I’m so torn with this book! I try to be culturally sensitive and respect the way Lia’s parents want to medically treat her. Also, the communication barrier is impossible to break. These parents don’t understand how to administer the medicine, which only frustrates the doctors more. I can see the difficulties from both sides. On one hand, these doctors really just want what’s best for their patient, but they can’t communicate this to her parents. On the other hand, the Lees are very wary of Western medicine as it is, and when the meds don’t show instant improvement, they stop administering them to Lia. Fadiman writes about how residents and pediatricians at this hospital are physically sick because of this family – they’re depressed, stressed, nervous, confused. Their ability to make this patient better is hindered by the cultural barriers. One doctor, knowing what a trial it is to work with the Lees, would vomit before each meeting. How awful. But, I also know if I lived in another country and I got sick (or a family member did) and I couldn’t communicate with the doctor or read the prescription information, well, I’m not sure I would take the medicine either – or I would probably administer it wrong.
I know every doctor can’t be expected to know the ins and outs of every culture that may walk through his/her door. When is it OK to talk to an English-speaking relative? When must you address an elder? Do they have certain beliefs that deter them from following certain instructions? It seems wrong to me that the best option of communication they may be able to find is a Hmong janitor who speaks a bit of English. How is either side supposed to trust a stranger to communicate the most personal of problems?