“A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul” by Patricia Leigh Brown looked at Mercy Medical Center in Merced, CA where they have created a shaman program to strengthen their relationship with the Hmong community. The Hmong are refugees originally from Northern Laos, where systems of healing are different from the biomedicine that we are familiar with; Hmong healing is primarily spiritual. The Hmong believe in the natural and supernatural world and that health is the balance between these two worlds (Stanford School of Medicine). As biomedicine operates on a more mechanical platform, there is a lot of cross-cultural misunderstandings and issues that arise from the differences. In Anne Fadiman’s book The Spirit Catches You, and You Fall Down, she discusses the case of Lia Lee, an infant with ‘epilepsy’, in biomedical understanding, and a ‘lost soul’ (or something to that effect) in Hmong understanding. In Hmong culture, Lia’s condition was a symbol of honor as it could result in her becoming a healer – a respected position. There was a lot of distrust between Lia’s parents with the biomedical doctors (and biomedicine) as they believed that the medicine was harming Lia while the doctors believed otherwise. After Lia suffered from a near-fatal seizure that ultimately left her in a vegetative state, it was found out that it was biomedicine that caused that – it was septic shock. I brought up this example of Lia Lee to emphasize the cross-cultural barriers/misunderstandings between the Hmong community and biomedicine. The hospital was terrible at understanding and working with Lia Lee’s family and their beliefs which played a role in her treatment.
The hospital that Lia Lee went to is the same one that this NYT article is discussing – Mercy Medical Center in Merced, CA. As there is a large Hmong population in Merced, around 4 patients that are received in that hospital are Hmong (Brown). To address the different cultural healing practices, Mercy Medical Center is actually the first to formally recognize and involve traditional healers. Hmong shamans generally use traditional home remedies; these involve cupping, coining, and massage to release pressure. The shaman program has only nine approved ceremonies, two of which are soul calling and soft chanting (Brown). However, other ceremonies involve burning incense, animal sacrifices, trances, etc. As these ceremonies are quite elaborate, Hmong healers are quite involved with their patients. The systems that this article is discussing are the professional and folk sectors. Mercy Medical Center (which operates in the professional sector) has created a shaman program which involve Hmong healers and their ceremonies to be a part of their healing system (which operates in the folk sector).
Brown, Patricia Leigh. “A Doctor For Disease, A Shaman For the Soul.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Sept. 2009. Web. July 2014
“Culturally Appropriate Geriatric Care: Fund of Knowledge.” Ethno-Med. Stanford School of Medicine. Web. July 2014.
Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997. Print.