Running head: clash of two cultures a hmong Girl’s Tragic Case: The Clash of Two Cultures

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A Hmong Girl’s Tragic Case: The Clash of Two Cultures

RaeJeanne C. Guizar

Dixie State University

A Hmong Girl’s Tragic Case: The Clash of Two Cultures

Imagine that you are vacationing in a far away country. You don’t speak the primary language, and the culture is foreign to you. You become sick, so you go to the local hospital to seek care. There is a translator, but you can’t help but think that what you say isn’t really getting through, and you have never heard of the medications the doctor prescribed. You wonder how you can trust the doctor, since he hasn’t even listened to your explanation of symptoms. Feeling distraught, you decide to seek a second opinion when you return home. This experience is a small-scale example of the deep miscommunication between the American doctors of Merced, California, and a Hmong family. Foua and Nao Kao are the parents of a young Hmong girl, Lia, who was diagnosed with Epilepsy shortly after her family had moved to the United States, and didn’t have the option to return home to seek care. The influence of culture on both the perspective of the doctors and Lia’s parents is described in Fadiman’s (1997) account of this true story in her book entitled The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Cultural disparity built a wall that prevented effective treatment. For the Hmong, religion, spirituality, family, diet, illness and tradition are all rolled into one paradigm: they are all dependent on each other (Fadiman, 1997). In Western medicine, science and proven data guide healthcare and treatment, offering explanations for everything.

For Foua and Nao Kao, the cause of Lia’s illness was clearly spiritual in nature, and had to be treated as such. How could they trust the doctors to give her all the care she needed, when all they offered was medicine with terrible side effects? The doctors, however, became increasingly frustrated when the parent’s didn’t follow medication instructions and Lia’s seizing got worse. Without culturally competent care and a trusting relationship, treatment won’t be effective. As nurses, we are available to provide care to people of all races and cultures. Like Lia, the lives of many people depend on our ability to create a common ground where the patient, family and healthcare providers can all be motivated to work together to promote health. Fadiman’s (1997) account of Lia’s downward spiral as she slips through the gap created by a clash of two cultures makes the importance of culturally competent care very clear. In order to promote health and treat illness, healthcare workers must create trust that is founded on cultural competence, respect and understanding.

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