During the Vietnam War many people were sent over from the U.S. to battle, but what people typically do not know, is that the people actually battling most of the war were the Hmong. The CIA’s secret army of 30,000 Hmong guerrillas fought most of the battles for the ridges of Northeastern Laos and by the end of the war Laos was the most heavily bombed nation (Young, 2002). As you may already assume, many Hmong families were displaced after the terrible bombings and became refuges, forced to live in refugee camps. Since 1975, the United States has accepted more than 110,000 Laotian highlanders as refugees, the vast majority of whom are Hmong (Pfaff, 1995).
As you might imagine these people, whom were thrown into a completely different environment than their traditional villages, had to face and overcome many barriers. Social, linguistic, religious, and cultural barriers are among the most devastating. Some may say, the Hmong’s biggest challenge in the U.S. is a tragic encounter between Hmong “culture” and (U.S. medical) “science”, rightfully so (PDF 6.1).
After reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman, it is clear that this statement is very true. The U.S. biomedical model is unfortunately flawed, in that it has trouble including people’s spiritual and cultural desires. For example, Lia’s condition was viewed very differently by her parents than it was the doctors. The parents saw Lia’s seizures as “soul loss” episodes, while the doctors viewed it as epilepsy. To the American doctors, this was an easy fix, medicine, lots of medicine. But, to Lia’s parents, that was not the answer; the answer was herbal remedies performed by a shaman. As you know this brought many problems to the table for both uncompromising parties, but most importantly, Lia. Lia ended up brain dead. Her life was ruined not by septic shock or noncompliant parents but by cross-cultural misunderstanding (Fadiman 1997: 262).
American Healthcare has not failed the Hmong solely based on Lia’s unfortunate outcome; they have failed due to the lack of compassion for other cultures. Our healthcare system must integrate others beliefs and cultures into the biomedical model. Healthcare experiences for refugees who arrive in the United States after living in refugee camps must be acknowledged. For example, Lia’s parents, whom did not know any English, could not read any prescription bottles, and could not read the time on a clock, should have been taught or given help to do so (PDF 6.1). It is not the refuges choice that they are being forced out of their home countries; it is our duty to welcome them into our home and make it as comfortable as possible for them. In order to establish an efficient healthcare system to meet the needs of all people, including refugees, we must make this change. We must reassure the refugees, like the Hmong, that they will be treated like the rest of the patients in America. We must use translators and teachers during the treatment of others.
Young, Marilyn B. “Google Books.” Google Books. 2002. Accessed August 10, 2016. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en.
Pfaff, Tim. “ERIC – Hmong in America. Journey from a Secret War., 1995.” ERIC – Hmong in America. Journey from a Secret War., 1995. 1995. Accessed August 10, 2016. http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED404424.
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. Anthropology 370. MSU. Web. 10 Aug. 2016.