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Spirit Catches You

01 Dec 2016Psychology Essays

How do traditional Hmong birthing practices contrast with American birthing practices?

What can be initially noticed is that Hmong birthing practices takes a lot of time because of the different ceremonies involved as opposed to the American birthing practices-baptism comes a few days or weeks after birth, I believe. As read from the first few parts of Chapter one, child delivery in Laos had a great difference opposed to child delivery in hospitals such as the American hospital in the story. Mothers would have squatted right on the dirt floor of their hut, pulling the baby out of her womb and had to stay silent to avoid waking the other children sleeping on the floor. When you compare this with child delivery in hospitals, they would have to lie on a metal table with sterile drapes, receiving no anesthetic. Well, it is the process of child delivery in any hospital.

Once the baby was born in Laos, the father cuts the umbilical cord and then ties it with a strand of string. In the United States, the baby's umbilical cord would be cut, unless the father wants to do it-if he is present. In hospitals, the placenta would have been disposed of. In Hmong culture, it was buried by the father under specific places depending on the baby's sex. If it were male, the placenta would have been buried at the center pillar of the house, which supports the roof. If it were female, it would be buried under the parents' bed. If the Hmong mother experiences some difficulties, she would consult a shaman-the medicine man of their group. In hospitals, the doctor and medical staff attend to the mother if she needs help. This was also shown when Foua Yang gave birth to Lia in a hospital. She was impressed by the medical staff's attending to her needs. The name giving was also different. In American birthing practices, the name of the child was decided by the parents, or even just one of them, after child birth. In Hmong culture, the parents may initially decide on the name but it was the soul-caller and elders who had the final say. The name was important to ensure the child's health.

How is the political history of the Hmong people important to Lia Lee's story?

The Hmong's political history showed a lot of changes and hardships that this ethnic group had to undergo in the past. They experience oppression from the Chinese, who greatly resented them and dubbed them as barbaric in nature. After the Chinese, the French entered the picture which somehow learned how to cooperate with them by making opium as their way of paying their taxes. Then during the Vietnam War and Laotian Civil War, the Americans entered the picture. In this war, they experienced the greatest changes to their supposed simple way of life. In telling's story and experience in America, some characteristics that were evident on Hmong people in Merced (in's story) can be traced back to the characteristics of their ancestors, especially during the Chinese and American chapters. The Hmong patients in the hospital (MCMC) tend to be stubborn most of the time. They were not willing to take any orders and would prefer to apply their traditional methods of healing rather than the American medical methods.

The Lees were not exempted from this stubbornness as they would refuse or do not wish to comply with the Doctors' orders. Furthermore, they tend to neglect and ignore what the doctors' would suggest. This arrogant and proud attitude almost cost them the life of their daughter Lia-well in the end, it did as she seemed lifeless. Even so, this long-standing Hmong pride created a greater barrier between's parents and her doctors as confusion brewed within them. The Hmong political history generally explained why there is confusion between's parents and her doctors while's life is at stake. It simply explained why the Hmong were not good at cooperating with other people, especially the Americans since they experienced the great drastic changes during the Laotian Civil War.

How do Hmong concepts and treatments of Epilepsy differ from American concepts and treatments?

In Western medical history, epilepsy was considered as a disease with various origins. Until now, it is still considered as a disease. In the story, the Americans considered it as a disease which needed to be cured, and it can be cured given that the right medicine was administered. In the case of Lia, the medicine was given to her parents, for them to administer it to her. Due to confusion and lack of orientation on how to administer such, the parents ended up neglecting the doctors' orders. This caused various instances wherein Lia got sicker than usual or had more seizures than usual. Most American doctors in the story saw epilepsy as a disease that needs to be treated or studied. This explains why Lia was given different kinds of medicine to help heal her condition.

In Hmong culture, epilepsy can be both life threatening but at the same time a blessing since it was mentioned that the sign of epilepsy would mean that a healer's soul is entering the body of the epileptic. Those who possess such a soul would generally mean that he or she was destined to become a shaman; it was regarded with high honor. This explained why's parents experienced a mixture of concern and pride towards their daughter's condition. The Hmong's concept clashed with the doctors' since it does not really explain much, in medical theory. For the doctors, it was a disease that needs to be cured and nothing more. Growing concern from the parents opt them to also use traditional medical methods like taking Lia to a Shaman since a Hmong shaman should know how to heal her. The doctors insisted on giving her antibiotics and other medicines that can supposedly stop her seizures.

What assumptions underlie Western medicine and science?

