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It was in an era of "hog, hominy and home spun." The North had just emerged from the age of white slavery; Negro slavery was in full flower in the South. In the West the process of murdering Indians and stealing their lands was still going on, a process that was to continue until it reached the blue waters of the Pacific, beyond which there were no more Indians to kill and no more lands to steal. Having thrown off the Old World tyrannies, the New World was busily engaged in forging new tyrannies.
Grains, bread, pork and lard pies predominated in the people's diet--vegetables and fruits were neglected, were contraband in fact. Nobody took baths, a strong body odor being regarded as a badge of merit. Fresh air was feared. Especially feared were cold air, damp air, night air, and draughts. Houses were unventilated and foul; no sunlight was permitted to enter them lest it fade the rugs, carpets and upholstering. Sanitation was neglected; tobacco was chewed, smoked and snuffed almost universally; alcohol was the favorite beverage and disease was common.
The people suffered with typhus and typhoid fevers, malaria, cholera, yellow fever, summer complaint (diarrhea) dysentery, cholera infantum, diphtheria, scrofula, meningitis, tuberculosis and pneumonia. The general death rate was high; the death rate among infants and children was appalling; mothers died in childbirth of child-bed fever. It was a day of frequent and heroic dosage and equally frequent and heroic bleeding. In the South during the summer season there was a cry of fever, fever, fever and calomel and quinine were administered lavishly, thus adding to the horror.
It is said that a new impulse pervaded the "healing art." Previously, it had taken form in every country in keeping with ancient customs. But Europe had followed in the path of Asia and her schools had taken their first instructions from the Jewish and Muslim universities. The "medical art" had speedily become overshadowed by scholastic subtleties embroidered with vague and visionary doctrines. Then followed a series of other schools and methods that were often rivals of each other. These schools invaded America so that Thomas Jefferson could declare in his famous letter to Dr. Wistar that he had witnessed the various sects and theories of medicine, "disciples of Hoffman, Boerhaave, Stahl, Cullen and Brown succeed each other like the shifting figures of the magic lantern; and their fancies, like the dresses of the annual doll babies from Paris, becoming, from their novelty, the vogue of the day and yielding to the next novelty their ephemeral favors."
The "medical art" in America during the colonial period had been simple and unpretentious. There were no medical schools and few physicians. The facilities afforded the student for learning medicine consisted chiefly in the familiar association with rural practitioners, the observing of their procedures and a diligent prosecution of such opportunities as colonial society afforded. Inquiring individuals, men skilled in woodcraft, and expert housewives learned the use of so-called medicinal plants (and other simple means) which they gathered from the fields and forests. There has been fostered the myth that they also learned many healing secrets from the Indians who are said to have known the medicinal virtues of many plants. Actually, the so-called "medicineman" among the Indians was a sorcerer or shaman and practiced no "healing art."
By the time the period arrived of which we now write, all of this had been changed. The schools of healing had arrived; folk medicine was almost obsolete. A considerable medical literature with Latin and Greek terminology had accumulated; medical colleges (schools of physic) had been established; medical laws were enacted and the process of setting up a National Medical Church which would dominate the lives of the people was well under way. Homeopathy and chrono-thermalism had come from Europe to compete with the dominant school, which became known as the allopathic school; indigenously, the Thompsonian (physio-medical) and eclectic schools of drugging had sprung up and these four schools (the chrono-thermal school soon faded out of the picture) competed with each other for supremacy.
The medical historian, Shryock, says that "unfortunately, the standards in medical education tended to fall during the first half of the nineteenth century. This was true in an absolute sense in the United states and at least relatively in Great Britain. In the former the rapid expansion of population over a large area brought with it a mushroom growth of private 'medical colleges.' Their owner's interest in fees, or perhaps the limitations of their staffs, led these schools to shorten courses and otherwise to cheapen their degrees and by 1850 it was easy for a man of no particular training to attend lectures for one winter and emerge a full-fledged doctor." I need only add that not much was done to better medical education until after 1912.
Shryock says that "a somewhat analogous trend in Great Britain was marked by a continued dependence upon partially trained apothecaries . . . surgeons, barbers, apothecaries, and even chemists . . . all pressed their claims upon a bewildered people. According to one good authority, anyone could assume the title of 'doctor' or 'surgeon' in England and practice with impunity." In Germany conditions were little, if any, better. In France, where medicine was better organized and medical education more advanced, there was an increasing "therapeutic skepticism" among the medical leaders and, in many instances, as in England and in the United States, an actual drug nihilism. The profession had actually lost faith in its poisons.
