University of Wisconsin–Madison Medical College of Wisconsin

The Vision Spirit

Justin Yamanuha, MD; Xue Thao Xiong

WMJ. 2019;118(1):153

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An 87-year-old Hmong woman returned to my clinic to check on her only good eye
She had been without vision in her left eye for some time and was losing vision in her right eye

We reviewed the MRI along with her eye scans and tests
but the answer was still not obvious and a solution seemed to elude us

She told me very frankly, through the Hmong Interpreter, that she went to visit a Shaman
who entered a trance and connected to the spirit world

The Shaman told her that long ago when she lived far away in Southeast Asia
that a spirit had taken away her vision and there were no spirits who could help her here

If she were to travel back to Laos (where she was born) or Thailand (where she was a refugee),
there might be another Shaman who could find a spirit for her there

The patient told me that she could not go back there
and had accepted the fate the spirit had bestowed upon her

We concluded the visit for the day
but agreed to meet again soon after I had consulted other Doctors

I had not experienced such an encounter with a patient and a Shaman and a vision spirit
but there may have been others for whom I never asked or who just never told

While I could not solve this patient’s diagnosis or determine the way to make her better
her simultaneous trust in me and her Shaman was humbling

The encounter gave me a deeper appreciation
for the role of the spirit world in health and disease for Hmong specifically but people generally

Not every symptom leads to a sign and not every test solves a mystery
but there is a need to listen and search and always continue to try


Author Affiliations: Mayo Clinic Health System Franciscan Healthcare La Crosse, La Crosse, Wis (Yamanuha, Xiong).
Corresponding Author: Justin Yamanuha, MD, 800 West Ave S, La Crosse, WI 54601; phone 608.392.9871; fax 608.392.9360; e-mail
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