Chapter 13 - Code X

The author, after hearing the Lees’ story about their escape from Laos and their march to Thailand, commented that it must have been terrible. Foua responded that it was nowhere near as sad as after Lia went to Fresno and got sick. At first she wondered if she had misunderstood the little girl’s mother, but then she realized that “violence, starvation, destitution, exile and death were, however horrific, within the sphere of the known, or at conceivable tragedies. What had happened to Lia was outside that sphere.”

Lia was transferred to MCMC by ambulance on December 5, 1986. Lia was admitted to the pediatric unit. When Peggy Philp saw her, Lia seemed in pain, and the doctor thought that she couldn’t go on like this, exhausting herself. She was mad at Dr. Terry Hutchinson for sending her such a horribly afflicted child when she had made that same child stable. Neil Ernst found it harder to see Lia and took three days before he entered her room. He saw her as being in a vegetative state, but said she was one angry vegetable. To the author, calling Lia a vegetable was just one more form of avoidance.

Foua cared for Lia herself, sitting by her bed around the clock. The hospital was open to the mother caring for the little girl, and Peggy even allowed her to pour some noxious green liquid down the child’s nasogastric tube on the belief that Lia was going to die. The Hmong New Year fell during Lia’s stay at MCMC, but Foua said that it was the only time in their lives that her family didn’t celebrate it. They were just crying all the time. Instead of Lia being able to wear new clothes for the celebration, “Foua brought a different set of clothes to the hospital: funeral garments. Of course, the nurses said she couldn’t wear the jacket, because it interfered with their access to the child, but when they weren’t in the room, Foua would replace the jacket.” In addition, there were people in her room all the time, which annoyed the nurses, who felt they had answered the same questions ten times over and had to face attitudes where nothing they did was ever right.

On Lia’s second day back at MCMC, Nao Kao demanded that Lia’s subclavian line be removed, and her medications be discontinued. The hospital agreed, and Peggy believed that they just wanted Lia to die with dignity. However, the Lees actually believed the medicine and the hospital was making Lia sick and that’s why they wanted to remove her from there. Jeanine stepped in on their behalf to assure that Lia had everything she needed in her final days, including home nursing. Foua signed the papers that said she understood all the instructions about the feeding tube, but she had no intention of leaving the tube in. Nao Kao was asked to sign something that was not included in Lia’s chart, but it probably had to do with their decision to take her home.

The hospital claimed that they told him he had to wait two hours before she could be released, but Nao Kao insisted that a nurse came in and had him sign a paper that said she was going to die in two hours. This was an offensive comment within Hmong culture and had been uttered frequently over the previous two weeks. They believed that a doctor should never say that. So the Lees perceived the doctors’ comments as threatening. As a result, when Nao Kao was being forced to sign a piece of paper that said his daughter was going to die, he did what the Hmong have done for centuries: he fled. He grabbed his daughter and ran. Security was called and a Code X was instated. Also Dr. Dave Schneider was paged. He had had a difficult week and was a low as he had ever been in his life. So he was in no mood for the situation with Nao Kao. He told the author that they had already agreed to send Lia home, but in the proper manner with an NG tube to allow food to be given to her. But Nao Kao had run with the child and had even pulled out the tube. He said, “We were going to let them take her home anyway, but they just couldn’t fucking wait!” The nasogastric tube had to be re-inserted and then X-rayed to make sure it was in the right place. It took four more hours for that to be accomplished, and then, Lia was ready to go home. No one considered reporting Nao Kao, and Lia left MCMC in her mother’s arms. When they got her home, they boiled some herbs and washed her body. She had been sweating constantly in the hospital, but after washing Lia’s body, the sweating stopped and she didn’t die.


Once again we have a chapter in which the doctors and the Lees struggle for control of Lia. The Lees eventually win and bring their daughter home to begin caring for her in the Hmong fashion. In spite of the doctors’ belief that she would die in a few hours after leaving the hospital, the Lees began to use their own medicine – boiled herbs – and Lia didn’t die. The reader is left to wonder just exactly who knew more.

Cite this page:

Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down". . 09 May 2017