Almost the whole of the nineteenth century was taken up with a fierce struggle between these four schools for survival and supremacy. Each school claimed to have the truth and the true medical art; each claimed to possess the true "law of cure;" each asserted its superiority over all others and each accused the other of killing its patients, an accusation which could be well substantiated against each school. In addition to this struggle, there was a wide-spread drug nihilism among medical men, the leading medical authorities of both Europe and America agreeing with the statement made by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes that if all the drugs of the pharmacopeia were cast into the sea it would be better for mankind, although a bit hard on the fishes. Is it to be wondered that the people became distrustful of their physicians and began to believe that they were being killed in the process of being cured?
The apothecary shops of the period were filled with measures of ornamental glass and weights of burnished brass or shining silver with which to divide and redivide the doses from ounces down to any fraction of a grain. There were powders, tinctures, dilutions, solutions, infusions, decoctions, lotions, gargles, lubricants, salts, acids, alkalies, gums, resins, gum resins, roots, barks, leaves, flowers, seeds, stems, piths, cerates, soaps, syrups, balsams, oils, essences, bitters, oxymels, patented nostrums and elixirs innumerable, beautifully labeled with gilded capitals, in polished boxes and drawers and in decorated phials, bottles, gallipots and demijohns, constituting a veritable museum of therapeutical curiosities which charmed the eyes while they occasioned nausea of the stomach. The drugging ranged from simples to minerals, from almost non-toxic herbs, like mint, to those of the highest virulence.
Those glorious men of science who have been for centuries the lawful administrators of the big boluses, the powerful powders, the biting blisters and the almighty emetics were ever busy drugging their victims with heroic doses of their poisons. They had made of disease an entity which they regarded as an enemy in the citadel of life and in their blind efforts to destroy this enemy, they have all too often destroyed the citadel. The patient was poisoned and poisoned and poisoned and at his funeral the people were told that "he died in the providence of God and will come to life again in the great resurrection." Instead of improving health, drugs destroy the human constitution; instead of curing our diseases, they poison us to death.
How is a man who is already sick to be made less so by swallowing a substance that would sicken, even kill him if he were to take it in a state of health? Whoever has had his bowels moved into convulsions by cathartics, his teeth rotted by mercurials, his liver enlarged and impaired by tartar emetic knows that the effects of drugging are many and varied, but always evil. In the days of which we write, patients were bled, blistered, purged, puked, narcotized, mercurialized and alcoholized into chronic invalidism or into the grave. The death rate was high and the sick man who recovered without sequelae was so rare as to be negligible. It is certain that if well persons had been put to bed and subjected to the same treatment to which the sick were subjected, they would have inevitably been made very sick and some of them would have been killed. Writing in the Journal, January 1862, Dr. Jackson says that the practices of burning, blistering and cauterizing had fallen off. Blistering had been almost as universally practiced as bleeding and for as wide a variety of conditions. "But a few years ago," he says, "if a man had a pain in the neck and sought medical advice, the physician was sure to put on a blister. If he had a pain in the side and escaped blood-letting, he was sure to have a blister as a substitute. If he had a violent headache, and the physician could not readily determine what caused it, more likely than not he would apply a blister to some part of the head; or if he desired to appear very skillful, he would put it upon some remote part of the body, intending thereby, as common folks would say, 'to draw the pain away.' Blistering was a common method of treating the following diseases: congestion of the brain, inflammation of the brain, sore eyes, sore throat, inflammation of the stomach and lungs, of the liver, of the spleen, spinal irritation, bilious, typhus and typhoid fevers, and a great many other diseases too numerous to mention. Now the day of blistering has nearly gone by."
Dr. Jackson was a bit optimistic. Blistering was still being practiced when the present author was a young lad. Not only did drug stores handle blistering plasters in the early part of this century, but physicians prescribed them and patients were tortured by them. In Jackson's day and prior thereto, physicians would bleed for palpitation, puke for bitter stomach, purge for a torpid state of the bowels, blister for pains in the side, put plasters on the chest for pains in the chest; but they would never think of removing causes. Treatment grounded upon erroneous diagnosis and indefensible in the light of later developments has always been scientific practice while in vogue. Prof. N. Chapman, M.D., while professor of medicine in a Philadelphia medical college, said to his class that by giving calomel to their patients, they could in the course of one tolerably successful season lay the foundation of the business of a lifetime, as they would ever after have as much as they could do to patch up the broken constitutions they would make during that one season. Calomel in large and frequent doses was, at that time, the chief anchor of practice among the allopaths. An old couplet has it: "Their souls were sent to heaven or hell by doctor's dose of calomel."
