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Hospital Life

Theory and Practice from the Medieval to the Modern

Edited By Laurinda Abreu and Sally Sheard

This edited volume originates in the 2011 conference of the International Network for the History of Hospitals, held in Lisbon and Évora, Portugal. It focuses on how institutions for the care and cure of the sick have organised their activities at every level, from the delegation of medical treatments between groups of practitioners, to the provision of food and supplies and the impact of convalescence on lengths of hospital stays. It draws on new European and North American research which highlights an area of medical history that has not yet had adequate, sustained attention, discussing the tensions between theory and practice and between patients and practitioners. Through detailed case studies and comparative analyses it explores the changing and evolving understanding of the function of hospitals, and their wider relationships with their communities.


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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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