Here, water, climate, diet and… good company, are the treatment. Sometimes, health resort visitors have fun without limits

Jan Kiepura, the outstanding tenor, came to Rabka and Krynica on more than one occasion. He even built his hotel, Patria, in Krynica. Later, he convinced the Dutch princess Juliana to come, who treated her ailments in Krynica during the interwar period. The future queen of the Netherlands also spent her honeymoon here with her husband, Prince Bernhard van Lippe-Biesterfeld – says balneologist Dr. Zdzisław Chuchro, acting director of medical care at the Krynica-Żegiestów S.A. Health Resort Co.

TVP WEEKLY: Natural treatment is coming back into vogue again, if only herbal medicine or using mineral resources. And that’s precisely what balneology does. What are the most interesting aspects of this area of medicine that you are involved with?

Balneology is based on using natural mineral resources prophylactically, in treatment and rehabilitation. These are mineral waters – including: sodium-chloric, hydrogen sulfide, thermal and bicarbonate – drunk at the right time and tempo. They are also therapeutic gases, like carbon dioxide, radon and peloids, so the utilization of the natural resource of therapeutic mud. Here, for example, mud compresses or baths are used. It’s a very particular area of treatment. Mainly because you can return people back to physical and mental fitness and a desire to live without injections or other tiring procedures. It is a long-term process however and it requires a lot of patience and persistence.

It’s worth adding that not only mineral resources but also an appropriate climate, diet, physical activity and even interpersonal contact, also influence health. And long periods in a health resort are highly conducive towards this.

So let’s start at the beginning. As we know, water therapies in the treatment of various diseases were already known in antiquity, and Hippocrates was one of its precursors. When did they start to be used in our country?

It’s really a centuries-long tradition. In ancient Rome or Egypt, public baths were ubiquitous. Archeologists have found the remnants of baths from 5,000 years ago. Baths were also social meeting places. In Europe, in modern times, the first steam baths appeared in Germany around 1200 A.D. Toughening cold baths were also applied then.

In our country, therapeutic baths were already also available in the Middle Ages, in Cieplice for example. In time, additional places that offered this type of treatment also arose, like: Kołobrzeg, Ciechocinek, Nałęczów or Rabka.
Unitl the beginning of the 20th century, only the wealthiest could afford to stay at health resorts. Photo: Spółka Uzdrowisko Krynica - Żegiestów S.A
Those are the same places where health resorts are today as well…

The precursor of Polish balneology was the royal medic, Doctor Wojciech Oczko (1537-1599). He was the court doctor to King Stephen Báthory and King Sigismund III Vasa. His first academic monograph concerned syphilis, a contagious, sexually transmitted disease. The medic associated the disease with an improper diet and overeating. He proposed a decoction from sarsaparilla and the guaiac tree as treatment. We can find their description in the collections of the Museum of the History of Medicine and Pharmacy at the Medical University of Białystok.

Oczko was an advocate for natural healing in general. In therapies for all ailments he gave a significant role to water, sun, air and physical activity. He dedicated a subsequent monograph, titled Cieplice [hot springs], published in 1578, to this issue. This work marked the beginning of Polish balneology, or water therapy. Oczko classified the mineral waters that are present in our country, he listed their healing properties and also gave methods of therapy. Above all though, he considered movement to be the fundamental remedy.

The blossoming of sanatoria began at the turns of the 18th and 19th centuries. Though until the beginning of the 20th century, these were small, private facilities for the most affluent citizens. Over the centuries, these types of treatments were eagerly made use of by kings and their wives. Judyta, the wife of Władysław I Herman, gave birth to their son, Bolesław III Wrymouth, after a bath treatment in the town of Inowłódz on the Pilica river. Queen Jadwiga treated herself in Busk, Marysieńka Sobieska in Cieplice, and King John II Casimir Vasa came to Dusznik.

In subsequent ages, baths came to be favored by Frederic Chopin, Stefan Żeromski, Ignacy Paderewski and Władysław Sikorski, to name a few.

