Hospitals 

Many of us use the services provided by our local hospitals at sometime during the year. As a nurse all of my life, I have wondered from time to time how and when our hospitals started. Well, let’s see what we can find out.

Mankind feels the moral responsibility to care for the sick, and this was established centuries before the parable of the Good Samaritan. From history we know that hospitals existed in Ceylon in 437 B.C., and a memorial set up by King Ashoka of India in the 3rd century B.C. tells us that he set up two kinds of hospitals everywhere, one for people and one for animals. He even planted healing herbs wherever none could be found.

War created a great need for hospitals, and as the Roman Empire and soldiers could no longer be sent home for treatment, the Romans created a chain of military hospitals. One of these was excavated near Dusseldorf, Germany and is said to be much superior to any others until quite modern times. Although Jerusalem already had a hospital to care for pilgrims to the Holy Land, Crusaders created several knightly orders to care for the sick. One of these orders was the Sovereign Order of Malta. This order still exists today and operates hospitals all over the world.

In 1284, if one got sick, the safest and most comfortable place to be would be in Cairo at the al-Mansur hospital. Patients were cared for in airy, spacious rooms cooled by murmuring fountains. There were musicians, storytellers, and readers who cited the Koran. Someone leaving the hospital was given the equivalent of $12 so that he would not have to return to work right away. But Cairo’s hospital was the exception. In most of the world, ignorance and cruelty produced horrible conditions in what were supposed to be places of healing. More than a thousand years after it was founded in the mid 7th century, the Hotel-Dieu in Paris put patients three to a bed regardless of sex or disease. The food was terrible and only given to those who continually recited their rosaries. The air in the unlighted halls was so foul that attendants could not work without vinegar soaked sponges pressed to their faces. Recovery from surgeries was rare, and the death rate of all patients was 20 percent. London’s St Bartholomew, built in 1123, even required a burial deposit upon admittance. This remained the practice until 1836.

The lying-in hospitals or maternity hospitals of Europe were established to help poor soon-to-be mothers. From the mid-1600’s to the late 1800’s, these hospitals spread many diseases such as strep infections. During most of this time, disease killed 10 to 20 percent of all of the mothers-to-be there, and most of these had no other place to go. When disease was rampant, and many died, the dead were often buried two to a coffin.

Conditions in these charity hospitals were uniformly wretched, whether the women occupied unventilated individual stalls, as in La Maternite in Paris, or shared floor space covered with straw and dirty linen, as in Budapest. Even after doctors understood the need for cleanliness, deplorable conditions persisted. Hands were not washed, and students often went from dissecting cadavers straight to the lying-in hospital.

Fortunately for us, the days of ignorance and filth drew to a close. By the turn of the last century, sterile conditions were generally the rule, and hospitals became true places of healing. The 20th century saw a complete revolution in medical care and most of this in the hospital itself. Virtually all of the equipment is new and improved. Our hospitals and doctors have dialysis machines, ultrasounds and Mri’s plus a great deal more very sophisticated equipment for use in diagnosing and healing patients today.

However, aside from technology, many agree that hospitals could be doing a better and more humane job of caring for patients. As a nurse, I have seen both sides of this issue, and probably will never know for sure what more could be done to further healing. The care surrounding the health of our loved ones becomes a very personal issue, one that can not be labeled or put into neat little categories as right or wrong. I do know that most doctors and nurses really do care……. Hospitals have come a long way to become germ-free environments for the care of the ill.

So…there you have it…….a bit about hospitals. God bless you.