Hospital San Juan de Dios


Hospital San Juan de Dios, front view

from first glance – the majesty and history of this place is lost.. The newer 70’s era concrete edifice overshadows the older, more classic church and other buildings in this sprawling campus.. An iron fence, scattered trash, dirty, stained mattresses laying on the ground, broken windows, and overgrown grass keep the casual viewer from ever knowing what’s really inside. The lost letters on the tower building, add to the forlorn air that hangs around the old hospital.. A few bored looking guards patrol lazily, mainly smoking and chatting behind one of the buildings – not enough to keep out the many vagrants that are rumors to have taken up residence here.

It’s a sad and undignified end to a place that has given much to Colombia, and it’s capital city. For a facility with such a long and proud history (it was founded in 1723) – it seems unfair that is should be so unkept and unloved. While it was designated a national landmark in 2000, now it is more of an eyesore. For a place that witnessed the first surgery in Colombia (in 1926) and the development of the first malaria vaccine, and was home to much of the medical research of the 19th and 20th centuries – this is a tragedy indeed. I can almost picture Dr. Salomon Hakim, inside these halls, hard at work. Entire generations of physicians trained here, practiced here and retired from here before it’s closure in 1999. Inside this fence, these buildings are silent witness to hundreds of years of suffering, sickness, hope, faith and health.
But there are no plaques, no tour guides**, no monument or museum to mark its contributions.

Previous attempts have been made to re-open the hospital (200,000 besos campaign in 2008), and several local books and articles, but little to show the world, and outsiders like myself, all the wonderful contributions and history, behind the locked gates.

While this is quite the departure from my usual writing, I couldn’t help pondering all of this as I walked past the hospital the other day.

** There is an old article stating there are free tours on the last sunday of every month, by former nurses, so I’ll go by and see if that is still the case.

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