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Kiepura even built his hotel, Patria, in Krynica. Later, he convinced the Dutch princess Juliana to come to the health resort in Krynica, treating her ailments here during the interwar period. The future queen of the Netherlands [she was crowned in 1948] also spent her honeymoon here with her husband, Prince Bernhard van Lippe-Biesterfeld.

The law on health resorts from 1922 contributed to their development in free Poland. Thanks to it, the first public centers arose, for example in Inowrocław. During World War II, many of them were destroyed. Their reconstruction began in the 1950s and 1960s, intended mainly for industrial workers. Since the political system changed, at that time, union sanatoria were created, for example in Szczawnica for miners and chemists. They were financed by the state, so rest stays became very popular. The renaissance of the spas took place at the turns of the 1960s and 1970s. Then, modern sanatoriums were being created, including in Ciechocinek, Ustroń, Kołobrzeg or precisely in Krynica-Zdrój, crowded with visitors.

Krynica-Zdrój is one of the largest health resorts in Poland. It’s fame is due to the beneficial properties of mineral waters. How were they discovered?

They were discovered by residents. They noticed that animals recovered more quickly from drinking the water in local springs or soaking in them.

It’s worth mentioning the legend of the Krynica shepherdess: a knight from Muszyna fell in love with the peasant girl. But his father did not agree to the marriage and sent him off to war. The knight did not forget about his beloved though and returned to Krynica. On the slopes of Park Mountain, he was badly beaten by robbers and left for dead. His calls for help were heard by the shepherdess, who, when she saw the bloodied soldier, began praying to the Mother of God for his recovery. Then, a small spring appeared at her feet. The girl washed his wounds with the water, which healed him. When the father of the knight heard of his miraculous rescue, he agreed to the marriage.

The legend does not end there: the residents began drawing the miraculous water from the spring. And this drew the ire of the Devil himself. He decided to block the flow of water with a huge boulder. He was about to do it, but… a rooster crowed. A new day began and the Devil dropped the rock and left it there. The residents of Krynica, believing in the miraculous power of the spring, placed a statue of the Mother of God on Park Mountain – The Queen of Krynica’s Springs.

What’s interesting is that in the years before the war there was a strong windstorm that ripped hundred-year-old trees out at the roots, while the figure remained untouched. The place was named the Marian Forest Sanctuary. Masses are held here in the spring and summer.
That’s what the legend says, but what are the facts?

The first analyses of Krynica’s waters were carried out in the 18th century. A chemical analysis was carried out in 1788 by Professor Baltazar Hacquet of the University of Lwów. In 1793, Francis Stix V. Saunbergen, the district commissioner from Nowy Sącz, bought the springs from the local peasants with the intention of utilizing them.

The first mineral water bottling plant arose in 1808. The beginnings were not easy. The water was poured into stoneware vessels, so-called flasks, which often broke during transport along Galicia’s bumpy roads. But 1810 was already a success, when 15,000 stoneware bottles of water were sold.

It was precisely in our health resort, in 1858, when carbon dioxide was used for the first time in bottled water production. After starting the bottling plant in Krynica-Zdrój, new ones quickly arose, including in: Krościenka on the Dunaj river (1829), Iwonicz-Zdrój (1856), Szczawnica (1860) and Wysowa-Zdrój (1860). By the end of the 1930s, nine water bottling plants were already functioning in our country. The production of waters in that time amounted to about 400,000 bottles annually. And the boom in the area of healthy waters occurred in the 1990s, then there were as many as 300 bottling plants. Currently there are somewhat less, just over 230.

Who else should we really take note of in terms of the history of Krynica?

The Polish-Austrian doctor, Józef Dietel. As a professor and director of the Internal Medicine Department and Medical Clinic of the Jagiellonian University [in Kraków], Dietel carried out the classification of Polish mineral waters and popularized health resorts in the Poprad river valley. He promoted physical therapy and diet treatments. He’s the one who distinguished between waters for drinking and for bathing.

