The book written by Anne Fadiman in 1997, called “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures“ describes the fate of a Hmong family in a municipality Houaysouy, in Laos, in a Sainyabuli Province. The Lees and their ongoing struggle in California in Merced, is thus the central motive for the action described in the book. Especially the youngest daughter, Lia Lee, with a diagnosis of epilepsy and her reaction to the environment, is in the center of the interest of the author, being a real story. Her condition worsens in function of the incapacity of her parents to understand the conditions reigning in the society and in the inability of comprehension of the medical care system of the United States.
Therefore, it is basically the topic of immigration as well as their discrimination and assimilation in a foreign society is thus the most important contribution of the work, entering the field of medical anthropology as well as cultural competence. Lia Lee, also due to the cultural differences of her family which could not successfully adapt to a new environment, dided at the age of 31, weighing 22 kg and being 4 feet and 2 inches tall, being severaly damaged in terms of her cerebral development. This evolution is quite common for cases of children with a similar limitation.
The tragical story of Lia is a story of a 14th child, which was born in an environment that was not well understood by the parents. Mistakenly, they believed that actually the birth had to occur at Merced Medical center, in order for her be granted the US citizenship. Although she appeared to be a healthy child, epilepsy is regarded by Hmongs as a symbol for reverence. It is precisely their radical beliefs, even if common in their home culture, that makes them prevent the adequate communication between them and stakeholders in their new community. Nao Kao and Foua were convinced that it was actually a bad spirit which was responsible for the epilepsy of the child. The also come across frequent frustrations due to misunderstandings between and the doctors, who have a different view of the issue. The tragedy of the story unfolds on the background of cultural differences, which however not only stem from the background of the immigrant family but also from the incapacity of the local culture to understand the newcomers.
The resistance of the family to accept the rules and advices of the doctors is symbolized by their decision to refuse to provide her drugs that were recommended by specialists and by also by sacrifices of chicken, pigs and other animals in traditional rituals, with the intention to bring her soul back. Of course, this attempt is unsuccessful and only worsens the situation of the family as well as of the girl, representing an utter failure of and old culture in the cultural clash. The more is visible this breach between the two systems, as the reader may actually start thinking that the state of the girl is not the result of the non-compliance of the parents but rather a possible neglection of the US health system in the early stage of her life, possibly caused by to much medication which could have reduced her capacity to resist new bacteria. The historic transition of ancient societies lures and their tragical incapacity to adapt lures in the background of the story.