The Paracelsus hospital, in the _small Swiss town of Richterswil, may be tin there are only 48 bed but the range of complementary treatments on offer is large. In the hydrotherapy rooms, cancer sufferers may take an over-heating bath that raises the body temperature and boosts the production of white blood cells. There is the rhythmic massage designed to stimulate blood and lymph flow. Patients also receive foot massages that allow them to fall asleep more easily. Inspired by the ideas of anthroposophy and Waldorf education founder Rudolf Steiner, the hospital offers speech eurythmy classes, in which vowels and consonants are translated into a system of rhythmic gestures, and art therapy sessions all based on the belief that the patient is an active participant in his or her own healing process.
The hospitals drug cabinets mix conventional and alternative medications. Next to boxes of aspirin and other conventional pharmaceuticals, there are rows upon rows of tiny bottles containing the tinctures, ointments and essential oils of the anthroposophic pharmacopeia. Made from natural plant extract either in concentrated form or in homeopathic dilution these can be applied orally, externally or through injections. Anthroposophic drugs are meant to help the patients body find a healthy balance or, as Paracelsus medical director Erich Skala puts it, to restore the equilibrium of the bodily processes that have been disturbed. All prescriptions follow the ancient principle, as little as possible, as much as necessary.
In accordance with Steiners teachings, the hospitals hallways and rooms are painted in translucent pastel often pink, which is deemed good for the spirit and the bed cloths are not a sterile white but a cheerful peach. Natural materials are used wherever possible. Many of the ceilings and much of the custom-made furniture and fittings are wood, and the curtains and bed linen consist of natural fibers. Because organic cleaners are used whenever hygienic standards allow, the air smells of aromatic oils and not of chemical disinfectant.
The food served to patients and staff alike also complies with Steiner theory of biodynamic agriculture and nutrition. Ingredients are mostly procured from organic producers, who use natural manures and compost as well as plant and sow according to Steiners astronomical calendar. Dishes are often free from animal products, but the menu does offer meat every other day. People usually eat three meals a day, says Lukas Rist, the Paracelsus chief administrator, so their quality matters a great deal. The Paracelsus itself is in good health, despite the economic turmoil. The hospital receives minimal public subsidies, so the non-profit association that founded the facility pitches in to provide additional funds as and when needed. Skala admits that the path to a health care system in which complementary practices like those practiced at Paracelsus are widely accepted will be a stony one. But those looking for proof that integrative medicine works need look no further than the little Swiss town of Richterswil.Ursula Sautter/richterswil, switzerland