About the Book

On October 24, 1982, three-month-old Lia Lee was carried into the emergency room of the county hospital in Merced, California. Lia's parents, Hmong refugees from the hill country of Laos, spoke no English; the hospital staff spoke no Hmong. On a later visit, Lia's doctors would determine that she was suffering from a severe case of epilepsy, a misfiring of the brain's neurons. Her parents, however, believed that her seizures were caused by the flight of her soul from her body and called her condition by its Hmong name: qaug dab peg ("the spirit catches you and you fall down").

This essential misunderstanding, leading to and surrounded by a host of smaller confusions, ultimately resulted in tragedy for Lia. In her stunning work of cross-cultural reportage, Anne Fadiman presents Lia's story from both perspectives. We learn how devotedly Lia's parents, Nao Kao Lee and Foua Yang, cared for their daughter, carrying her everywhere, arranging animal sacrifices for her, and making traditional remedies from herbs grown in the parking lot behind their apartment building. We also see the case through the eyes of Lia's doctors, the husband-and-wife team of Neil Ernst and Peggy Philp, who went to great efforts to fine-tune Lia's treatment and spent many sleepless nights pondering how to give her the best care possible.

And yet doctors and parents looked on helplessly as Lia's condition worsened, each blaming the other. The doctors were angry because the parents failed to give Lia her prescribed medications in the proper doses; the parents were angry because the medications had side effects. In an attempt to understand this sad impasse, Fadiman casts her net ever wider, examining Western medical culture and the history and spiritual traditions of the Hmong. The Hmong, a legendarily fierce and invincible tribe, were driven from their homes after the U.S.-sponsored "Quiet War" in Laos, during which many had been recruited to fight by the CIA. More than 100,000 ended up in America, but, especially in the early years, retained strong Hmong cultural values: family and community were prized; coercion was hated. As Fadiman discovers, Western physicians, trained to practice a technical art bound by strict rules and traditions, could be equally uncompromising.

It is Fadiman's signal achievement that she manages to empathize with those on both sides, communicating their intentions with compassion and humanity and carefully weighing the consequences of their actions. Her descriptions of everything from complicated medical procedures and emergency room protocol to Hmong healing ceremonies and refugee camp life in Thailand are sharply focused and compelling; her portraits of Lia's dedicated and stubborn doctors and her loving and stubborn parents are rich and nuanced. Through her telling of the story of a single Hmong child, she communicates the essence of two very different worldviews, and holds out the hope that they might one day be reconciled.

Description taken from http://www.spiritcatchesyou.com