Chapman's was a sweeping statement, but while made in reference to the mercurials, is equally true as regards the drug system as a whole. Physicians who are free with their drugging keep themselves busy treating the effects of the drugs. It is true that often their victims desert them and go to other physicians; but the result is the same--the other physician is kept busy treating the effects of the prior drugging. Brethren of the lancet and pestle school of so-called healing were all engaged in the same sorry practice, that of poisoning the sick.
For at least a century strychnine was the best remedy the profession had for palsy, paralysis and paralytic affections. It was used to kill cats and dogs; it was deadly to hogs and cattle and, when given as a poison, slaughtered human beings. But when given as a medicine, it was a tonic, a nervine, a remedy for our palsied fellow men. Another favorite tonic of the period, one which was administered in all cases of fever and came to be regarded as a specific in malaria, was the protoplasmic poison, quinine. When McClellan's army was encamped in the Chickahominy Swamps in 1862, his soldiers were fed on quinine, administered by physicians and surgeons as a preventive of malaria at the rate of $16,000 a day with corresponding rations of whiskey. When they became sick with malaria, their doses were increased. Never was a drug so unmercifully exposed as a failure, both as a preventive and as a cure; yet, the profession continued to use it and to swear by it.
There were fads in drugging then as now. Writing in the Journal, May 1857, Solomon Fraese, M.D., said: "A druggist said to me, 'There is not one bottle of cod liver oil sold now where there were 20 sold four years ago.' Alas for the evanescent character of medical remedies! Alas for the reputation of medical men! Who does not remember the high praises that were sung to cod liver oil only four years ago?" This is but one example of the way in which drugs were lauded, widely used and then discarded, to be followed in their turn by other drugs equally as useless and often even more harmful. It was not an uncommon thing for an allopathic physician to admit that he often administered drugs that he would not take himself, nor would he permit their administration to his wife and children.
Physicians were not content to pour drugs into the stomachs and to rub them onto and into the skin, but also sent them into the body by way of the lungs. The old practice of fumigating was one of drugging the breathing apparatus with every foul thing that could be smoked, solvented, pulverized and gasified. It had long occupied the profoundest attention of many medical men. Almost everything that is known to render the atmosphere impure and unsatisfactory for healthy lungs has been inhaled by diseased lungs. The smoke of resinous substances, the miasma of swamps and effluvia of cow stables have been among the regular prescriptions for consumptive patients. Trall tells us that within a few years not less than a dozen influences and improved methods were invented to facilitate the introduction of vegetable, mineral and animal poisons and factitious and mephitic gases into the lungs.
Some of the physicians of the past went the whole drug-shop in the line of inhalative druggery. Among their multitudinous remedies which they recommended to be introduced into the delicate structure of the lungs, through the medium of their multiform poisons, were such wholesome substances as opium, cubebs, deadly nightshade, iodine, calomel, corrosive sublimate, sugar of lead, belladonna, digitalis, hellebore, aconite, dog-bane, tobacco, arsenic, antimony, niter, lobelia, cinebar, etc.
We need hardly remind our readers that all fumigators and fumigations, whether multiform, monoform, or any other form, were strongly objected to by Hygienists because they are false in science and injurious in practice. There is no way of accurately estimating the number of poor, miserable victims of tuberculosis, bronchitis, diseases of the throat, etc., who have died as a direct consequence of the practice of fumigating the lungs with poisons; but we may be positive that the number is large.
The patent medicine business flourished then as now. The land was flooded with bar-rooms and horse sheds were covered, houses, public and private, were filled, the papers and magazines swarmed with advertisements of this or that so-called remedy, which was guaranteed to cure this or that so-called disease. All the ills of man found their cures in the much-advertised patent nostrums and both the civil authorities and the medical profession knew that they were frauds. Yet the fight against such advertising and such fraudulent nostrums had to be started outside the profession and outside the ranks of the civil authorities. From college (medical) president to country practitioner, no word of protest was heard.
Many of the patent medicines amounted to little more than cheap whiskey. Alcohol was a foundation of the many bitters that were sold to the people as tonics, as it was the chief ingredient in many of the patent nostrums sold to women for female diseases. They even sold remedies for alcoholism that were chiefly alcohol. Among all the patent nostrums advertised to the public only one, sold under the name Matchless Sanative, was of value. When this drug was analyzed, it proved to be pure water:
It was well known to the physicians of the period that their drugs were damaging. For example, the celebrated Charles D. Meigs, M.D., of Philadelphia said in his work, Observations on Certain of the Diseases of Children (edition of 1850, p. 73): "It appears to me to be an outrage to give a child a dose of castor-oil, or rhubarb, or magnesia, when it is not required; for such articles cannot be taken into the stomach without exciting the beginning of trains of actions whose end no man can foretell." The reader will be quick to understand that when these drugs are administered to children when they are supposed to be "required," no man can foretell the results. James Stewart, M.D., wrote in his Practical Treatise on the Diseases of Children (second edition, 1846, p. 220): "The use of any medicine must, as a general rule, be regarded as injurious, as the object of medicine is but to create a temporary disease for removal of another; and only applicable when the disease demanding it is itself the greatest source of danger." This expressed the old fallacy contained in the choice of the lesser of two evils, except that in this case one chooses both evils. The theory that a serious disease can be removed by creating a temporary and less serious one must have been invented in a mad house.
