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THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN: BOOKNOTES
She had come there for the first time on May 19, 1988 - to Merced, California - when she had heard there were some strange misunderstandings going on at the county hospital between its Hmong patients and its medical staff. She says the doctors call these problems “collisions” as if two different kinds of people had rammed into each other, head on, to the accompaniment of squealing brakes and breaking glass. The encounters were messy, but rarely frontal. Both sides were wounded, but neither side seemed to know what had hit it or how to avoid another crash. Her intent in coming there had been to somehow position herself between the two adversaries and hope she didn’t get caught in the crossfire.
This had all taken place nine years before this book was published when she had heard about the Lee’s daughter, Lia, whose case had occasioned some of the worst strife the Merced Hospital had ever seen. After she got past the tendency to lay blame at one door or the other, she started to think less like an American and a little more like a Hmong. Ironically, during the year she was writing this book, she also had many medical problems emerge among her family members, and she spent a great deal of time in hospitals, herself. It allowed her to gnaw on two important questions: What is a good doctor? And what is a good parent?
She has now known the people of this book for most of her adult life,
and she believes that if she hadn’t met Lia’s doctors, she would be a
different kind of patient, and if she hadn’t met Lia’s family, she would
be a different kind of mother. She says to end the preface that now and
then, late at night, she imagines what the voices on the tapes would sound
like if she could somehow splice them together so that the voices of the
doctors and the voices of the Hmong could be heard on a single tape, speaking
a common language.
This entire chapter foreshadows the conflict that Ms. Fadiman entered in 1988
- the clash of cultures. She introduces us to the two sides and implies
that it perhaps was never resolved. She leaves the reader with a kind
of poignant wish that she had found a way to create a common language
the two sides might have spoken.
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Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down".
. 30 May 2008