Uncertainty in Medicine - In 1991, three-month-old Lia Lee,...

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In 1991, three-month-old Lia Lee, the daughter of recent Hmong immigrants from Laos, was diagnosed with epilepsy. From then on, her life was a metaphor for the vast chasm dividing the values and traditions of her culture and her American medical doctors. In the Hmong culture, physical disease is just an outward manifestation of spiritual disease. Lia may be enduring the consequences of being half a world from her homeland or perhaps paying for a mistake made by her parents. For Lia's spiritual malady, her family seeks a spiritual cure. When she was three months old, Lia’s sister slammed the door of the Lee’s apartment. Lia began convulsing; her eyes rolled up, her arms started spasming, and she fainted. The loud noise had startled her soul it had run away from her body and become lost. In Hmong, this is called quag dab peg: “the spirit catches you and you fall down”. It wasn’t until Lia’s third visit to the hospital emergency room that her epilepsy was correctly diagnosed. Doctors, being human and fallible, will not be able to diagnose correctly every disease on the first try, if at
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all. Even with the many tools at their disposal, there are still cases that are complex, confusing, and/or novel. Over the course of the next few years, Lia visited the hospital many times. She became easily recognizable by the staff at MCMC (Merced Community Medical Center). During the course of their treatment, various combinations of drugs were tried to help control Lia’s seizures. Different drugs attempt to treat symptoms in different ways. It is often unpredictable for a doctor to know how a patient will react to a medication. Patients can be unresponsive, or even worse allergic to their prescribed medicine, which is why it is often necessary for doctors to try different medications to treat an illness, as was the case in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down . In Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect
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This note was uploaded on 04/17/2008 for the course IHSS 2000 taught by Professor Layne during the Fall '04 term at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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Uncertainty in Medicine - In 1991, three-month-old Lia Lee,...

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