In addition to drugging their patients to death, physicians have frequently bled them to death. Butchers bled pigs to kill them; physicians bled patients to cure them. So common was the bleeding practice that Trall used to refer to the allopathic physicians of his time as "our bleeding friends of the blistering school." For hundreds of years a profession, "born to bleed," hung like vampires about the bedsides of the sick with their cups and lancets. Indeed, the blood-loving and bloodspilling allopaths shed the vital current of their patients for over 2,000 years before they were compelled, by the opposition of other schools and rising public protest, to discontinue the bleeding of the sick. When the practice was at its height, a physician might be highly praised by many of those whom he had bled and physicked for his "energetic practices." It is probable that physicians spilled more blood from the time of Hippocrates to the middle of the last century than all the wars during the same period.
In the old bleeding practice at the middle of the last century 12 ounces of blood was an "ordinary," 16 ounces a "full" and 20 ounces a "large" bleeding. Often the bleeder seems to have had in view chiefly the quantity of blood withdrawn--thus reducing the patient as much as possible. Such large and butchering wastes of blood were routine procedures in the treatment of almost all kinds of abnormal conditions. If fever was high and the pulse full, the patient was bled; if he was collapsed, with hands and skin cold, corrugated, pale and of a purple hue, he was bled. If a child was of "strumous diathesis"--delicate, frail and of feeble organization--it was bled. In "low typhus fever" and in collapsed cholera, bleeding was resorted to, to unload congestion in the large, deep-seated internal blood vessels. Blood was withdrawn quickly from a large artery to make the requisite impression on the body, as indicated by faintness, a "train of morbid actions could be broken up."
If a physician was called to see a nervous, feeble, irritable, sick man, prostrated by over-excitement, enervating habits, depressing fears and loss of blood, he sought to help him by producing further loss of blood and by more poisoning. It was even common to bleed in pregnancy to relieve symptoms. Bleeding was resorted to in cases of apparent death from a fall and in other injuries. Bleeding was employed in wounds and head injuries that resulted in unconsciousness. Not only were pregnant mothers bled, but physicians also drew blood from blue babies. It was even a custom at one time to have oneself bled each spring and fall to preserve health. Not all of this bleeding was done by physicians, as there were professional bleeders and barbers who did the work. In Philadelphia one could see signs reading: "Cupping, bleeding and leeching done here by . . ." In the last century laudanum was given to "sustain the action of the heart." Bleeding reduced the heart action and laudanum was then administered to undo the work of the bleeding. Nitre and tartar emetic were given in alternate doses with laudanum to "keep down the action of the heart." What a beautiful medley! It could logically be inferred that if no laudanum were given, there would be no need for the nitre and tartar emetic and if no bleeding had been done, there would have been no need for the laudanum. In other words, if the patient had been let alone, the physicians would not have had to treat one effect of treatment with another measure that called for more treatment. Letting the patient alone would have saved his life even if it had not increased the physician's income.
According to the legend, Robin Hood was bled to death by a man to whom he had resorted for relief from an inflammatory disease. The physician or bleeder is said to have seized the opportunity to rid the country of the noted marauder. Whether the legend is true or not, the bleeding practice accounted for many thousands of deaths. There is an old story in British medical literature of a renowned physician, who, when one of his patients succumbed to exhaustion from repeated bleedings and an autopsy showed the deceased's blood vessels to be quite empty, gloried, nevertheless, in the fact that by withdrawing the blood he had conquered the inflammation. He had too! He had so reduced his patient that he was incapable of producing either fever or inflammation. Writing of "Great Changes in Medical Practice," January 1862, James C. Jackson, M.D., said: "Take for instance the subject of blood-letting. Since I have grown to manhood, I can recollect the practice to have been such that there was scarcely a morbid condition to induce relief from which some physician could not be found to advocate the practice of blood-letting. Physicians used to bleed for congestion of the brain, sore eyes, spinal disease, sore throat or swelled tonsils, asthma, inflammation of the lungs, pulmonary consumption, diseases of the heart, dyspepsia, liver complaint, enlargement of the spleen, inflammation of the bowels, piles, genital diseases, rheumatism, neuralgia, in all cases of fever, such as intermittent fever, remittant fever, typhoid fever, typhus fever, yellow fever, ship fever, black tongue, dysentery, dengue and, in fact, for every particular and special morbid condition which could be found. To such an extent did venesection run, that it was not only practiced in the treatment of human disease, but it was almost universally practiced in the treatment of diseases of domestic animals. The horse-doctor bled, the cow-doctor bled, the dog-doctor bled, the hog-doctor bled, the sheep-doctor bled. Whoever had any domesticated animals--aving and excepting always the cat--which showed symptoms of sickness, proceeded to bleed it. Horses were bled in the mouth and in the neck, chickens were bled under the tongue, cattle were bled in the neck and in the end of the tail, pigs were bled in the leg, sheep in the ears and in the tail, dogs in the fore-legs; and so on through the whole range of domesticated animals; whoever owned them, whenever they were sick, sought relief for them from such sickness by the aid of the fleam and the knife."
