Holistic Medicine


Though successfully practiced in the East for centuries, HOLISTIC MEDICINE —that is, the treatment of the entire physical and emotional configuration of the patient instead of the solely medical aspects of the condition —has only recently been accepted by the American medical community, and has, in fact, begun to be embraced by other professions, as its efficacy has been established. Last year, 1990, the Skepticism Committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers commissioned the author to investigate the nicely punctuated question “Could holistic engineering be applied to the re-mediation of infra-structure deterioration, and if so, how?”

Taking as a test case New York City’s ailing Williamsburg Bridge, we strove to discover which, if any, holistic principles could be employed in the maintenance of this historic and decrepit structure.


The perception of infrastructure elements as sensitive and sentient organisms responsive to holistic treatments has generally been resisted by the engineering profession. While several recent efforts have been made to introduce holism in transportation planning, these attempts have been uniformly laughable. Monographs from other disciplines, however, have, in isolated instances, touched on the possibilities for holistic applications in the field of capital-plant maintenance:

Bettina Collingsworth has suggested that the introduction of labor-saving mechanized repair equipment, such as jack-hammers, has resulted in the loss of the very “personal” aspect of maintenance; she has urged a return to the more “caring” hands-on practices of earlier times. “It is no accident,” she asserts, “that the Great Wall of China is extant . Just think of all those delicate little Chinese hands lovingly laying stone upon stone, and think of how good that wall must feel.”

PERFORMANCE -RELATED INSECURITY has been identified as a valid phenomenon by P. J. Coomeraswamy and others,’ who have suggested that some phrases such as “bumper to bumper,” “five-mile backup,” and “thirty-minute de-lays” may produce deleterious effects when overheard by aboveground ferrous structures that can receive commercial-radio-transmitted motorists’ advisories.

 Coomeraswamy believes that such structures cannot help having feelings of deep inadequacy after public ostracism over their inability to perform their vehicle- delivery tasks satisfactorily.

NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES may cause the failure of some structures’ natural immune systems, according to Wallace Willis, whose work on thc effects of hyperingestion of asphalt by laboratory animals’ inadvertently focused world-wide attention on an imperfectly understood aspect of highway rehabilitation programs.

Miller and Jacobs have pointed to ANXIETY-ACCELERATED DETERIORAT- ION in the pathology of tunnels. Citing the subaqueous passages constant awareness of millions of tons of overhead water pressure as a quotidian fact of life, they have hypothesized the presence of high levels of immunosuppressive chemicals in mortar joints near those cute little traffic signals on the ceiling of the Lincoln Tunnel.

HYPERTENSION may be a heretofore unconsidered risk to certain cold-climate roadways that undergo seasonal salting, according to Morton Freeman. Comparative studies of traffic bearing infrastructure elements in upstate New York have revealed that sanding is preferable.


THE STUDY FINDS MERIT IN A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO INFRASTRUCTURE MAINTENANCE and urges that, as a test case, the Williamsburg Bridge be treated as a feeling, caring, and vulnerable entity. It is suggested that the following measures be implemented without delay.

CHANGE THE NAME TO GOTHAM SKYWAY. Enhanced self-esteem, resulting from metaphoric nomenclature, will increase the structure’s natural immunity

to disease.

PROVIDE SENSITIVITY TRAINING to repair crews. Recent research has suggested that inanimate objects may, in fact, be sensitive to pain and should be treated accordingly.

GREATLY INCREASE TOLLS . Studies have shown a positive and lasting relationship between revenue production and a sense of civic value and societal contribution.

ALTER THE PAINT SCHEME. Experience indicates that primary-color infrastructures such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Yellow Brick Road turn out to be relatively maintenance-and trouble-free, while neutral-shade structures, such as Zane Grey Viaduct, in Arizona, and Hollywood’s Shirley Temple Black Bridge/ Tunnel, along with others too numerous to mention, are in virtually total disrepair.

OBSERVE SIGNIFICANT ANNIVERSARIES. No single life event causes any more disheartening reactions than the failure to celebrate important dates. Suitable anniversaries might include date of opening, first suicide by jumping, and other statistical milestones.

CLEAN UP THE NEIGHBORHOOD . Since environmental shortcomings are known to be psychic stressors, the stable but untidy neighborhoods on both ends of the bridge should be razed and replaced by landscaped promenades and waterfront revitalization. Approach ramps should be redesigned to include flowered median malls, seductive acceleration lanes, and grassy shoulders.


The author has proposed new techniques to bridge the gaps between the past and the future. The next step is up to someone else.


Twenty-Four footnotes (excellent , extensive, professionally referenced) have been omitted on purpose because they ran as long as the above article in length. The serious scholars will find a way to secure them from the publishers of the material.


The ATLANTIC Monthly

Vol. 265. September 1991. (Pgs. 40-2)

745 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02116

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