Healing – A Dangerous Business


Whatever house I enter, I shall come to heal.
~ The Hippocratic Oath

The Google online dictionary defines HEALING as: the process of making or becoming sound or healthy again.

In a recent post I was critical of some leaders of a large spiritual organization who vocalize a narrow viewpoint that is rooted in lack consciousness. As I discussed my perspective with some colleagues, one person asked me how my contrary position aligned with “a healing consciousness“.

It was a valid question, and I thought about it for a day or so before coming to my conclusion. Sometimes the healing that is needed is difficult change.

As I pondered the question, my mind returned to the history of Infection Control in healthcare and the Savior of Mothers, who is credited for an early understanding of disease and the need for disinfection in the hospital setting, Ignaz Semmelweis.

Ignaz Semmelweis (1860)

Semmelweis was a Hungarian physician who was practicing in Vienna in the mid-1800s. At that time, Viennese physicians wore heavy, woolen cloaks. These were the visual badge of their prestige and credentials in society. Even though they were soaked with the blood, urine, feces and other body fluids of the patients they treated and the corpses they studied, they wore them with pride. It is noted in history that you could “smell” the physicians when they gathered in public places due to the thick odors held in their cloaks which they never cleaned (another tradition and badge of honor).

Semmelweis was not part of the “in” crowd with the Viennese elite physicians. His ethnicity counted against him; he was coarse in his manner and perceived to be vulgar. But Semmelweis was a thinker and he wasn’t impressed with the smelly, elite doctors. In fact, he believed that their arrogance was killing people.

At that time, child-bed fever (puerperal fever) was killing so many women in the obstetrical wards of Viennese hospitals that women were opting to have their babies in the streets as it was actually much less likely that they would die. There was well-founded and widespread fear of having a baby in the hospital.

Semmelweis had collected data and made observations that led him to hypothesize that there was something about the practice of performing an autopsy and then tending to patients that was causing the ridiculous mortality (death) rates.

He made other observations such as that the mortality rate at a different hospital, where only midwives (who did not perform autopsies) delivered babies, was significantly lower.

Semmelweis recommended that physicians rinse their hands in a lime solution (calcium hypochlorite) after performing autopsies and before touching patients. He was roundly ridiculed. His methods were scorned and his data and observations dismissed. After all, the credentialed, elite doctors of the day were in charge, and they had no interest in hearing what someone outside of their inner circle had to say – especially someone with a suspect pedigree – someone lower than them on the hierarchy.

Semmelweis was excited about the potential to save lives, but he had inspired the ire of the credentialed elites, and it would cost him his life. He was falsely accused of having a mental breakdown and committed involuntarily to an insane asylum where he died (from an infection) after being beaten to death by guards. There is speculation that his beating was done at the behest of some of his enemies in the physician ranks.

Decades later, Louis Pasteur and others would validate his hypothesis with the discovery of germ theory. Today, effective infection control is built on the observations he first made – observations that irritated and angered the credentialed, elite physicians of his day.

It’s always dangerous to buck the power structure as Semmelweis found out; but in the end, he was RIGHT. His healing contributions came to light through his role as a disrupter. And it’s important to note from his history, that he started out by attempting to have professional conversations with his colleagues. As the politics of “this is the way we’ve always done it” overtook scientific evidence and good sense, he grew strident, and dug in. It is still hard to remain smiling and calm in the face of willful ignorance.

Today there is a statue of Semmelweis in Budapest Hungary in front of the
Szent Rókus Hospital. His remains, long ago buried in a pauper’s grave, were transferred to a memorial built on the site of his former home. He is now revered as the Savior of Mothers for his work to stop the scourge of child-bed fever.

We can learn much from the lessons of history. The voices who criticize; who call out hypocrisy, or challenge “the way we’ve always done it” may be the healers our professions or organizations need most. The question for us is whether we are grounded enough to embrace their messages and push for change. Or will we, like the Viennese elite physicians, continue to wear our filthy, germy cloaks and cast them as troublemakers; mentally deficient and work to banish them from our ranks?

Like the footnotes on child-bed fever, the history books will tell our story. Are we writing it in a way that will make us proud when future generations read about us? Or are we pulling our putrid, smelly cloaks more tightly around us and pronouncing the disrupters around us “disloyal” and unworthy?

Only time will tell.

It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men (or women!) are wrong.
(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path

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