The Illness Narrative of Neil and Peggy

96 views 5 pages ~ 1336 words Print

It is merely common knowledge and logical to refer to an excellent physician as the one who is efficient at getting his/her job done, someone who has enough knowledge necessary to quickly identify a disease and treat it in the best way that the present modern science allows. But this idea of healing perfections in itself is skewed. The idea stems from the western tendency and predisposition to put cultural beliefs and faith into the scientific arena of medicine. In the modern setup, perhaps a majority of people understands that a physician’s job is to fix out mental and physical issues in a non-personal manner and with the speed it deserves. However, according to Fadiman in her book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” patient’s healing process is a comprehensive process that involves more than merely fixing the general body problem (Fadiman n.p.). Fadiman believes that true healing encompasses the cultural and spiritual aspects of human existence. Fadiman gives a non-fiction account of Neil and Peggy in their efforts towards the cure of Lia. The lees believed in Hmong culture and thus made it difficult for the healing of Lia. Neil and Peggy did not love this Hmong culture, but they had to comply at some point towards its requirements. Indeed, Neil and Peggy were excellent physicians when it came to applying western ways of administering medications, but they were imperfect healers whenever culture came into play.

Biomedicine failed in the case of Lia, a Hmong child, who suffered from fatal seizures. Neil and Peggy, Lia’s doctors, were unable to provide the best medical care because of cultural and language barriers they faced. Ann Fadiman draws concise insights from ‘The Illness Narratives,’ a book was written by Kleinman to show how biomedicine failed to heal Lia. Kleinman defines the statement, ”Neil and Peggy were excellent physicians” as ”they were imperfect healers” (Kleinman 265). Kleinman’s definition implies that although Neil and Peggy managed to address Lia’s epilepsy illness, they were unable to address the issues of cultural and spiritual implications that surrounded the disease as far as the Hmong culture is concerned (Kleinmann 259). The doctors succeeded in approaching and treating the condition but failed to contact the patient and heal her as a separate entity from the disease. According to Kleinman’s model of illness, it is paramount for physicians and clinicians to be able to analyze and interpret both the patient’s and the family’s perspectives on a given disease before beginning the actual treatment. Neil and Peggy failed to follow Kleinman’s guidelines, and this is why they are defined as imperfect healers.

Neil and Peggy were a real epitome of excellent pediatricians in the modern western sense. The two couples were knowledgeable, had the best health interests for Lia in their mind, and could come into conclusions under high pressure. In current America’s health setup, professionals are often subject to severe pressure from supervisors to produce health results. This pressure makes it difficult for health physicians to have intimate relationships with their clients and perhaps perform the personal healing process of illness as per Kleinman’s concerns on the process of healing a patient. If the doctors in the emergency room at Merced Community Medical Center had effective communication with Lia’s family, then they could have easily diagnosed the seizure problem Sonner as opposed to the long period (approximately four months) that they took to diagnose the disease (Fadiman 25-26). Therefore, achieving perfection in healing a patient requires time for intimate relationships and communication between the physician and the patient.

Attaining perfection in healing a patient requires a perfect understanding of the distinction between a disease and an illness. Howard Brody in his book ”Stories of Sickness,” creates an insight into understanding the concept of illness and disease. Brody gives an account of a series of illness which he says begun from connected shocks, whose firsts instinct was to try to bring it under control by simply turning it into a narrative (Brody n.p.). Arthur Kleinman and Brody believe that in caregiving, there is a wider distinction between an illness and a disease. Therefore, from the doctor’s point of view, a disease is a problem, and also, an illness is also a problem from the patient’s point of view. In the illness description, Kleinman wrote that ”in the very narrow biological terms of the medical theory, the disease is only reconfigured as an alteration in the biological functioning or structure” (Kleinman 343). Therefore, invoking the phrase illness means to conjure up the innately human experience of suffering and symptoms. Illness perhaps refers to the perception of the family, society and the sick person concerning a given disease. According to Brody, speaking of illness must include the patients and the family’s judgments, which Neil and Peggy failed to address in treating Lia. Therefore, illness and disease concepts go hand in hand and understanding their relationships is a subject of paramount importance to all physicians focusing on attaining perfection ion healing and treating patients.

According to the American Medical society’s statement of ethics, all physicians are required to t share as much information with their clients as possible (Whitney et al. 292). Concerning Lia’s case, Neil and Peggy attempted to explain the medical information through inadequate translators leading to insufficient treatment and confusion as well as lack of trust in the western medicine on the Hmong client’s part. As Fadiman echoes, it was a common practice for siblings of the parents who knew how to speak English to translate between the doctors and the patient. Neil and Peggy failed due to lack of translators who will translate medication instruction to Lees who only knew the Hmong language. Perhaps the U.S government requires that all physicians should provide an untwisted version of information to patients when explaining treatment plans and procedures. Kleinman claims that a perfect healer and physician confidentially share information concerning the patient with only the right person and at the right time (Kleinman 33-45).  Neil and Peggy could not find it easy to explain to Hmong people when the patient needed a surgery such as the surgery that was to be conducted to a Hmong woman who had a failure in her fallopian tube. Many physicians fear cultural implications and are usually forced to give a false account of the illness. Due to the lack of efficient translation, Neil and Peggy could confuse Lia’s parents each time they tried to explain a new regimen. Before treating Lia, Neil and Peggy could have ensured that there was a translator for the parents to understand the medication and also for them to be able to learn the cultural beliefs and practices of Hmong as far as epilepsy disease is concerned. Had they followed the cultural orientation of Hmong people, Neil and Peggy would have solved Lia’s case soonest.

Therefore, Neil and Peggy extraordinarily handled Lia’s illness although they could not be referred to as perfect healers. They spent hours on Lia’s case, responsive to new developments and took a personal interest in Lia’s health. However, they lacked the component of being good healers since they did not understand the existing cultural boundaries between Hmong culture and western medicine. Neil and Peggy could have remedied this situation through hiring ‘cultural brokers’, to facilitate their communication with Lia’s parents. Therefore, Lia’s case calls a shift in medical education on the need for incorporating the concept of healer versus Physician as portrayed by Klieman’s illness model.

Works Cited

Fadiman, Anne. ”The spirit catches you, and you fall down. 1997.“New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Brody, Howard. Stories of sickness. Oxford University Press, 2002.

Kleinman, Arthur. The illness narratives: suffering, healing, and the human condition. Basic books, 1988.

Whitney, Simon N., et al. ”Views of United States physicians and members of the American Medical Association House of Delegates on physician-assisted suicide.“Journal of General Internal Medicine 16.5 (2001): 290-296.

November 24, 2023




Number of pages


Number of words




Use this essay example as a template for assignments, a source of information, and to borrow arguments and ideas for your paper. Remember, it is publicly available to other students and search engines, so direct copying may result in plagiarism.

Eliminate the stress of research and writing!

Hire one of our experts to create a completely original paper even in 3 hours!

Hire a Pro