The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

by

Anne Fadiman

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Lia’s mother and Nao Kao’s wife. Having given birth to twelve children in her native Laos, Foua and her family fled to a refugee camp in Thailand to escape the dangerous communist forces that had won control of her country in 1975. She gave birth there to her thirteenth child, Mai. After immigrating to the United States not long afterward, she gave birth to Lia in Merced, California, where the family lived along with many other Hmong refugees and immigrants. Foua is a protective and caring mother who is especially enamored with Lia, keeping her close to her body at all times and sparing nothing to provide the little girl with the staples of Hmong medical care, including both herbal remedies and spiritual ceremonies. Foua becomes close with Fadiman and is happy to tell her the details of Lia’s story—this is notable, since the Lees aren’t so forthcoming with other non-Hmong Americans. Her acceptance of Fadiman ultimately reflects Fadiman’s ability to remain culturally sensitive and to keep from letting her own beliefs impose upon the family.

Foua Lee Quotes in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down quotes below are all either spoken by Foua Lee or refer to Foua Lee. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Farrar, Straus, and Giroux edition of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down published in 2012.
Chapter 7 Quotes

Neil was pretty sure, however, that because Lia’s condition was progressive and unpredictable, he could treat it best by constantly fine-tuning her drug regimen. If he had chosen a single pretty-good anticonvulsant and stuck with it, he would have had to decide that Lia wasn’t going to get the same care he would have given the daughter of a middle-class American family who would have been willing and able to comply with a complex course of treatment. Which would have been more discriminatory, to deprive Lia of the optimal care that another child would have received, or to fail to tailor her treatment in such a way that her family would be most likely to comply with it?

A decade ago, that is not the way Neil looked at the situation. He never seriously considered lowering his standard of care. His job, as he saw it, was to practice good medicine; the Lees’ job was to comply.

Related Characters: Anne Fadiman (speaker), Lia Lee, Foua Lee, Nao Kao Lee, Neil Ernst
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

While Foua was telling me about the dozens of tasks that constituted her “easy” work in Laos, I was thinking that when she said she was stupid, what she really meant was that none of her former skills were transferable to the United States—none, that is, except for being an excellent mother to her nine surviving children. It then occurred to me that this last skill had been officially contradicted by the American government, which had legally declared her a child abuser.

Related Characters: Anne Fadiman (speaker), Foua Lee
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

At this point, [Lia’s sister], who was three at the time, ran over to Lia and started banging her on the chest.

“Don’t do that, there’s a good boy,” said Martin, addressing the little girl in English, of which she did not speak a word. “[… P]lease tell them they have got to watch these other little children. Lia is not a doll.”

Related Characters: Anne Fadiman (speaker), Lia Lee, Foua Lee, Nao Kao Lee, Martin Kilgore
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

Once I asked Neil if he wished he had done anything differently. He answered as I expected, focusing not on his relationship with the Lees but on his choice of medication. “I wish we’d used Depakene sooner,” he said. “I wish I’d accepted that it would be easier for the family to comply with one medicine instead of three, even if three seemed medically optimal.”

Then I asked, “Do you wish you had never met Lia?”

“Oh, no, no, no!” His vehemence surprised me. “Once I might have said yes, but not in retrospect. Lia taught me that when there is a very dense cultural barrier, you do the best you can, and if something happens despite that, you have to be satisfied with little successes instead of total successes. You have to give up total control. That is very hard for me, but I do try. I think Lia made me into a less rigid person.”

Related Characters: Anne Fadiman (speaker), Lia Lee, Foua Lee, Nao Kao Lee, Neil Ernst
Page Number: 257
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down PDF