He came to Krynica with a special commission in 1856. Experts developed a plan for utilizing more modern health resort devices, already known in other European spas. Thanks to Dietel’s initiative, mineral and mud baths were created, as well as a municipal water supply system and covered water drinking room.

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In 1857 there were already about a dozen spa facilities in Krynica with rooms for visitors and baths for therapeutic procedures. But like I mentioned earlier, it was very expensive therapy since you had to pay for it yourself. Moreover, the trip to the resort, prior to the initiation of train service, took an incredible amount of time. I once read that at the beginning of the 19th century it took a patient from West Pomerania six weeks to travel to Krynica. It took just as long on the way back. And the treatment also lasted for six weeks.

Dietel died in 1878. In 1900, a statue in his honor was unveiled in Krynica, created by Leon Zawielski, with the slogan: “Krynica in Gratitude to its Reviver.”

Here in Krynica you are humbled by what nature has given us, all that had to be done was to discover and develop it.

What characterizes these waters?

The waters discovered in Krynica-Zdrój are szczawy. It’s a type of mineral water saturated with free carbon dioxide in excess of 1000 mg/dm3 [cubic decimeters]. The high concentration of CO2 is caused by tectonic movements that allow for its transport from deeper layers of the earth’s crust towards subterranean waters and their saturation with this chemical compound. The waters are rich in various minerals (elements and chemical compounds), and each of them has different health properties.

On the area of the health resort there are twenty-three mineral water intakes, of these seven are suitable for drinking therapy or for bottled water production. The remaining intakes provide mineral water for inhalation and therapies. On average, over 50,000 cubic meters of water are used annually, with over 60% going to bottling. The rest of the natural resource is used for healing baths and drinking therapy.

Methods of therapy and health resorts have changed over the years. How do you remember the beginnings of your work?

I come from near Pilica in the Polish Jurassic Highland. I studied at the Medical College in Kraków. At the end of my studies, so at the beginning of the 1970s, I relaxed in Krynica and I was taken by the charm of this health resort. Here, people were smiling and happy with life. The city was growing. New housing developments were multiplying, but also sanatoria, for example ones with 200 rooms. It was so fascinating to me that I decided to settle here permanently. One of the physicians in Krynica at the time, told me that if I like the health resort, then I’ll also like the treatment methods.
Cold therapy helps to reduce pain, muscle tension and inflammation. Photo: Spółka Uzdrowisko Krynica - Żegiestów S.A.
Health resorts are famous for an active social life. For some, such periods are an opportunity to seek out love or fleeting adventures. Truth or myth?

It has always been like that, that some visitors come here to heal and others to have some fun. That’s why evening mixers were once so important. Without them the sanatorium couldn’t get going (laughter). It happened that a lady would leave to go to a meeting at a coffee shop and wouldn’t return to the resort at night. And discipline used to be greater before than now. If someone didn’t return to their room before midnight, the next day they received a discharge card and were sent home.

We once had a patient who, after registering at the reception, went to her room without taking her suitcase. After a time, the porter brought her suitcase and found her completely drunk. We decided to send her home and while she was waiting for transportation, she downed another bottle. After searching her suitcase, we found a third bottle. That’s how some people approach R&R.

Once, a patient asked me directly whether I knew some interesting man in Krynica, since she was looking for a husband who would take care of her house and garden. As I later learned, the woman had been married five times, she buried three of her husbands and two of them divorced her.

Sometimes, visitors really have a good time without moderation, but these are fringe cases. We have no influence on it. What’s most important for us is that they return home healthier. And that’s what we focus on.

Some believe that treatment with mineral sources can cure various chronic diseases, and others that they are only meant to supplement certain treatment methods. How is it really?

It all depends on the disease. In some chronic diseases, the treatments can actively heal, averting a hospital stay, and with others – only support treatment. It’s important for therapies to be properly chosen and dosed according to the condition of the patient under a doctor’s supervision.

