Review of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down


Man did this book blow me away. My friend has always been telling me to get into medical anthropology and I suck at genres so I am not sure if this counts but holy heck its good. It makes me want to read all the medical anthropology in the world. In fact, Anne Fadiman's fantastic investigation, presentation, and overall massive use of empathy to convey this amazing idea of such a three dimensional aspect of this culture collision that I have been inspired to do something similar. I randomly picked up this book because of its fun title and interesting blurb on the back at Barnes & Noble. Holy moly I did not know what I was in for. Essentially this book examines interactions between the cultures of Hmong and American medicine in the context of care for an infant/toddler with epilepsy. Part of me really struggled to type that last sentence. I hate to reduce any amount of this work into a quick 25 word blurb. Fadiman examines the history of war and brutal stories of escape common among the Hmong to help shed light on why a family would make a certain decision. She would give the family dynamic context to help shade in the lives of two dedicated pediatricians in their split second judgements. "Shading in" is a good phrase to describe what this book achieves. I suspect the first couple chapters were made to specifically put an easy diagnoses of the situation in my head. Or maybe I am just so built by the world of western medicine that  I simply found the first evaluation of the situation to be the common one by  the medicine practitioners in this story. My first evaluation was shameful. I saw a foreign family from a simplistic or non-sophisticated culture whose ignorance was delaying medical intervention to their child. That last sentence hurt. Oof. That's really what a part of me felt. But you need to admit you're wrong when you are. Fadiman then layer by genius layer peeled back and re-examined all parts of this situation. Moving you along the story, cutting off a slice of it here, giving context through history or family or culture and so on. This book is so well made to  help disillusion the reader of their narrow minded way of thinking. I feel shame in my initial evaluation of the Hmong. I feel shame in my disinterest and casual dismissal of the roles of culture in pretty much my entire life. Anne Fadiman truly knows how to explain an argument through simple evidence and calm examination. There was no argument even. Just enlightenment. I think this book could be of great help to anyone, but especially those involved in the care and healing of others. So common with non-western culture, medicine plays a massively important role in spiritual and religious identity. To ignore this is to ignore your patient. I am not treating a bad liver, I am treating a human. I will go more into this idea when I discuss Arthur Kleinman's "The Illness Narratives" which I just finished. It's like Anne Fadiman "shaded in" me and my views of people as well as the people in this story. It would do well to practice this new form of empathy for me. I hope I can tkae the lessons in this book and provide better healing with them.


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