What persists

“…The third little pig met a man with a load of bricks, and said:

‘Please, man, give me those bricks to build a house with.’

So the man gave him the bricks, and he built his house with them. So the wolf came, as he did to the other little pigs, and said:

‘Little pig, little pig, let me come in.’

‘No, no, by the hair of my chiny chin chin.’

‘Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.’

Well, he huffed, and he puffed, and he huffed and he puffed, and he puffed and huffed; but he could not get the house down.” — English fairy tale

 * * *

“History is written by the winners.” — George Orwell (1944 column)

I recently took a trip to London and Edinburgh where, thanks to my husband and younger son, we spent a good deal of time at places like the Churchill War Rooms and the Tower of London. Our older son chose the Tate Modern for one of our afternoons and, when I had the chance to influence our day, we took in a 360 Allstars show.

You can’t help but admire how the British have preserved their history. While we were there, The Independent ran a front page story about a murder that took place in 1483. My eye was drawn to this line:

Some British families with private archives dating to the Plantagenet and Tudor periods are also coming forward to open their doors to Ms Langley and her research team.

Imagine! In the U.S., genealogists are pleased if they can trace their lineage back to the 1700s, gaining them admission to societies like the Daughters of the American Revolution. Personally, I think boasting about one’s lineage is unseemly — even un-American. Just because your ancestors left written records or could afford gravestones does not mean they are any more worthy of honor than those who did not. Paper and stone persist, that’s all.

All families, all nations, all cultures have history that goes back thousands of years. But only those who built with stone and stayed in the same spot have the proof. Those who packed up and moved, by choice or by force, and those who built with wood are less likely to leave a permanent mark on the landscape like this chapel we walked to in Edinburgh:

St Anthony's Chapel in Edinburgh, ScotlandSt. Anthony’s Chapel, built in at least the 15th century (and maybe even in the 14th), was a “skin hospice” — a place of refuge and treatment in the medieval sense of the word.

What health institutions persist because they are built with stone (or its equivalent)? Who is writing the history of health care that will persist? Who is moving, by choice or by force, and forging new paths?

5 thoughts on “What persists

  1. The persistent health institutions are the those with the most effective indoctrination tactics. This is not stone — it’s a play on human cognitive inefficiencies. They are more cultural institutions than health institutions. They are reinforcements of the values of dominant culture — they have little to do with your health. In the States at least, how can you not acknowledge that the contemporary hospital is not also the most Draconian of financial institutions? If your income comes from the moral hazard of insurance you’re just more likely to not acknowledge it – ever. Perhaps it’s the profiteers of insurance premiums that’s the stone. They are, after all, the ones with the money – and have been for hundreds of years.

  2. Well Susanna, one might say that individuals, that’d be authors, persist through their works. They (we; might I include myself and my little self-published book?) help influence the common conversation, that influence changes peoples’ behavior, a social shift occurs, and if anyone’s paying attention or perhaps becomes interested they research and (re)find the works.

  3. Thanks, Ken & Bart, for those perspectives — just the sort of comments I am hoping for!

    Two more, pasted with permission from Facebook:

    Amy Romano wrote:

    “There is a lot of soul searching going on in the midwifery community about the history of our profession and how to grow and strengthen the profession to adapt to the needs of women and families today. Midwifery has existed in many forms throughout the world and across human history, but much of this history was not preserved “in stone”. Even relatively recent forms of midwifery, e.g Granny midwives of the south, and indigenous midwives in the Americas have very little historical evidence that has persisted. The lack of attention to this history makes it harder to address disparities faced by black and indigenous people today.”

    Paul Wicks wrote:

    “When I was a young PhD student I came across some fantastic work in PET imaging from a researcher at my institution named John Kew. Using an ingenious experimental setup he found evidence suggested that the brains of ALS patients might actually rewire themselves as the neuronal pathways failed, recruiting adjacent areas of brain to pitch in and man the decks in order to move the arms and hands, funnily enough from the nearby vocal and verbal areas that showed up the characteristic pattern of executive dysfunction we find in that disease. Inspired by his work I asked my supervisor if I could meet him and she said, with disappointment, that he had died of GI cancer after completing this study. Although saddened by the news and the loss to our cause, I felt at least reassured that I could venture into the bowels of the library and find his ideas in the dusty tomes of Brain, and perhaps build upon them in my own way in distant ethereal collaboration.”

    The article:

  4. As humanity moves more and more into the digital space, with less [perceived] need for public edifices to gather into, I’m pretty sure healthcare will move in the same direction. Harder to acquire a hospital-acquired infection if you don’t have to actually *go* to the hospital.

    I recently remarked – out in the ether, on Twitter – that physicians in training should not consider their white coats as armor, or privilege, but as whiteboards upon which patients will write in blood. I’d like to see that etched in stone, personally, but I don’t know that I’ll get around to it, since I have little in the way of stonemasonry skill.

    I think that the digital edifices we’ve been building for the last 30-ish years need as much preservation and curation as did the Library at Alexandria. I doubt that the distributed character of 21st century knowledge puts itself at risk at the same level that Alexandria did … but there are still plenty of actors who’d like to see a virtual iteration of ISIS working to obliterate knowledge they see as a threat to their own narrow worldview.

    The exponential character of human knowledge growth will forever be at risk – whether encased in brick walls or server farms. And the Big Bad Wolf is wearing a suit and tie more often than he’s not.

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