I’ve spent many hours over the past week on a cardiac ward in a large urban hospital, visiting my father who is suffering from heart trouble. Over the last few days, as he and I have taken to strolling the corridors–he leaning on his walker, and I beside him–I have begun to notice all the many gifts and tributes that grateful heart patients and their families have left behind for nurses and doctors on the ward.
I’ve never seen so many tokens of gratitude–large engraved plaques; framed homemade quilts; original etchings and paintings; an inscribed and signed moose antler; and a framed eagle feather. All are intended as permanent testaments, and seem to bear the same phrase, “with heartfelt thanks,” a mantra, it seems, from those who have survived a near-death experience and whose hearts have been healed.
As I walk these corridors, my thoughts occasionally wander and I am reminded of similar places in the ancient world. In the Nile Valley, ancient Egyptians searched for relief from their ailments in sanatoriums in two major temples. The first of these was in Dendera. There, according to Bruno Halioua and Bernard Ziskind’s wonderful book, Medicine in the Days of the Pharoahs, the ill took medicinal waters in a temple dedicated to Hathor, bathing in a series of stone tanks in hopes of a cure–an approach favored even today by those visiting traditional spas.
And if the waters at Dendera offered little relief, Egyptian patients had a second recourse. They could journey to the great temple in Deir el-Bahri, dedicated to Imhotep and Amenhotep. There priests conducted the sick into a dark chapel: as they waited hopefully, a god-like voice suddenly boomed, reassuring them that they would be cured. In other chambers, priests induced dream states in their patients, allowing them to talk directly to the gods and plead their cases.
Did any of this succeed in curing the hopefuls? Well, the ancient Egyptians, too, left permanent tokens of their gratitude. Along the walls of one shrine, Egyptologists have found inscribed testimonials. One reads: “Andromachus, a Macedonian, a laborer, came to the good god Amenhotep; he was sick and the god cured him the same day.”
The nurses and doctors on Ward 2a, where my father now is, would recognize the sentiment immediately.
Today’s photo shows the Hathor capitals in the First Hypostyle Hall of Dendera temple. The photo was taken by Jaakko Anttila in January 2005.