Theory and Practice from the Medieval to the Modern
Sally Sheard Getting Better, Faster: Convalescence and Length of Stay in British and US Hospitals
Sally Sheard Getting Better, Faster: Convalescence and Length of Stay in British and US Hospitals Convalescence is an integral part of the theory and practice of medicine. The shared expectation of most patients and those looking after them is that there will be recovery from illness, whatever form this may take. It is accepted that this involves a period of time, during which the body experi- ences physiological and psychological changes. This happens irrespective of whether the patient is at home or in hospital. This essay explores insti- tutional post-surgical convalescence since the early twentieth century, and how its process has been both consciously and subconsciously redefined. It suggests that convalescence has become a substantially social construction, built on a primary response to biological injury. Further, it suggests that cultural, socio-economic and professional factors inf luence convalescence at two levels: first by determining which markers are regarded as indicat- ing recovery and second by shaping these markers. Integral to the issue of getting better is the quantification and standardisation of the process. This opens up a fascinating new area for research on how lengths of hospital stays have changed – usually shortened – in modern history. The term ‘convalescence’ derives from the Latin words con-‘intensive’ and valescere ‘to grow strong’ (from valere ‘to be strong’). At times it has been used interchangeably with rehabilitation, although this is more com- monly used to define treatment for patients with mental or physical disabili- ties from which they will not return to full health...
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