It was suggested by Trall that, perhaps, nature's Materia Hygienica should have consisted of bleeding, laudanum, tartar emetic and nitre, instead of air, food and water. But he pointed out that instinct has taught the animals of nature to seek air, food, water, rest and sleep, but has not taught them to seek bleeding and poisons. The animals do not even seek for leeches and other blood-suckers.
During most of the last century, it was standard medical practice to withhold water from the acutely ill and thousands of patients literally died of dehydration. Here is a poem by Wm. H. Burleigh that was published in August 1857 under the title, Faith--A Poem:
"Restless and oft complaining, on his bed
Tossed a fair child, as burned along his veins
The fire of fever with consuming pains,
And ever and anon he raised his head
From the hot pillow, and beseeching said--
'Water! oh, give me water!' By his side
The mother stood, and tenderly replied
'Wait yet awhile, this potion take instead.'
'No,' cried the child--'tis poison and will kill!'
His father took the cup--'My son, be sure
This is a nauseous draught, but it may cure--
Will my boy drink it?' Then said he, 'I will,
I'm not afraid 'tis poison now--I know
You would not give father, were it so.'
"Oh, trusting childhood! I would learn of thee
This lesson of pure faith, and to my heart
So bind it that it never may depart--
Therefore shalt thou henceforth my teacher be;
For in thy perfect trust the sin I see
Of my own doubts and fears. The Cup of Life,
Drugged with the bitterness of tears and strife.
Shall I not drink it when 'tis proffered me?
Yes--for 'tis mingled by a Father's hand
And given in love, for rightly understood,
Trials and pains tend even to our good,
Healing the soul that for the better land
Thirsts with a deathless longing! Welcome pain,
Whose end is bliss and everlasting gain."
The author of this poem seems not to have questioned the wisdom of denying water to a fevered child, crying with parched tongue for cooling water. I recite the poem only as evidence of the prevalence of the practice and of its general and unquestioned acceptance--only the Hygienists and hydropaths dared to denounce it.
Certainly the boy was right in thinking that the nauseous draught was poisonous and that it tended to kill. His faith in his father alone caused him to overcome his instinctive repugnance to the noxious cup and swallow the poison. The father's trusting faith in the physician and his bag of poisons dethroned his own reason and caused him not to think for himself. Faith is not always an unmixed good. One can have faith in the wrong thing to his own and his child's undoing.
What blind credulity that caused both the mother and father to refuse to grant a request so reasonable and give water to a child suffering with fever! To refuse the child's request must have torn at the mother's heart strings. It must have taken all the strength the father had to thus deny the child's reasonable request. How many thousands of human beings were hastened into the hereafter by being denied water for which they begged while they had a fever! Oh! The wicked ignorance of the drugging craft! They taught the sick to fear the normal things of life and to put their trust in the anti-vital.
During this era patients in the highest fevers were literally killed by dehydration by being denied water. Denial of water, despite an intense and persistent thirst, first drove the patient to madness and despair and then to death. Patients cried out for water, water, which an ignorant and barbarous school of medicine denied them. It was contrary to the teachings of the allopathic school of medicine to give water, inside or out, to a fever patient. Often the dying, when being granted their "last wish," were given the previously denied water and recovered. The sick body called for water, which was needed, and would have received it with gratitude and benefited from it, but the physicians denied it. No water was permitted to be drunk in typhus and typhoid for weeks at a time--not a drop of water, as such, was permitted. Fever patients were denied cold water that they clamoured for. They were permitted nothing but warm teas, warm balm tea being a favorite. Helpless little sufferers would stretch forth their small hands toward the water pitcher and piteously implore, hour by hour, those near to give a drink of cold water. What fiends parents became under the tutelage of their physicians! The young suffering with fever would cry out for water and the physicians would give them wine and even brandy. Due perhaps as much to the denial of water as to the accursed alcoholic medication, the fever raged and continued and the patients died in great numbers. An Alabama woman, writing in 1853, spoke of people "burning in the hell of fevers of every name and degree of intensity . . . spending weeks yearly in places of torment, asking in vain for water to cool their parched tongues."
