the spirit catches you

I just started reading this book a friend told me about called The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. It’s about a Hmong child with epilepsy and her American doctors. I think I might just have to put it down for now—too close to home. And yet I find it fascinating.

I’ve been reading it as an outsider looking into this child’s life, her doctors’ lives, her parents’ lives. And as that outsider, watching from a distance, I can see so clearly the tragic series of events in the life of a child with epilepsy; the countless trips to the emergency room, seizing hundreds—perhaps thousands—of times while not breathing, the painful blood draws, ingesting scores of mind-numbing medications, slipping further and further into retardation, the close calls with death.

And then I realize that the story I am reading is Calvin’s story, my story, Michael’s story. Since the book's main characters are Hmong and speak a different language than I do, I understand first hand what I have often said before, that epilepsy is a great equalizer, it can strike anyone—anytime, anywhere—and the story is the same ... pain, suffering, toxic drugs, bleak outlook for anything resembling a “normal” life.

Yes, the spirit catches you and you fall down. I just hope that my boy Calvin keeps getting back up.


  1. That is one of my favorite books--what a fascinating look into another culture's reaction and coping mechanisms regarding epilepsy! I'd also never thought much about the issue of being illiterate in your mother tongue, and the wrench that throws into treatment and medicine schedules. Best wishes!


  2. This is one of my favorite books, too. I read it years ago - 10 maybe. I found it interesting from a culture clash perspective - not just ethnic, but the medical and non-medical worlds. I should read it again. Now that I'm a parent and know a family who is living with epilepsy, it would probably be like a different book. Let us know if you finish and what your thoughts are.

    xo, Pam