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From Houses Of Mercy To Temples Of Surgical Precision -- A New Book Explores The History Of Hospitals

Hospitalitas, the Latin root for our word hospital, implies a relationship, a sharing between the visitor and caregiver. In his new book, Mending Bodies, Saving Souls, medically trained historian Guenter B. Risse traces the evolution of hospitals from their early mission as humble houses of mercy to today's role of some as arenas of nearly miraculous technical feats. Throughout the book Risse suggests that today's emphasis on extraordinarily refined diagnostic techniques and surgical specialties often overshadows and even undermines the capacity for compassionate caregiving.

Risse, MD, PhD, is professor and chair of history of health sciences at the University of California San Francisco. He was trained as a medical doctor in Peronist Argentina and later earned a doctorate in history at the University of Chicago. He brings both spheres of knowledge to his ambitious project. The chapters provide a series of portraits at the threshold of medical milestones - the discovery of the stethoscope and its role in diagnosing tuberculosis; the emergence of autopsies to help pinpoint causes of disease and bring the possibility of preventing them; the first amputation under general anesthesia; the early use of antisepsis at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh; the modern development of organ transplant surgery and post-operative care; and the very real drama played out on the first AIDS ward in the early 1980s.

As the history unfolds, the reader learns that the way hospitals function and who they serve reflect cultural change and help define it. After sketching their origins in Byzantium, Risse portrays hospitals in the Middle Ages as houses of refuge and dying, where moral and spiritual concerns prevailed and where caregivers were expected to fast and do penance. The house of mercy gave way during the Renaissance to the house of rehabilitation, borne by the conviction that the sick or wounded might be healed, not merely cared for. As scientific understanding grew, the
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Contact: Wallace Raaven
wravven@pubaff.ucsf.edu
415-476-2557
University of California - San Francisco
5-May-1999


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