Telling of her treatment by an allopathic physician, while she was suffering with typhoid fever, a woman writing in the December 1854 issue of the Journal says: "He even denied me the use of cold water." She pleaded to be permitted to put her hands into the water, as they were "dry and hot." Even this was denied her.
Dr. E. A. Kittredge, M.D., of Boston, writing under the pseudonym of Noggs in his "Diary of a New England Physician," describes some of his experiences while a medical apprentice. Suffice it to say that this description was given after he had abandoned the practice of medicine and some of the thoughts expressed may have been afterthoughts. He thus describes the cries of a child for water:
"'Mamma, do give me some cold water--will you, mamma? I'll be good, mamma, and take all the powders, if you will give me some cold water.'
"The mother replied: 'No, Johnny musn't ask me to give him cold water, for the doctor says it will make him all sick.'
"Oh! that piteous look," says the reminiscing physician, "as he turned his already glazing eyes upon me. I shall never forget; it seemed as if there was a voice in those deathly orbs--as if Nature herself was imploring me to have mercy; and, oh, the pang it cost me to refuse the darling boy--beautiful even in his deformity--his throat was swollen terribly; but I did though, and I gloated in my heroic courage; for I thought I was doing him a greater good than I could possibly do him in any other way."
He continues his narrative: "The fever lasted him nine days; and such a fever--being in a bed of embers was nothing to it, apparently, though it was dead of winter. He would kick every rag of clothes off as fast as they could put it on, tearing at his throat and mouth, and scratching his skin, like one insane and, as long as he could utter a sound, he kept day and night crying incessantly for 'water, cold water, do give me water--I want some cold water.' At last, when it was found the little sufferer must die, the 'Doctor!' said we might give him a little cold water!--and, would that I could describe the look of unutterable joy that lighted up the countenance of that dying child, as his fast failing sight beheld the limpid beverage coming towards him, and the avidity with which he attempted to seize the glass and held it."
Then, after a few remarks about the "poor worms" who, "under the plea of being true to science, trample upon the highest and holiest instincts of nature" he exclaims: "Science forsooth!--a bundle of dogmas--a heterogeneous comminglement of compound contrarieties--a mass of stale recipes and cruel formulas, smothered in bad Latin and Greek words--diametrically opposed to reason, to philosophy and to common sense--dubbed with the high-sounding title of 'science!'--you dare with this unnatural monster to frown down and stifle the voice of God crying aloud in the wilderness of man's living wants and desires, and thus frustrate the very laws of man's inmost being."
Returning to the boy, he says: "For hours the poor boy kept on crying for cold water, though entirely insensible, apparently, to everything else, when, as I have said, the doctor gave his consent to let him have some, as it was evident he could not live; but, even then, the friends dared not let him have half as much as he wanted, so thoroughly impressed were they with the belief that water taken cold was 'desperate bad for sick folks.' " Further reminiscing, Kittredge says: "Here was another thing that puzzled my brain--viz, why it was that anything so good for well folks, should be so bad for sick folks?"
Seeking a reply to this question he says: "I asked Old Deacon Connant, why nature craved what wasn't good for her?--thinking it might set my mind at rest, as he was supposed to be the most in the confidence of the Giver of all desires, of any man in that region. The Deacon replied that 'the desires of the human heart are sinful--very; and the unregenerate man is constantly craving for evil things.' This satisfied the old doctor, and almost everybody else in those parts; . . . "
"Oh, with what veneration did I worship the sage opinions of Cullen, Boerhaave, Gregory, Good, Eberle &c., &c. In those days I never dreamed of doubting anything that each man said! Such sage men, thought I, never would recommend sage tea, unless sage tea was worthy to be recommended; in fact, all kinds of herb teas were sage teas with me, in those days--so sage, in my eyes, were they who advised them!
"It puzzled me, I say, to find out why that which was so good for well folks should be so bad for sick folks; I thought there must be some mistake about it. Nature seemed to be so in earnest for cold water, especially when overcome with sickness; it seemed to be her only reliance. Where anything like fever prevailed, water was the cry from morn till night, from night till morn again, in all the cases I had seen; so forcibly did this strike me as a necessity of nature, that I tried very hard to get the old doctor to let me give one patient some cold water while there was yet hope for him; but no, so strongly welded to the practice of the ancients, and the custom of his fathers, was my venerable tutor, that he couldn't think of any such heresy! He said it was contrary to the laws of allopathy.