We divide a stay in a resort into three stages. The first lasts up to three days and is a period of adaptation to the new environment. The next lasts up to around sixteen days. During this time many ailments and disease symptoms can intensify. After this time, they start to subside and the fitness and capabilities of the patient improve. That’s why it’s so important not to shorten this stay. The entire treatment should last 21-24 days. Sometimes, the first indications of improved health and well-being appear only after returning home.
Therapeutic mud has painkilling, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Photo: Spółka Uzdrowisko Krynica - Żegiestów S.A.
What are the most common methods of treatment with natural sources during a health resort stay?

I’ll give the example of using therapeutic mud. It’s a kind of peat that has painkilling, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The heated mud loosens painful muscles and supplies many priceless nutrients through the skin, including organic acids and mineral salts. People suffering from joint problems, rheumatic diseases and spinal pain can avail themselves of this treatment. First, the mud is heated to around 42-46 degrees Celsius. Next, it’s placed on the body, which is then wrapped in foil. The treatment lasts half an hour.

In the past, therapeutic mud was often prescribed for women who had trouble getting pregnant. The woman sat in a tub filled with mud for 15-20 minutes. Today, with various other methods of treating infertility, this method is used less often.

Another natural method, for example, is a mineral bath or saline bath. Here salt influences the skin and sweat glands. It’s important for it to be at the right temperature and pressure. This therapy is helpful, among other things, with: multiple sclerosis, chronic joint inflammation and skin and digestive allergies or neuroses.

Mineral waters prescribed for drinking therapy work well for the urinary and digestive tracts. The most beneficial ones are those drunk directly from the spring, that’s why in Polish health resorts we have special mineral water drinking stations. These are usually sodium-chloric waters, or salty water, alkaline water (bicarbonate), low-mineralized szczawy or irony szczawy. You can only drink them with a doctor’s recommendation.

You can also use heat therapy, so with the use of hot air, steam, water and paraffin. These types of procedures are recommended before physical activity to lessen pain and muscle tension.

Cold therapy is also recommended. The significant reduction in temperature serves to reduce pain, muscle tightness, inflammation, and edemas and to improve joint function.

Are these therapies for everyone?

No. Not everyone can makes use of the procedures offered in the Krynica health resort, for example people with high blood pressure or respiratory diseases. The mountain climate is a stimulating environment. When the foehn wind blows, then the air pressure rises and it could lead to a stroke. In the case of asthma, shortness of breath intensifies. One’s health could significantly worsen instead of improve.

The trend for a healthy lifestyle and the aging of the population has led to health resort tourism growing in popularity. Many people decide for private trips to spas. This has led to the introduction and development of new treatment services, such as biological regeneration.

Indeed, many commercial procedures have appeared, like treatment with hot rocks, which are supposed to relax the body among other things. Light therapy with lamps is also popular, which is supposed to improve blood flow and stimulate metabolic processes. As doctors, we always recommend caution. It’s better to have a consultation first, since in the case of certain diseases there could be contraindications. Something might help someone, while it might, unfortunately, hurt someone else.

Health resort life used to proceed more slowly. There weren’t so many procedures, usually they happened 2-3 times per day. Now, 5-6 is too little for some. Massages used to last 15 minutes, now patients want to be massaged for an hour. But the physiological effects are practically the same. That’s why we have to approach treatments with humility, reserve and without unnecessary claims. And sooner or later, the health benefits will certainly become apparent.

– In conversation with Monika Chrobak, journalist for Polish Radio

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

–Translated by Nicholas Siekierski
Krynica-Zdrój - 05.02.2020
Main photo: Mieczysław Dukiet Park, located at the very center of the Krynica-Zdrój health resort, at the junction of Dietel Boulevard, Zdrój, Pułaski and Piłsudski streets. Photo: PAP/Jerzy Ochoński
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