Medical Care: Spiritually Speaking


A post by writer Chris Rosen:

The first night in Nashville, I left my book club book in the car.

Not wanting to go downstairs and back outside in my nightgown, I picked up a little paperback I found on the bedside table, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman.


Little did I know how much I would enjoy reading about the Hmong people of Laos…currently living in California.

It’s a story about seizure disorder, and about the many ways modern medicine can fail a refugee population. Cultural dissonance is bound to happen when doctors want to order invasive tests for a baby who’s only problem is that her older sister slammed the door coming in and so an evil spirit invaded her body.

For the Hmong, animal sacrifices, amulets, and strings around the wrist should cure her, but instead her parents, who speak no English, are supposed to dose her with a varied cocktail of drugs many times a day. You can see where we’re going.

But it’s not all medicine. I’m almost done with the book and I’ve had quite a history lesson on Southeast Asia.

I was talking about the book to one of the Bride and Groom’s friends, an academic internist at Vanderbilt. She said it was required reading in her medical school. “Which medical school did you go to,” I asked. “Yale,” she said.

This morning, after working all night, my ER doctor daughter asked me to read this article.

How Not to Die: Angelo Volandes’s low-tech, high-empathy plan to revolutionize end-of-life care

Have no fear, yes, it is about dying.

Let’s face it, the spirit eventually does leave us and we all have to think about this stuff, unless of course denial works for you.

It’s about a doctor who becomes an educational/documentary film maker. He makes short films that actually show people what advanced dementia (among other maladies) looks like, and he tells us to have “The Conversation” with our doctors:

“In the health-care debate, we’ve heard a lot about useless care, wasteful care, futile care. What we”—Volandes indicates himself and Davis—“have been struggling with is unwanted care.”

That’s far more concerning. That’s not avoidable care. That’s wrongful care.

I think that’s the most urgent issue facing America today, is people getting medical interventions that, if they were more informed, they would not want. It happens all the time.”

Which made me think.

Sometimes, even when you speak the same language, you still can’t communicate.

Christine Lynn Rosen divides her time between her newly adopted home in Charlottesville, VA and Nashville, TN. She first started writing for The Berkshire Eagle and found the discipline of a newspaper deadline, and working at home, fit seamlessly into her family life. Editors would punctuate the end of their weekend magazine with her unique take on the Berkshires.

After a move back to her home state of New Jersey, Rosen was given carte blanche and her own column at The Two River Times. Her style blended local and political issues with more personal reflections. She would occasionally fill in the split-page with a creative biography; usually finding an outstanding, but little known, local personality.

After moving to VA, blogging came naturally. It was a way to make sense of her newly adopted Southern state, her empty nest, and the process of planning her daughter’s wedding. Rosen is a University of Virginia Community Scholar, she is married to Bob, an ER doctor who specialized in Emergency Medicine long before it was considered an actual medical sub-specialty. They have two adult children and a new son-in-law.

In Mountainmornings: a Blue Ridge Point of View, their daughter is always “The Bride,” and is a brand new ER doc; her husband, “The Groom,” is a physician as well. Their son, “The Rocker,” is the Talent. A gifted guitarist, he stayed north of the Mason Dixon line to play with his band, The Parlor Mob. MountainMornings is a series of expository essays – both public and personal.


Top Photo: ER doctor/daughter/bride leaving for the hospital.

Bottom Photo: Chris in 1981 with the baby Bride.

15 thoughts on “Medical Care: Spiritually Speaking”

  1. I read “The Spirit…..” a few years ago and loved it. There is a big Hmong community in Seattle. If you go to the Pikes Street market some of the gorgeous flowers are grown from Hmong Flower farms. It is such an interesting read on modern medicine and integrating it with cultural differences in life and in death.

  2. I lived for a while (sometimes five months in a row) in a couple of hospitals in the United States Continental and on our Island while my husband waiting for a liver transplant made me face spirituality and medicine. For some there as different as oil and vinegar, for others one is an essential part of the other. It all depends on who you are talking to and what they believe in. But one thing is undeniably true, who ever is in dire need to medical care usually doesn’t speak the same language as those who are in charge of the medical care! Thanks Barbara for bringing in such a fantastic guest blogger.

  3. I love to read Chris’ stuff. Thanks for sharing.

    “unwanted care”

    Those words are haunting. What happens if we find ourselves in the hospital, suddenly, with no advocate to speak for us; possibly literally speak the words we would want to speak if we could. Not just show support; but speak.

    Many years ago, when my family got the call that Gramma was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, we were met at the door of the hospital by a nurse, who just happened to be our dear cousin-in-law. In that small town, and in that hospital, my Gramma was well known. Because of that fact, my Gramma did not receive “unwanted care.” Our cousin confirmed it and we were grateful.

    Yes, we all need our wishes written out and kept on file, etc. etc. But… For instance, my daughter had an entire ‘birth plan’ printed up and on file at her hospital and with her doctor. When the time came, the ‘birth plan’ was gone, missing, had vanished. Luckily, everything went just fine. But, what if it hadn’t?

    So, yeah. Being able to communicate is crucial to our care. How scary it must be to not have the words to ask what’s happening, or to know what’s happening and not be able to do anything about it.

    Thanks for this post. It is definitely a topic to discuss more fully.

    1. Patti you are so right! And your grandmother was lucky to have the support and love of her family close by. Thanks for sharing – I think birth plans would make another lively topic!

  4. Great post. I so agree about unwanted end of life care. My brother died from a brain tumour when I was 27 and I will never forget it, thankfully for the right reasons as he was in a hospice not a hospital being force fed via tubes. When the issue of euthanasia is raised unwanted end of life is very often the main point I raise. It is possible to prolong life now, thanks to medical advances but it is not necessarily what we all hope for. I for one do not want it. Thanks for your blog on this important issue.

  5. Thanks so much all. Having The Conversation with our doctors is sometimes tricky, but it’s crucial. We just returned from a trip to rural MS. My daughter had treated someone with bacterial meningitis before we left and had to take prophylactic antibiotics. In the car, she told the Groom exactly what to do if she started to get sick. She’s fine, thankfully.

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