" 'Allopathy be blow'd,' said Jeff Hall, who was present when I asked the old man; 'it isn't against the laws of God, anyhow, and, for one, I think God knows full as well, to say the least, as any allopath, or all of 'em put together; and no doctor, while I have my senses, shall choke me, or any of my family, to death--kill or no kill, I'll die in the same kind of shape, and not lie and loll out my tongue like a blown blood-hound, as folks have to do, in these diggins, who have the misfortune to be sick. See if I do.'
"The child above alluded to lived three days after the doctor gave it permission to drink cold water; and so much did it revive, that the friends all thought it was going to get well; but, alas, the day was gone by--it was like watering a tree after the sap had dried up; he died by inches, and the last thing he did was to attempt to swallow 'some more cold water!' "
Here is a recognition that this child died of dehydration. It is probable that had water been given days earlier, certainly if it had been given from the outset, he would have recovered. Many must have been the deaths from dehydration under this old practice, which had the sanction of religion, under the stupid notion of universal human depravity. Kittredge says that when a child became ill, every old woman in the neighborhood had the privilege of pouring down the throat of the child whatever she pleased--"poison stuff that sheep and cattle knew too much to eat." Then, two or three physicians would be called and they would come and put down the "pothecary stuff" which was "ten times more poison than the herbs . . . denying them even a little water to drink."
During the time when it was standard medical practice to deny water to the acutely sick patient, it was a common thing, when a council of physicians had concluded that the patient was going to die, that they had exhausted their skill and their means of cure, that there was nothing more to do and no longer any hope for them to continue to peremptorily refuse the patient a single drop of water. They were deaf to his cry: "Water! Give me water!"
Some friend or neighbor, left a short time alone with the patient, made desperate by his sufferings and his pleadings, might place water within his reach, often a large pitcher filled with cool, clear water, which he would swallow in one long, delicious draught. Such thirst cared not for the threatened perdition; one such treat of sparkling cool water was worth more to the patient than the whole of life.
Of course, the attendant dreaded the consequences. He would steal softly to the bedside of the sick man, the occupant being quiet and still, to see if he had died, only to find him sleeping peacefully, perhaps with big drops of sweat standing on his brow. He quickly called the friends and relatives of the patient, while the physician was sent for post-haste. The physician would say that "the crisis has passed," a "change has taken place for the better and the patient will recover;" but he would deny water to the next sick man, woman or child that he cared for.
A vital need of life had been supplied, as it had long been demanded, and the patient responded to the gentle influence of this Hygienic need as the flowers respond to spring showers. Large numbers of people recovered in just this way, after their physician or a consultation of physicians had said that recovery was no longer possible. Strange! that it should happen so often without opening the eyes of physicians! Strange! that the practice of denying water to fever patients was not discontinued until Hygienists and hydropaths forced its discontinuance!
Harriet Austin thus recounts a case of this kind which was that of a friend of hers. He was in a hotel among strangers. She says: "He knew he was expected to die. He was tormented with thirst day and night, and not a drop of water could he obtain. To aggravate his suffering, he constantly heard running a stream of water at the corner of the house. He watched his opportunity and crawled out of bed, down the stairs, round the house, till he found a large watering trough into which the water was falling. Into this he managed to get, and there he lay and drank all he wanted. The panic was terrible when he was discovered. He was placed in bed, clothes heaped upon him and a messenger sent in haste to bring the doctor to see him die. Before he arrived, however, he was sleeping sweetly, and from that moment he recovered."
Strange! isn't it, that had this patient stolen to the medicine cabinet and taken a dose of some forbidden drug and recovered, the physicians of the neighborhood would have gotten together to discuss the possible curative virtues of the drug in such a case, but did not come together, upon hearing of this recovery, to discuss the possible need of the fever patient for water! The world would have heard of the wonderful cure wrought by the drug; the world was not appraised of the office of water in enabling this patient to restore his health. Physicians continued to forbid water to their fever patients.
The recuperative and remedial effects of supplying the living organism with the normal needs of life, in keeping with its current need and power to use, is too simple for the scientific mind to comprehend. It is even too simple for the lay mind to grasp. We are so determined to have something mysterious and incomprehensible that we refuse to consider the simple and necessary requirements of life. The healthy body needs and can use water, so, also, can the sick body; but we prefer poisons for the sick.
