Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Scalpel and the Silver Bear by Lori Arviso Alvord, M.D. and Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt

The Scalpel and the Silver Bear by Lori Arviso Alvord, M.D. and Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt was published in 1999. This book is Lori Alvord's autobiography and is the story of the first Navajo woman surgeon.

In this story, she combines western medicine practices with traditional Navajo practices. I loved learning about her journey: how she decided to go into medicine, how she had to overcome some of her family's traditions to become a doctor, and how she used her family's traditions to improve her practice.

Quotes I liked:

"We lived on the margin of margin, which is dangerously close to nowhere at all" (12).

"To perform surgery is to move in a place where spirits are. It is a place one should not enter if they cannot enter with hozhq (the Navajo belief that everything in life is connected and influences everything else - Walking in Beauty)" (14, 15).

". . . we never imagined the "Indians" in movies . . . had anything to do with us. The actors were rarely Native people, so they didn't' look lie us. Navajo people are very modest and would never travel around unclothed like that. We knew it wasn't right to touch anyone dead, so the idea of carrying around a scalp, an actual piece of dead person, shocked us. It never entered our minds - until much later - that they were meant to be us" (18).

"Her strong body had its own language - it spoke fluent basketball, a language understood by everyone on the reservation" (19).

"Navajos are taught from the youngest age never to draw attention to ourselves. So Navajo children do not raise their hands in class" (30).

"I am opening a person. I am putting my hands inside their body. I am touching places so private that this person has never even seen them themselves" (111).

"Brooke Medicine Eagle, points out that the word heal comes from the same root as whole and holiness. For Navajos, wholeness and holiness are the same thing" (113).

"The look on her face was the look of a person who has gone past discomfort to another country of suffering. They neither notice things, hear speech, nor see what is in front of them. The only language spoken is the universal language of pain. All concentration is focused on fighting it" (138).

"The Long Walk to and from the prison camp in Fort Sumner is an event known to every Navajo man, woman, and child. Like the Holocaust for the Jews, it is the historical even that most illustrates our vulnerability as a race. I know that Bernice Begay was no exception: someone in her family had walked the Long Walk, too" (142).

"For about half an hour we spoke in the Navajo style of communication, drawing verbal circles around each other" (161).

"Speaking English so much will change your words" (163).

"A baby's laugh is a sign that the soul has become attached to the body" (171).

"If the concept of balance is extended to the community level, then communities out of balance will have problems such as gang violence, elder neglect, child abuse, and drug use" (187).

Reading this book makes me want to be a better person. It makes me want to take better care of the earth, of those around me, and of myself.

Read to a child today even if that child is you. 

Link to our NICU book registry if you'd like to donate books to babies in the newborn intensive care unit so their parents can read to them while they grow. You can also donate gently used books to our project by sending them to me or to Angie. Email me for a mailing address. We can use both English and Spanish books. If you have a graduate of the NICU, or if you have a baby whose life you would like to honor by donating books to this project, let me know, and I can make a book plate with their name for the books you donate.

No comments:

Post a Comment