In order to understand Lia Lee’s medical story, one must first understand the culture in which she came from and was a part of along with the history of the Hmong peoples. Lia was a part of the Hmong culture, which is a group of people from Laos in southeast Asia (mjcanth, 2013). The Hmong originally came to America as refugees because of the Vietnamese War. The CIA decided to recruit the Hmong to fight in a proxy war during the Vietnamese War to keep communist forces from succeeding. In the end, the consequences of the war were devastating for the Hmong. Thousands were killed and those that survived became refugees in other countries, including the United States (Thompson). This history is how the Lee family came to America. Once they arrived, many were very unsure of the new lifestyle they had to adjust to. They had to learn a new language, cultural practices, beliefs, customs, get a job, and all the other facets that come with living in American culture. However, the Hmong did not choose this for themselves and thus, were reluctant to let their traditional practices go (micanth, 2013). This is extremely important to remember in the case of Lia Lee because their traditional practices are contradictory to the western medical practices. The Hmong have many and specific rituals and cultural practices that are essential to their way of life but they do not align with healthcare in the United States. This posed a problem for the Lee family because they wanted to heal their daughter using their own remedies, but western medication and the American society forced them to use western forms of treatment. Not only this, but the Hmong were wary of trusting the doctors not only because of their unfamiliarity with western medication, but because of their traumatic history during the Vietnamese War. The Hmong were thrown into the war without warning, which completely disrupted their way of life and then eventually became helpless refugees. Coming to America was the last thing they wanted or needed and thus, there was bound to be mistrust in virtually everything they were learning.
After learning about this week’s materials, my only personal recommendation for improving the healthcare experience in America for refugees would be to have more cultural understanding. I believe more doctors should be like Dr. Fife who mostly complied with the Hmong wishes. Although many of his peers in the profession believed him to be a lesser doctor than they, Dr. Fife was most favored by Hmong patients because he did not steamroll their beliefs and ways of life with what he believed to be best. He took their input into consideration and in the end, it ended up being best for him and his patients (Gabriel, 2016). If more doctors could take a more anthropological approach when treating refugees and others of different cultural background, I believe treatment would be vastly more successful and less stressful for both doctor and patient.
Gabriel, Cynthia, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.” Presentation for the course ANP 370: Culture, Health, and Illness, online, 2016.
mjcanth. SH Complete. Video, 58:03. February 2, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LnvuMyUvfI
Thompson, Scott. “The Hmong People’s Involvement in the Vietnam War.” Synonym: The Classroom. Accessed August 7, 2016. http://classroom.synonym.com/hmong-peoples-involvement-vietnam-war-23261.html