The Hmong have managed to keep their cultural beliefs as pure as it can be. Although when the Laotian Civil War forced them to migrate further, they experienced a cultural dilemma since many of them moved to America, specifically in the town of Merced. Their culture clashed with that of the Americans and since their most dominating trait is their sense of pride and their refusal to surrender, it was hard for them to adapt the different medical methods that the Americans used in hospitals. Take surgery as an example. The Hmong would refuse such done to them because it was taboo. The Hmong also mentioned that blood was finite and it should not be wasted but they saw the doctors keep taking blood. This image has frightened them to the extent that they would refuse to cooperate or go to medical doctors. They would always prefer the shamans over the doctors because they seem to have received better care from these shamans. One comparison is related to diagnosing the illness of the patient.

The shaman can quickly identify it while the doctor would run different tests to identify the illness however, not all tests successfully identify the kind of illness and its source. Even though there were a lot of American medical methods introduced to the Hmong, antibiotics seem to be the only one that they would accept since it may be equated to their medicines. Other than that, it does not seem to pose a threat to their life, unlike surgery or anesthesia-Hmong believe that their soul wanders off hence causing illness and even death to the person. Due to this conflict in beliefs, the Hmong were not willing to cooperate with the medical team in the refugee camps. Some also carried this trait with them to the United States.

How did the political history of the Hmong people affect's treatment?

The Hmong often experienced hardship throughout their history. They fought against the oppressing Chinese, which forced them to migrate to Indochina. They encountered the French and rebelled against the taxation until they reached a compromise. Then they experienced the devastating Laotian Civil War, upon which they were conscripted by the American government to fight against the communist; of course, they did not hesitate to do so. The war also caused them to migrate more frequently than usual. They were also forced to walk towards the border of Thailand since the planes that were supposed to fly the refugees out were not enough. The Lees were part of this group and experienced some hardships along the way. Their son died since her mother was not producing breast milk-this is due to her not eating most of the time during the endeavor.

The Hmong were proud people hence they would rather endure these hardships than surrender. Since they experienced the death of their child during the past, the Lees were determined not to let such happen to Lia. The Hmong cared so much for their children since they considered them as the most valuable treasures. Hence, they tend to always get in the way of the doctors. Their emotions seem to run rampantly-well it is understandable since it is their child's life at stake. There would always be confusion between the doctors and's parents. The Hmong pride prevents them to reach a proper understanding between them hence resulting to the neglect of's proper medication. The doctors were also at fault as they failed to understand the Hmong culture. They could have learned their culture first so that they could reach a proper compromise with the Hmong.

What did you gain from exploring your own assumptions and looking at a situation from multiple cultural perspectives?

Well, misunderstandings between people from two or more different cultural backgrounds are generally caused by their differences in terms of traditions, rites or rituals, and their way of life. Some cultures may be simpler than the other just as what can be read from the story. This often causes confusion between the dealing parties as they would fail to understand each other. I think that both should learn each other's cultural, traditions, methods, and backgrounds in order to avoid confusion. By learning the cultural traditions, I believe they would be able to easily reach a compromise wherein both parties would consider as good since it would reach their goals. This is what's parents and the doctors failed to do in the first place hence causing her further pain.

As much as any reader would say, I learned that an ethnic group, who successfully maintained their traditions, could not simply adapt to a new way of life-in the case of the story, the American culture. Frankly, it is because of high regard for these traditions that they successfully maintained it in the first place. Clashing directly and abruptly with another culture may only result to more confusion and rejection. It may definitely take time before adapting to the different cultural changes although it may also be worth the time. If experiencing a situation wherein different cultural perspectives come into play, the best possible solutions would be to see things eye to eye. They should learn from each other's set of beliefs. After that, they could formulate an understanding in which both would be able to solve the situation in an organized fashion. Cooperation is the key.

In general, how do Western and Eastern approaches to medicine differ?

The best way to describe Eastern medical methods is it heals both body and soul as Eastern doctors would see these two as equally important. In Western approaches, the body seems more important since it is after all what houses the soul. The major difference would be the fact that Eastern medicine is generally more traditionalized as opposed to their Western counterpart. Take the Chinese as an example. They were still able to keep the traditional medicine and remedies from Ancient China-like the bear's paw, tiger's claw, and an array of herbs.

These kinds of medicine would generally be taboo for the Westerners-some would deem it barbaric. Eastern medical methods also rely on traditional prayers and rites in order to heal the patient's body and soul. Sacrifice was also present. In Western medicine, an array of tools was used. Surgery was the key method in the Western practice. They would run tests, use tools and chemicals, and confine patients in hospitals in order for them to determine and cure the disease. In other words, the Western approach may be considered more logical while the Eastern approach had a more traditional influence.

References

  • Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall down: a Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997.
  • Kavalier, F. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down." Bmj, vol. 341, no. jul07 3, July 2010, pp. c3524-c3524. doi:10.1136/bmj.c3524.
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Spirit_Catches_You_and_You_Fall_Down.

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