Foua Lee Character Timeline in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The timeline below shows where the character Foua Lee appears in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Birth
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...Laos, where twelve of her older siblings were born. If she had been, her mother Foua would have carried out the delivery herself while squatting over the dirt floor of the... (full context)
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Lia was the first Lee child born in America. Foua gave birth to her in Merced Community Medical Center (MCMC) on July 19, 1982. Unaware... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
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...Lia went into a seizure after her older sister Yer loudly slammed the apartment door. Foua and Nao Kao immediately suspected what happened: the loud sound so frightened their daughter that... (full context)
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...fact that they didn’t entirely trust or invest themselves in the efficacy of Western medicine, Foua and Nao Kao brought her to MCMC on two of these occasions, though Lia had... (full context)
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...on rotation, Dan Murphy, who was particularly interested in Merced’s Hmong population. Second of all, Foua and Nao Kao brought their nephew, who was able to translate (though not very well).... (full context)
Chapter 5: Take as Directed
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...Depakene (to be used alone)—in just four and a half short years, Nao Kao and Foua had been told to give their daughter 14 different medications at various times and in... (full context)
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...of the medication she had noticed before changing the dosage, Peggy began to understand that Foua and Nao Kao weren’t administering the drug properly. Whether or not this was because the... (full context)
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The Merced County Health Department started sending nurses to Nao Kao and Foua’s home in order to make sure Lia was taking the correct amounts of medication. These... (full context)
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...this conclusion because they wholeheartedly believed it could have been avoided if Nao Kao and Foua had properly administered Lia’s medications. Despite the fact that these two doctors had chosen MCMC—a... (full context)
Chapter 7: Government Property
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...his care for Lia, ultimately unwilling to compromise the quality of his services to accommodate Foua and Nao Kao’s beliefs or abilities. In retrospect, Fadiman writes, he questioned this decision, but... (full context)
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...placed Lia in temporary foster care for two weeks, after which she returned home. Because Foua and Nao Kao continued their pattern of noncompliance by neglecting to properly administer the drugs... (full context)
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...was in general wildly difficult. Nonetheless, Dee treated the child incredibly well and began inviting Foua and Nao Kao over to visit. The two families eventually grew quite close, and Dee... (full context)
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...that she should be returned immediately. Second, when Lia came home for a one-week trial, Foua and Nao Kao again neglected to administer her medications—she was rushed to the hospital the... (full context)
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Jeanine Hilt continued to work with Foua, teaching her how to correctly give Lia the proper amounts of medication. This task was... (full context)
Chapter 8: Foua and Nao Kao
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As the Lees and Fadiman became closer, Nao Kao and Foua hoped to provide her with knowledge about Hmong culture so that she could share their... (full context)
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When Fadiman’s boyfriend visited her in Merced, Foua decided that she would help get her married. Dressing Fadiman up in traditional Hmong clothing,... (full context)
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In a conversation about Laos, Foua expressed to Fadiman the differences between living in her homeland and living in the United... (full context)
Chapter 9: A Little Medicine and a Little Neeb
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When Lia came home in 1986, Nao Kao and Foua held a sacrificial ceremony in which they killed a cow. Fadiman gives a survey of... (full context)
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Despite the ceremony they held for Lia, Foua and Nao Kao began to feel that she was in a worse condition than before... (full context)
Chapter 11: The Big One
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Nao Kao and Foua arrived at Children’s Valley Hospital after Lia and were troubled to learn about the spinal... (full context)
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At one point, while Foua was sitting by Lia’s bed, a doctor entered, explained that Lia was going to die,... (full context)
Chapter 13: Code X
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...her anymore, so Peggy stepped in to provide her primary pediatric care. During this time, Foua and Nao Kao attended to their daughter by bringing her herbal remedies, which they fed... (full context)
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...antibiotics coming through the IV line, Lia’s infection could return, causing her to die more quickly—Foua and Nao Kao understood this and expressed that they still wished to move forward with... (full context)
Chapter 14: The Melting Pot
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At this point, Fadiman focuses on the concept of immigration and assimilation. She explains that Foua and Nao Kao, like many older Hmongs, didn’t speak any English after 17 years of... (full context)
Chapter 15: Gold and Dross
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...the Lees to blame him for everything that happened to Lia, but he found that Foua—who was the one who had brought Lia for the checkup—understood his remorse. During that appointment,... (full context)
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...one day as he checked in on Lia and her family. Despite Nao Kao and Foua’s general friendliness, Fadiman noticed during this visit that they did not show Martin the same... (full context)
Chapter 17: The Eight Questions
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...only several inches. Meanwhile, Nao Kao gained weight and suffered from high blood pressure, while Foua felt constantly fatigued. At Jeanine Hilt’s suggestion, they re-enrolled Lia in the Schelby Center for... (full context)
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...continued to practice, winning awards and gaining promotions. When their son was diagnosed with Leukemia, Foua—who had heard the news—expressed great concern, asking Peggy how he was doing. In a letter... (full context)
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...to the Pseudomonas [the bacterial infection that led to toxic shock].” Fadiman told Hutchinson that Foua and Nao Kao believed the problem was caused by too much medicine, to which he... (full context)
Chapter 19: The Sacrifice
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...a healing ceremony for Lia that she attended at the Lees’ apartment in Merced. Although Foua and Nao Kao believed that their daughter’s soul was most likely irretrievable—and although they had... (full context)
The Afterword to the Fifteenth Anniversary Edition
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...Fadiman notes that most Hmong now speak English and hold steady jobs. Nao Kao and Foua’s generation sacrificed its own comfort and happiness by coming to the United States, but the... (full context)