Our columns this summer have been discussing aspects of water as it plays important roles in our society. Some ways of looking at water and health care are basic to our society, such as the sources and usages of water and the need for water volume and purity and the importance of appropriate treatments of water which allow recycling of this valuable resource,
Some years ago, this column highlighted the historical aspects of the therapeutic mineral spas and their role in the treatment of human illnesses, especially those conditions of unknown causes and ineffectual treatments. An aspect of this therapy which may not have been emphasized but which was a prominent system of medical treatment, especially in the 19th century in Europe and America, was Hydrotherapy. The use of water, usually externally but occasionally internally, formed a popular and well-accepted program of treatment for many illnesses. Tomes and manuals outlined philosophies and specific therapy for virtually any illness; often music accompanied the treatments. Notably, hydrotherapy did help many patients with benign and self-limited illnesses, much in the same way we see massage therapy used today. Spas of note were located in Europe (Germany), England, and the United States. Hydrotherapy was one of the popular non-drug medical therapies practiced in American until the 1930s.
I was reminded of the role of water as a therapeutic modality some years ago when I visited friends in Islington, England, a northern suburb of London. Islington, like Hampstead, was populated because of the health aspects of the waters flowing in both these areas. Hampstead had mineral (sulfur) springs, and the wells of Islington, notably Sadler's Wells (of ballet and theater fame), provided water and a place of congregation for the people living just outside London in the 18th century.
During this visit, I had the opportunity to visit the home of the German composer George Frederick Handel, who lived in London from 1726-1759. One of Handel's most famous works is the composition titled "Water Music."
His house, although now just a few steps from the commercial streets of Oxford Circus, has been preserved as a center for the study of his life. I was able to visit the room in which Handel's oratorio "Messiah" was composed. The ambiance of the room was enhanced by the sound of the harpsichord being played while we visited. Handel had an interest in medical care since his father was a barber-surgeon. He had treated himself at the mineral spas in Aachen, Germany. Handel gave annual performances of "Messiah" for the benefit of the London Foundling Hospital in addition to generous donations to it.
Medical care is a prominent and important part of our personal and public history. Only from the pages of (medical) history can we attempt to explain some of the medical behaviors of our predecessors and plan for our future needs and the implementation of successful actions to fulfill them.