A couple of weeks ago I heard a great interview on NPR with a doctor named Victoria Sweet, who has written a book called God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage. She is a medical doctor who went back to school to get a Phd. in the history of medicine. While pursuing this she needed a part time job practicing medicine. At the time all she could find was a job in the only operating Alms Hospital in the U.S. in San Francisco, California. These Hospitals were once very common and in almost every county. They completely rely on charity for funding. Her stories are compelling and unlike most modern medical testimonials. The difference can be summed up in this metaphor she shares; being a doctor is more like being a gardener than a mechanic. In other words, doctors support patients and create an opportunity for them to heal, much like a gardener tends to a plant in hopes it will thrive. As an example, she shares the story of one young woman that was her patient. This woman was a prostitute and drug addict living on the streets. She had been in and out of many hospitals and had many surgeries and lifesaving procedures. When she checked into the Alms hospital she had a gaping bedsore to large to fix through modern medicine. All that could be done for this woman was to keep the open wound clean and free of infection. Ultimately she fully recovered after two and one half years, but not only did her wound heal, she was off drugs, had quit smoking, and reconnected with her family. When she left she did not go back on the street.
What is striking about this woman is her practical experience in both modern medicine and what most would consider old school medicine. Dr. Sweet has coined the terms “fast medicine” and “slow medicine”. Dr. Sweet is not proposing we return to the middle ages with our medicine. She is simply reminding us that true healing takes time and usually encompasses the whole person. Chiropractors and other alternative practitioners have been the guardians of slow medicine in modern times and it’s great to see it’s value being rediscovered.