Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals

Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals

Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals

Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals

Synopsis

By chronicling the transformations of hospitals from houses of mercy t o tools for confinement, from dwellings of rehabilitation to spaces fo r clinical teaching and research, from rooms for birthing and dying to institutions of science and technology, this book provides a historic al approach to understanding of today's hospitals. The story is told i n a dozen episodes which illustrate hospitals in particular times and places, covering important themes and developments in the history of m edicine and therapeutics, from ancient Greece to the era of AIDS. This book furnishes a unique insight into the world of meanings and emotio ns associated with hospital life and patienthood by including narrativ es by both patients and care givers.

Excerpt

Books have varying gestation periods. Narrowly, mine can be reckoned as stretching for almost a decade, but in truth, it represents a much longer journey through the world of hospitals. During my childhood, I regularly accompanied my parents on their journey by train to a southern suburb of Buenos Aires for a visit with my mother’s family. Shordy after leaving the main station, the tracks ran through Barracas, a working-class neighborhood dotted with storage depots and railroad yards.* Prominently located on a hill and exposed to the cleansing winds from the pampas stood a vast network of pavilions surrounded by trees and gardens. Several open squares were always filled with people, some milling around, others aimlessly wandering along the paved, diagonal pathways linking the various facilities. Housing only males, the Hospicio de las Mercedes was a nineteenth-century asylum, based on European models and built on ground previously selected by the Jesuits during colonial times for a convalescent home. Adjacent to it but separated by a tall wall was a similar hospice for women. All inmates wore the same type of uniform, a gray flannel suit or dress during winter, a lighter cotton outfit in summer. the institution, with its elaborate entrance gate on a street then called Vieytes, resembled the eighteenth-century French hospice or general hospital. It was a warehouse for the chronically ill, aged, disabled, and presumed lunatics, as well as vagrants and prostitutes collected from the streets. Needless to say, I became thoroughly fascinated by this city within a city and accosted my parents with more questions than they dared to answer.

Many years later, during my first year in medical school, I was confronted with an extreme shortage of cadavers for dissection. One of my teaching assistants casually suggested that I travel to the Mercedes Hospice and offer a bribe to the custodian at the institution’s morgue for the purpose of dissecting one of the recent

*For details see Enrique H. Puccia, Barracas en la Historia y en la Tradition, Buenos Aires, Municipalidad, 1972, and Germinal Nogues, Buenos Aires, Ctudad Secreta, Buenos Aires, Ruy Díaz Sudamericana, 1996.

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