As it used to be...

As it used to be…

Illness is a great leveller. Today, I found myself in the Clinique St Jean, opposite the Jardin Botanique. I won’t say I enjoy going to hospitals – on the contrary – but if and when I do have to go I particularly like this inner-city relic of a smaller, more human Brussels. Like most hospitals, it began its life as an offshoot of a convent, close to the cathedral. In the hospital’s heyday, the church was a powerful patron and in the 1950s and 1960s, the cardiology department (for example) was equipped with state-of-the-art scanners and other medical equipment which put St Jean at the forefront of Belgian and European medical practice. Decline inevitably set in, as the great university hospitals (the ULB’s Erasmus, the UCL’s St Luc)¬†developed their specialised, out-of-city, campus sites and made their ever-more competitive bids for public funding. At the same time, as the city centre emptied out and immigration took its place, St Jean serviced an ever-less well-resourced population and could no longer fight so effectively for a front-line place in research, though it still holds its own. ¬†And that’s one reason why I like going there, through its subterranean warren of corridors, up and down its secret staircases (over the years I have got to know them all well), waiting alongside today’s true Bruxellois. The medical and administrative staff are just as efficient and friendly as they might be anywhere else and whenever I go there I sense a true feeling of community, maybe because this hospital is still rooted in the fabric of the city it serves.