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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Mt St Francis Sanatorium

Mt. St. Francis

I recently read “The Art of Breathing” by Janie DeVos. With little knowledge of what tuberculosis (TB) care was like in the early part of the 20th century, through her novel I learned a little about the life and treatment for patients at the time.

Confined to sanatoriums and often quarantined, patients must have been driven nearly crazy during their months and sometimes years of treatment. In addition to the confinement and separation from family and friends, they faced their illness head-on and knew the odds against recovery.

Katherine, the heroine in DeVos’ story, is based on her grandmother’s own battle with TB. DeVos spent time in Chicago in the sanatorium where her grandmother received treatment, researching medical methods of the time and the day-to-day activities allowed patients.
The book reminded me that my dad had an aunt who emigrated from Ireland only to die here from TB a short time later, or consumption as they called it then. She was only eighteen and none of my dad’s generation ever knew her. However, he and his cousins took care of her grave throughout their lives.

Patient hut
With these thoughts in mind, I recently visited Mt. St. Francis in Colorado Springs. In 1907, the Modern Woodmen of America purchased the land to build a sanatorium for treatment of their members who contracted TB. Once built, the facility consisted of many individual huts where a patient was isolated from others. With room for only a bed, a table, and a wheelchair, the small huts probably became the center of a patient’s world. The Colorado air has always been known for its health properties, so hopefully patients spent many days outside enjoying the magnificent Rocky Mountains and the woods that surrounded the facility. 

Inside of patient hut
This one facility treated more than 12,000 patients over the years, and it is just one of several major sanatoriums in the Colorado Springs area. In fact, for years the city was known as a healthy place to treat TB patients.

On my visit, I saw a number of deer and I hoped that the thousands of patients from yesteryear also were blessed with their calming presence.

The Woodmen society operated the sanatorium until 1947, when they sold it to an individual who donated it to the Sisters of St. Francis. The sisters continued to concentrate on physical and spiritual health care and today the facility includes a nursing center, a retreat center, and a church.

The grounds are beautiful and peaceful. I would love to make a retreat there.

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