Spirit Catches You Essay

In the book “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman, a
child named Lia Lee is taken away from her parents by Child Protective Services
and placed in foster care. Because they aren’t giving her medication for
epilepsy. Although resulting in some medical benefits those benefits were lost
because of destructive psychological and emotional damage to Lia. Dr. Neil Ernst
decided to call child protective services when Lia Lee’s parents Nou Kou and
Foua were reluctant to give her her medicine. Dr. Neil Ernst said: “I felt it
was important for these Hmongs to understand that there were certain elements of
medicine that we understood better than they did and that there were certain
rules they had to follow with their kids’ lives. I wanted the word to get out
in the community that if they deviated from that, it was not acceptable
behavior.”(pg. 79 Fadiman). Dr. Ernst could have also been arrested for not
reporting it. There were some alternatives to calling Child Protective Services
such as my favorite one; having a nurse visit the Lees’ three times daily to
administer the medications, but this thought did not occur to Dr. Ernst and/or
seemed unreasonable at the time. Although Fadiman does not mention what Dr.

Ernst thought about this course of action, I can only suspect that it would have
been too expensive to have a nurse visit three times a day. Also they
shouldn’t be rewarded for their noncompliance by having someone else
administer their daughter’s medication. It might have also provoked the
Lees’ to anger because they didn’t like to give Lia the medicine because of
how the medicine made her depressed and sullen. After Lia was taken away for a
period of a few weeks, Nou Kou almost beat an interpreter named Sue Xiong who
was interpreting for a CPS (#) social worker. Nou Kou said: “I was outside and
Sue came inside and she called me and said, Come in here, you come in here. At
that time I was ready to hit Sue, and I got a baseball bat right there. My
son-in-law was with me, and he grabbed me and told me not to do it.”(pg. 91
Fadiman), so you can see the Lees’ were violent natured. The second reason the
Nou Kou and Foua did not want to give their daughter the medicine was that they
believed like other Hmongs that people with epilepsy are caught by a good or bad
spirit which makes them fall to the ground (the Hmong word for epilepsy
translates into: the spirit catches you and you fall down) and while their under
siege they get messages from the gods. Many people in their culture with
epilepsy become cultural healers or shamans. The plan of sending a nurse would
have been my plan. It would have been allot of time and money though. And when
the Hmong community is already draining our resources through welfare doesn’t
make much sense to spend more money on them. It also would not have said that”our medicine is better” as good either. Although Dr. Neil’s plan of
letting CPS handle it worked out for him it did not work out for Lia for she had
more seizures at her foster home with the medicine than at home with missed and
half dosses. The reason is because she did not want to be separated from her
parents, and the emotional damage from the separation. Some people would say it
was selfish and lazy that Dr. Ernst did not at least try to use a nurse to
administer the medication. I believe if I was Him that I would try sending a
nurse for Two weeks to see if it would work and then make a decision. But on the
other hand I believe that these stubborn, ignorant people shouldn’t be
pampered when they are already helping themselves to so much (#) from the tax
payers through welfare. Because of these two issues of Dr. Ernst’s quickness
to make a decision, and the Hmong community taking so much and giving nothing
back, it is hard for me to make a decision and I feel myself “slipping”
towards Dr. Ernst’s decision. I don’t blame Dr. Ernst for his decision which
I think is the most logical choice and even if he tried my Two weeks idea it
still wouldn’t make sending a nurse any less expensive. All I am saying is
that he should not have worried about teaching the Hmong community a lesson on
reality so much and think more about the health of the individual named Lia Lee.

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The Hmongs believe that to treat the body you must also treat the soul, what
happened here is that Lia’s soul got hurt so she didn’t get better at all,
nor much worse. That is why I think the medicine didn’t work effectively. It
is unfortunate that cultural misunderstanding and language barriers got in the
way of what could have been resolved much more easily.

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. New York: The
Noonday Press, 1997


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