Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi 'The Scalpel and the Silver Bear'

By Dorothy Cole

SEPTEMBER 13, 1999: 

The Scalpel and the Silver Bear by Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord and Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt (Bantam), hardcover, $23.95

Lori Arviso Alvord is a Navajo woman and a surgeon. She has become somewhat of a New Age hero for her efforts to restore spiritual concerns to the mainstream healing arts. She uses her standing in two very different worlds to make medicine more accessible to traditional people, and to argue for the spiritual aspect of physical recovery. Alvord's own story is interesting enough, although one or both of these authors has gotten a little carried away with the New Age ramifications of Alvord's "Indian-ness."

The real impact of this lightweight volume is in conjunction with Alvord's consulting and various professional activities as an advocate for more humanized patient care. Most hospitals have chaplains to care for the spiritual well-being of the patients, but it is part of the job not to interfere with medical personnel. This book makes a good argument for improving the two-way communication between doctor and patient, to enable doctors and other hospital workers to be more sensitive to the comfort and emotional well-being of patients and their families. On the Navajo reservation, that may mean having a medicine man on staff at the hospital. In other places, painting the walls more soothing colors may at least be a start.

Alvord reflects on her own cultural and personal struggles -- this book is her biography after all -- but never lets things get too personal. As a shy country girl from a culture that teaches children to be modest and self-effacing, she seems most comfortable relating brief anecdotes starring others besides herself. At times the book comes off as sanctimonious and precious, but it may just be the authors trying to tell the stories they think we want to hear, preaching to the choir, so to speak.

In the end, it won't hurt the medical profession at all if they learn to value balance and beauty as much as they do accuracy and authority. This book makes some progress in creating such a demand.


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