I've found a wonderful book that I simply love! "God's Hotel" by Victoria Sweet is about one woman's adventure as an admitting doctor at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, the last 'almshouse' in the United States according to popular legend, and her exploration of pre-modern medicine in both her doctoral dissertation on 11th century mystic and abbess Hildegard of Bingen and in her twenty years of practice at Laguna Honda. Entertainingly written, this book moves between elevating our consciousness about health care to moving stories of struggles, cures and partial cures, told with wit, humor and deep compassion. Sweet avoids too much medical jargon but some of her 'tell-it-like-it' recountings of her patient's medical conditions may not be for the squeamish. I'm only half way through, but I can't wait to see where she is going to take us next!
In the chapter I’m currently reading, she’s in Switzerland, concentrating on writing her dissertation, examining medieval manuscripts live and in person. In Switzerland, she discovers that ‘pre-modern’ medicine is alive and well and co-existing comfortably – actually integrated with! – modern medicine! Even beyond the arena of medicine, she notices something concrete and actual that I’ve only dreamed about as ‘ideal’ – a society where all the truly useful, benefic things in life are kept on in those areas where they can really make a contribution. Where the past is not constantly torn down to provide something ‘Big and New’ (like the ‘Big and Large’ of ‘Wall-E’) and to keep sales rocketing – and trash accumulating. I had no idea that my ‘dream of how it could be’ actually is – in Europe!
“In fact, as the months went by, I began to understand that Switzerland, although modern, had not rejected premodernity as America had. Instead, the Swiss kept what they liked about the past and added the best of each period to their culture, consecutively. So when trains were invented, the Swiss took to them and put trains in everywhere, tunneling through mountains and laying tracks across peaks. But they kept their mountain paths and cobblestone streets for walking. When the automobile arrived, they took to it, too. They but in a bus system and highways, but still did not remove their trains, pave over the cobblestones, or put highways over their footpaths. They liked electric lights, installed them, and even improved on them. But they also liked darkness, and left their lakes and towns without much illumination, so that the stars were visible and the night sky not unfamiliar. Lausanne in particular liked its night watchman form the Middle Ages and still had one. At night, on the hour, I could his call that all was well.
“The Swiss way seemed to be melding the medieval with the modern in a kind of additive fusion, like lacquering, perhaps. Or better, like evolution, where what works survives, and what doesn’t work atrophies and disappears. This Swiss way was followed even in medicine, with the new ideas and medications of modern medicine integrated almost seamlessly into what had come before.
“So in Swiss hospitals, I discovered, massage and brandy were prescribed at night for sleep, and herbal baths still used. When a physician found homeopathy useful or even convincing, he did not therefore resign his hospital position, but mixed the two practices, medieval and modern. In the pharmacy I found medieval potions on the shelves right next to modern pills. Old dicta that America had rejected long ago – that cold weather causes colds, that vinegar applied to the temples soothes headaches – were still believed and passed on. What I was discovering with such effort about health and the body from premodern medicine in general, and from Hildegard in specific, was, in Switzerland, nothing new.” (pp136-137)