For years, I ignored the Spanish Military Hospital because of the rather hokey looking “ghost tours” that depart from the front of the Museum at night and wend their way down Aviles Street by lantern-light. However, I’m forced to admit that I misjudged it.
The original hospital was built during the Second Spanish Period and the current building, a reconstruction, is designed to look as the building did in 1791. It has either authentic period pieces or excellent reconstructions of the 18th century beds, tables, and implements. There are a few 18th century art works, such as the rather deteriorated crucifix in the main ward, shown in the blurry photo above, which is from Brazil and dates to 1713. The guided tour discusses such things as surgical techniques (ugh!), medicines (ugh again!) and the daily life of the sick and wounded soldiers and their attendants. Here we see the surgical – and dental! – tools they used.
Below we see a bed that was reserved for the dying; a table is provided for the things the priest brings with him on his sick call. Over the bed is a painting of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, giving the scapular to St Simon Stock while a soul dressed in white kneels, throwing off her chains, indicating the belief that the scapular speeded the release of souls from Purgatory.
The Spanish were far advanced medically by European standards, and the survival rate for patients was about 75%; by contrast, British and French hospitals of the period had a survival rate about half of that. Doctors were licensed and studied for about 10-15 years before receiving their license. While medicines and knowledge of such things as the germ theory of disease were limited, the Spanish stressed cleanliness, fresh air, and good food. Doctors washed their hands before and after seeing patients, for example. And the patients got hot chocolate every evening!
It’s a very interesting site and highly recommended if you’re visiting St Augustine.