“120-volt electroshock”: the little-known story of the former psychiatric hospital of Cartagena

Led by Dr. Caupolicán Pardo, who later founded the National Cancer Institute, the currently abandoned place also served as a home for infants and adolescents in social danger. It is the story of his present and his past.

They succeeded more than 20 years since the last patient housed this psychiatric hospital, which today remains almost hidden in the dust and vegetation. The building has had different uses throughout its history: first as a convent for novices, then as a preventive room to prevent the spread of tuberculosis among children.

It also functioned as a home for minors at social risk, infants and adolescents, as well as for a facility to treat patients with mental disorders and psychiatric. Later it became a leisure center which welcomed families in summer. This is the Cartagena Psychiatric Hospital, a traditional spa located in the Valparaíso region.

The first history we have of this building is that it was a convent of the Dominican Fathers, more specifically a school for novices of the Order of Saint Dominic, also called the Order of Preachers.

The person responsible for this urban exploration, a genre called Urbex, is Camilo Barra, professional engineer and photographer, who seeks to document abandoned places to disseminate their history through the site Provincial in the city . “I visited several historic buildings in the city of Cartagena, that’s how I discovered this building. After a few visits, I was able to search its interior. “I wanted to know more about his past, after several searches I managed to know part of his history” reveals to Qué Pasa.

In 1906, the property was acquired by the League Against Tuberculosis to act preventively against this global pandemic, which a worrying health and sanitation problem between the 19th and 20th centuries. HAS In the mid-19th century, cases began to increase, becoming the disease that caused the most deaths at that time. Unfortunately, the disease mainly affects the most vulnerable population, mainly children and the elderly.

The causes that favored the disease were, among others, malnutrition, overcrowding, cold, lack of hygiene and extreme working conditions. Mortality from this disease among children under 10 years of age exceeded 300 per thousand deaths. “Between 1932 and 1938, died around 70,000 people due to tuberculosis “, Barra points out.

Access to premises. Credit: Provinciano in the city

Tuberculosis, precisely, cost the life of President Pedro Aguirre Cerda, who wanted the industrialization and education of the country, coining the expression “To govern is to educate.” In 1941, during his third year in office, he fell ill with consumption and died after 15 days of agony.

The little-known history of the former psychiatric hospital of Cartagena

Between 1886 and 1920, there were many initiatives to avoid the spread of tuberculosis, primarily an effort on the part of doctors, philanthropists and businessmen. It was in Cartagena that the League against Tuberculosis founded the Maritime Asylum (in September 1906), a preventorium specially dedicated to improving the health of weak children, likely to be victims of the disease.

It is important to emphasize, Barra believes, that the families did not incur any expenses, since it was free. The chosen site had a large plot of land by the sea, the preventive was a two-story building divided into apartments. The main goal was to strengthen health, thanks to a nutritious diet, gymnastics, sea and sun bathing.

“Between the months of November and April, the children were transferred to the establishment; most came from the Metropolitan Region. The trip was by train to San Antonio, then the journey continued by cart to the facilities in Cartagena,” he adds.

Exterior of the old psychiatric hospital in Cartagena. Credit: Provinciano in the city

The asylum director It was Dr. Caupolicán Pardo, which, among its countless contributions to Chilean health, includes new techniques in oncology and gynecology, in addition to the founding of the National Cancer Institute and the Obstetric Clinic of University of Chile . In addition, he introduced to Chile the anesthesia intra-spinal and radium treatment of cervical cancer.

“Dr. Pardo knew that the way to avoid many diseases was to promote better health conditions, which is why the property had sinks, sewers, rooms, patios and green spaces” , explains Barra.

During the first twelve years, they received a total of 1,930 infantrymen, divided into 85 batches, the stays lasting approximately one month. At this time, the smallest ones managed to gain between 1.5 and 2.2 kg in weight.

The little-known history of the Cartagena psychiatric hospital

A phrase that Dr. Pardo frequently repeated, emphasizing his social commitment, was: “I will do this life only once and for every action that I could perform for the good of my fellow human beings, please allow me to realize without delay or fainting, whatever the sacrifice that this requires of me, because I will not take this path again,” reveals the researcher.

In 1933, while the doctor was operating on a patient, contract tuberculosis because of an injury, » which led to his death at the age of 64. In 1935, a series of financial deficits led to the asylum’s operating months being reduced to summers only. Thus, gradually, the closure of the Cartagena pre-trial detention center is being generated. “, says Barra.

“He was a great doctor with a real social vocation, he was a surgeon, gynecologist and obstetrician, as well as a professor at the University of Chile. In addition to founding the National Cancer Institute, it is named after him for his great contributions to the country in oncology and gynecology,” Barra says of Dr. Pardo’s work.

Pardo in the image joins other colleagues of the time. Credit: Provinciano in the city

In 1960 the building became the property of the Chilean Chamber of Construction, functioning as a leisure center for its members, frequented by the children and families of workers. Additionally, honeymoons, birthdays and conferences were celebrated.

The old psychiatric hospital of Cartagena. Credit: Provinciano in the city

In the 70s, The building was used as a children’s home for Niño y Patria, an institution created by the Carabineros to protect children. It remained like this for several years until the land was sold.

We do not have much information about recent years, when it was transformed into a psychiatric center, recognizes the researcher. “When I visited the premises, I found photographs of patients, medical prescriptions and clinical records. In these latter documents, the patients’ reasons for admission were detailed, including schizophrenia. epilepsy and alcoholism, add.

Image found in the old psychiatric hospital of Cartagena. Credit: Provinciano in the city

Certain things particularly caught my attention, he says, “for example, a self-portrait scratched on a wall, it was two different faces brought together. Also writing on an interior wall, probably glass, which said “ELECTROSHOCK 120 VOLTS”.

Finally, another message indicated “We are unique when we find our own identity” ends.

Source: Latercera

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