Chapter 3 & 4

In Chapter 3, we learned more about Lia’s illness.  Specifically, its downhill development and insight on the illness from the Hmong perspective.  The first notable thing about the chapter is that its title is that same as the novels.  In the chapter, we learn that the symptoms Lia is experiencing would be characterized as “quag dab peg” by the Hmong which translates to “the spirit catches you and you fall down”.  Throughout the chapter we are reminded and shown the extent to which spirits and illness overlap and relate in the Hmong culture.  The Lee’s believe that Lia’s illness has a spiritual cause and communicates a both an honor and a curse.  With this Hmong perspective on Lia’s situation, the worries and skepticism about Western medicine makes more sense.  For them, there is a worry that the Western culture and religion would be forced upon them as well as a concern for certain practices that would be considered violating and unnecessary.  This is more evident in Chapter 4, where the process of diagnosing an illness is compared from Hmong to Western medicine.  In the Hmong culture shamans would know a diagnosis and spiritual cause almost immediately without any form of invasive tests where in Western culture it sometimes can take days or weeks to come up with a diagnosis that may or may not have an explainable cause.  Procedures like getting undressed and wearing a patient gown are thought of as standard in Western medicine where to the Hmong this was a violation of someone’s being.  In the Hmong understanding of illness it is also imperative to acknowledge both body and soul, as it is the spirits that make the person better or worse.

In these chapters, there is a continued parallel between Western culture and the Hmong culture when it comes to medical practices and the understanding of illness overall. I found the Hmong perspective on illness to be very interesting.  We are told that often epileptics like Lia often become shamans, or spiritual healers, in the community as seizures are thought to be evidence that the person has a greater connection to the spirits.  During a seizure, the person enters a realm of the unseen and they are believed to have the power to perceive things that other people cannot see. Because of this very prestigious ability the Lees thought that Lia was very special and favored her both because of the attention her illness demands and because of its spiritual indication.  However, I thought it was very interesting that despite the honor that Lia’s seizures brought the Lee’s they still blamed their other child Yer for her illness when she slammed a door.  The dual perspective that the Hmong have on Lia’s situation, I believe, shows a kind of development of the Lee’s understanding of the world now that they live in the United States.  After reading the first two chapters it was apparent that culture and history of the Hmong people is very important to them and something that dictates their every decision.  I think after being exposed to Western society and specifically Western medical practices, the Lee’s still understand Lia’s illness as the working of the spirits but also acknowledge that the seizures are dangerous and could harm Lia.  Throughout Chapter 3 I could not help but think about what my parents would do if they had a childlike Lia.  In the Western culture, there would be no positive perspective on a child having seizures with no known medical cause.  The contrast between the two cultures has shown me how your environment and the people around you truly shape what you believe and how you view the world.  Lastly, I think that it was shocking to learn that the doctors of MCMC did not stop to ask about the Hmong beliefs surrounding illness and that most of the time there was no interpreter for the 20% of patients who are Hmong.  I think this is another reflection of how Western medicine is focused on diagnosing and treating patients in an efficient manner rather than forming relationships with patients.

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