The Scalpel and the Silver Bear: The First Navajo Woman Surgeon Combines Western Medicine and Traditional Healing

Lori Arviso Alvord, Author, Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt, Joint Author Bantam Books $23.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-553-10012-9
When Alvord, who is half Navajo, dissected her first cadaver, she broke an important rule in her culture: ""Navajos do not touch the dead. Ever."" In the process of becoming a ""white man's doctor,"" Alvord discovered that among the indigenous customs her medical training forced her to ignore were valuable healing practices that are sorely needed in allopathic medicine. In this inspiring memoir, Alvord, assisted by Van Pelt, describes her endeavors to integrate a Navaho approach to healing with high-tech medical procedures. She left the pueblo at age 16 to attend Dartmouth on scholarship, survived the numbing vicissitudes of surgical training at Stanford and returned home jubilantly to work as a general surgeon at the local medical center, only to discover that her demeanor and her state-of-the-art skills frightened her patients. Working within her traditional culture, which strongly resists the removal of organs from the body, she soon realized that a trusting relationship with the patient and harmony in the operating room were as necessary as the correct procedure to the success of the operation and the recovery process. As an introduction to Navajo healing principles, this short book offers intriguing ideas about humane health care. While it is unlikely that many physicians will embrace the sacred bear spirit, which is a source of strength and courage for the author, Alvord's message about how to improve a patient's peace of mind is utterly credible. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999
Release date: 06/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-553-37800-9
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