I just finished reading, for the second time, The Scalpel and the Silver Bear: The First Navajo Woman Surgeon Combines Western Medicine and Traditional Healing, by Lori Arviso Alvord, M.D. and Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt. She speaks to so many of the ideas that I believe in with regards to the way modern medicine must be practiced in order to be the most effective it can be. Ms. Alvord clearly states her philosophy in this excerpt from the final chapter:
I began to understand the importance of establishing the right relationships with my patients. This interaction was a spiritual relationship, just as medicine men see their relationships to their patients. I wanted to teach medical students to set out to treat each patient encounter as having a sacred component, in which the patient’s mental-spiritual health required as much attention as their body.
I needed the patients’ spirits to assist me in surgery, and their minds should be relaxed and in a state of trust before they went into the operating room. They should be prepared to let me enter the sacred chambers of their bodies. Their spirits and mine had to work together to allow the process of healing to occur.
While I did not always come right out and say it to every patient, I worked hard to bring them to the point of trust and a place where they could accept the operation and view themselves as my partner, participating in their healing and getting well.
The book shows her development into the kind of doctor that embodies the beliefs you just read about. It is a beautifully written story that gives courage and strength. The fact that Ms. Alvord is teaching these principles in medical school gives me hope. She inspires me to talk about these ideas with others and bring them into public discourse. Medicine cannot be practiced in the most effective way without considering the needs of the spirit.