The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Nao Kao Lee Character Analysis

Lia’s father and Foua’s husband. Having immigrated with Foua and the rest of their family to America from Laos, Nao Kao is a devoted father who advocates strongly for Lia, often allowing his strong temper and stubborn disposition to dominate the interactions he has with doctors and social workers (often to near-disastrous results). Nao Kao is suspicious of American healthcare, and though he ultimately shows Fadiman kindness by openly welcoming her into his home, he holds grudges against people he believes have wronged him (like, for instance, Sue Xiong, an interpreter he thinks does not accurately translate what he says). In his fierce support of Lia and his family, Nao Kao fully embodies the Hmong temperament Fadiman outlines of determination and conviction in the face of coercion while also exhibiting a large capacity for loyal, gentle familial love.

Nao Kao 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 Nao Kao Lee or refer to Nao Kao 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:

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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:

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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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Nao Kao Lee Character Timeline in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The timeline below shows where the character Nao Kao 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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...out the delivery herself while squatting over the dirt floor of the house her father Nao Kao had made with planks of wood and thatched bamboo. Fadiman writes that Foua is still... (full context)
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...daughter’s placenta, the doctors incinerated it. It’s quite likely that they wouldn’t have even allowed Nao Kao and Foua to take it home anyway, since many Merced doctors were troubled by the... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
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...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 her soul fled... (full context)
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...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 stopped seizing both... (full context)
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...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). Fadiman includes Dan... (full context)
Chapter 5: Take as Directed
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...often interviewing them and going over Lia’s medical records with them. During one hospital visit, Nao Kao went home to get some sleep and returned to find that Lia had fallen out... (full context)
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...the phenobarbital) and 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... (full context)
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...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 parents didn’t understand... (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... (full context)
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...surprised—were upset by 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... (full context)
Chapter 7: Government Property
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...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 at the... (full context)
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...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 again, she was... (full context)
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...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 even asked Foua... (full context)
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...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 day after returning... (full context)
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...that she remained supportive of them even when, on a subsequent trip to their house, Nao Kao wielded a baseball bat and threatened to beat Sue Xiong to death. Despite this incident,... (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... (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... (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 she left their... (full context)
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...breathing tube was put down her throat, eventually causing a tracheal infection. Recalling the event, Nao Kao said, “The doctors made Lia stay so long in the hospital, and it just made... (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... (full context)
Chapter 13: Code X
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...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 her through a... (full context)
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Nao Kao insisted on Lia’s second day back at MCMC that the intravenous line delivering all her... (full context)
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In one final misunderstanding between MCMC and the Lees, Nao Kao became incredibly frustrated on the day of Lia’s discharge. He was asked to sign something... (full context)
Chapter 14: The Melting Pot
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...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 living in... (full context)
Chapter 15: Gold and Dross
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...Fadiman accompany him 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... (full context)
Chapter 17: The Eight Questions
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...siblings aged and assimilated into American culture, Lia remained nonresponsive, growing only several inches. Meanwhile, Nao Kao gained weight and suffered from high blood pressure, while Foua felt constantly fatigued. At Jeanine... (full context)
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...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 replied, “That may... (full context)
Chapter 19: The Sacrifice
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...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 already held multiple... (full context)
Afterword to the Fifteenth Anniversary Edition
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...care of her family. Fadiman updates readers on the whereabouts of her subjects, describing that Nao Kao died of congestive heart failure in 2003 and that Yer and her siblings have grown... (full context)
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...and this afterword. 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,... (full context)
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Fadiman was deeply upset by Nao Kao ’s death, since she had become so close with the family in the years during... (full context)