I first read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down while in medical school. If you’ve never read this incredible book, go out and get it RIGHT NOW.
It is the story of Lia Lee, the child of Hmong immigrants living in the Sacramento area. Lia had her first seizure as an infant. Her parents spoke no English. Their view of illness and disease was unlike anything Lia’s doctors had ever seen before- leading to a culture clash that eventually culminated in a massive seizure in 1987, when Lia was four years old. That seizure caused permanent brain damage, and Lia lived for the next 26 years in a persistent vegetative state.
She died on August 31. Her death was first widely reported today, via an obituary in the New York Times.
This book is required reading in many medical schools, as it well should be. It provides amazing insight for dealing with patients from different cultures who have different views of health, sickness, and disease. Its lessons came in handy many, many times while I was working in the melting pot of New York City. I continue to use those skills in my practice today.
RIP, Lia. The sacrifice of you and your family will not be forgotten.