to their personal beliefs when doctors repeatedly request to sample their blood for examination. However, many of these doctors may not be aware of the cultural significance this procedure that is typically standard in the United States and while this in part is not entirely their fault, it is important to have translators available to give voice to those who do not speak the dominant language because one may never know if they are encroaching on a culture they do not understand. While I believe that it is important to strike a balance between necessary procedures and becoming aware and tending to the cultural needs of the patient.

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