Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Review by Sara Haag

When you begin your study of Chinese medicine, you are going to be reading a lot! Some of the books will put you to sleep with their dry tone and others will have you scratching your head in confusion.

This is not one of those books.

The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down is the story of Lia Lee, as written by Anne Fadiman. It tells the true story of a Hmong child’s journey through Western medicine, of cultural beliefs and how cross-cultural communication plays an important role in the treatment of our future patients.

Without giving away too much — because I want you to read it — the title of the book is the English translation of Lia’s illness. In her native tongue, it is known as ‘qaug dab peg’ and is thought among her people as a sign that she is special, marked to become a shaman, a holy woman. In Western medicine, it is considered epilepsy.

Her story takes you along the journey with her family, setting the stage by giving you a history lesson on Hmong families, their traditions on birthing children, and the preparation and care of their souls into their bodies. It provides a small window, but a good jumping off point into understanding the Lee clan, throughout their journey in the Western world and of the decisions that are made.

You might be asking yourself why you should read this book. The most important takeaway I can give you is that this book will force you to remember, from a practitioner and patient perspective, that we do not all share the same common threads, from either a Western or Eastern medical perspective, or from a spiritual/cultural perspective.

I will warn you, upon reading, you will be frustrated at times, and you will be moved to tears, but... you will be glad you read it!