Medicine in Bratislava

Our capital has been a centre for intellectuals and offered good conditions for development of one of the oldest and most valued scientific branches – medicine. Many rulers, and later governments, supported literate and religious social classes and so that indirectly elevated the living standards even for the poorest, who were dependent on the help of other people. Even Bratislava specialists kept up with the progress of the world medicine so they could take good care of the health of townsmen. 

Infirmary or Hospital?

When you fell ill in the Middle Age or in the Early Modern Age and you were lucky enough, you got into the infirmary. Even though, this word is now used only dialectal, in the past it was a very important institution. The oldest refuges for old and powerless were being established in monasteries but what can be considered more like medical centres were “monasterial infaramaries” – taking care of mostly old and ill monks. We still have streets in Bratislava like Špitálska or Lazaretská referring to the existence of these historical medical centres placed outside the city walls. 

During the Ottoman presence in our territory when the city underwent significant reconstruction, there were two infirmaries – -Infirmary of St. Anton and Infirmary of St. Ladislav, but we have almost no written records about their work. What we know, is that they had considerably wider scope of activity – they were allowed to provide asylum, they functioned as rest homes for rich townsmen, orphanage, or alms-house. However, we know even less about the health standards in these infirmaries – there is no evidence, for example, if doctors took part in the procedures. Such big institutions needed trained personnel of varied specializations – nurses, male nurses, orderlies, cooks, and even gardeners. So many people could have been handled only with a strict daily schedule but a significant part of this schedule was dedicated to prayers and church services, so we could assume they took care more of the spiritual health than the health of the human body. 

Even though we don´t have these Infirmaries in Bratislava nowadays, their work was redistributed into hospitals, churches, children´s homes, retirement homes and homes of social service. We could say that Bratislava took care of old, ill and forgotten for hundreds of years even before it became a capital city. 

Cholera Barracks

Bratislava was growing bigger every day and even despite the growing living standards it couldn´t avoid epidemies. Those with the biggest impact on the city were tuberculosis and cholera. As both diseases posed a threat with a high risk of infection, the city representatives decided to build a specialized houses for curing these diseases, called by the locals, barracks. Those specified for curing tuberculosis were located in the area where you can nowadays find a house named after famous Catalonian architect Gaudí. Cholera was cured at the nowadays lucrative address right at the Miletič street, in the low wooden buildings. Even though the “Miletička”, as it is informally called, considered a wider city centre now, at the time of the construction of these barracks you could have found there gardens and fields. 

It may seem that patients placed in these fenced off buildings were struggling there in an unhuman condition, but it is not true, personnel of Epidemiological Hospital were serving here and took a good care of their ill patients. MUDr. Ladislav Vrbovský, significant Slovak scientist, pharmacologist and toxicologist, who later worked as a leading operative at SAV (Slovak Academy of Sciences), spent many years working there during the era of the First Republic (1918 - 1938). Although patients in the barracks were not left to mercy of destiny but they were still suffering from unpleasant symptoms of these diseases that many times resulted in their death. Because cholera was spreading through the contamination of drinking water it was expanding mostly during the last centuries. 

Cholera inspired famous Slovak author Jožo Nižňanský to write a novel Cholera. The plot of the novel is set in the East Slovakia but the problematics of the poorest people, their living conditions, and the suffering originating from them were universal to the whole country. 

To be fair to the authorities, they were not only isolating ill people in the barracks – various restrictions were applied. For example strict rules and military patrols that should supervise the fluctuation of habitants. This effort was, however, vain as in the first half of the 19th Century more than a half of million of people was infected and almost half of them didn´t survive the infection. But what were the procedures waiting for you once you got at the patients list? Most popular were blood drawing, leech application, and sweating. If it didn´t help and patient died, he was buried in the mass grave during night without priest and closest relatives, and covered with lime in order to avoid spreading of infection. Installation of the city water pipeline in 1886 contributed to the amelioration of the situation. Epidemies of cholera were unfortunately returning, it was necessary to make another step – enhance the quality of health care. It was Ľudovít Markušovský who contributed the improvement of the situation. He was the founder of the State Society for Health and was one of the authors of the law on which the modern health care system was established in our country. 

Bratislava Heart

Did you know that the first heart transplantation in Central and Eastern Europe was performed in Bratislava? The operation was caried out at the Second Surgical Clinic at the Comenius University of the Medical Faculty in Bratislava, only few months after the first successful heart transplantation in the world. MUDr. Karol Šiška and MUDr. Ladislav Kužela successfully transplanted the heart of a men who suffered fatal injury after a fall from balcony into the body of 54-year-old woman in critical condition. The surgery itself lasted approximately 5 hours and even though the woman survived the operation and the heart started to work it only lasted for few hours, patient succumbed to other grave illnesses. This operation was performed on July 9, 1968. 

The operation pointed to another problem that medicine was able to solve until the 80´s by inventing a medication easing the acceptance of donor’s organs.  Afterall, we can still be proud of our experts who oved the boundaries of science not only in Bratislava and Slovakia but in the whole Central and Eastern Europe.