There arose groups of people who called themselves Grahamites, physiological reformers, Hygienists, orthopathists, hydropaths, etc., who boldly affirmed that God or nature or whoever was responsible for man's existence, knew better than the most learned physician what drink was best for man, sick or well, and that all the cold water demanded by thirst will not harm a fever patient. It was due almost entirely to the work of these people that the medical profession ultimately consented to let their fever patients have water to drink.
Life speaks most emphatically through its organizations. Its instincts are more reliable guides than reason. The medical system insisted upon repressing the instincts of their patients--it denied its victims water to drink and air to breathe, fed them on slops and drugged them against the most emphatic protests of nature or instinct.
This was a time when the sick were denied the benefits of fresh air. Physicians would give strict orders to keep the room closed and to keep the air from the room. If it were necessary to enter the room, the door had to be opened as little as possible and closed quickly. The weather may have been hot, the patient may have had a high fever, the room may have reeked with the odors from the patient--it was still necessary to keep the room closed. No breath of fresh air was to be admitted. Patients were made to struggle in the confined air of their sick chambers. It would be impossible to estimate the number of deaths that were caused by this denial of fresh air.
Writing in 1850, a woman who signed herself Marian thus pictures the requests of a dying child for water and air, both of them forbidden by her physician:
" 'Mother,' said the feverish child,
'Give me water to drink, I pray.
Some water from the deep, cool spring,
Round which I used to play.
" 'Mother, I burn with fire within,
I surely will grow wild;
Give me water to cool my tongue,
If still you love your child.'
" 'My child!' the frenzied mother cries.
'O, ask not this of me;
Cold water is forbidden drink--
It would be death to thee.'
" 'Mother, open the window, 'then,
And let me feel the air;
This room's so close I cannot breathe,
O, mother, hear my prayer.'
" 'My child, demand ought else besides
That love or wealth can give.
They say I must shut out the air,
As I wish my child to live.' "
It is simple poetry, but it feelingly describes the tragedy of the time. Physicians were good at bleeding, leeching, cupping, blistering, purging, puking, poulticing and rubbing with ointments; but they could not comprehend that a child cannot breathe without air, that the parched tongue of the sick indicated the urgency of the need for water. Children and adults alike were killed by the thousands for want of the simplest elemental needs of life because physicians were prejudiced against what they called the non-naturals. They classified their drugs as naturals. Food, air, water, sunshine, rest, sleep, exercise, the emotions, bowel movements and the like were non-naturals. It was to protest against such practices that Oliver Wendell Holmes, himself a physician, but an avid reader of Hygienic literature, wrote the following lines:
"God gave his creatures light and air,
And water flowing from the skies;
Man locks him to a stifling lair,
And wonders why his brother dies."
Especially in those more protracted struggles of the organism, when its powers show signs of failing, when it is languishing and exhausted, certainly every effort should be made to secure to the sick organism a plentiful supply of fresh air. Too often, when the exhausted organs of the body cry out for fresh air, which would supply needed support to their wasted energies, they were given drugs and goads but no oxygen. The hospitals were not only poorly lighted, but they were poorly ventilated. Trall marveled that graduates of the best medical schools were entirely ignorant of the necessity for pure air in the hospitals and apartments of the sick, but said: "When it is understood that health is not taught in medical schools, the wonder will cease."
Writing in 1853, E. M'Dowell of Utica, Michigan, said: "In 1840, under a popular Allopath, I was fast sinking under a fever. On a feather bed, windows and doors closed on a hot summer day, pulse and breath nearly gone, I lay roasting. Friends stood around, 'looking at me to die.'
"At this critical moment a woman called in to see me. She ordered both doors and windows thrown open, and with a pail of cold water and towels she began to wash me. As the cold water towel went over me, I could feel the fever roll off before it, and in less than five minutes I lay comfortable, pulse and breath regular, but weak, and soon got well." This is a typical example of the way in which windows and doors were kept closed and the sick were smothered in blankets, even though it was a hot summer day and the patient's temperature was very high.
The body cried out for oxygen and was given a poison and tortured with blistering plasters (scorpions) and stuffed with milk, eggs, meat slops and brandy. At such times, when languid and exhausted nature more especially needs a full supply of oxygen to strengthen and quicken her for a more successful struggle, certainly, fresh air should be insisted upon. In the organism's great extremities, when its powers flag in the swoon or ebb and sway of the approach of death, it may be too late to throw open the windows or carry the patient into the fresh air; yet we often instinctively do just this. How much wiser it would be to provide fresh air when there is strength with which to struggle! The value of pure air to the sick, as well as to the healthy will not now be denied, even, if in practice, fresh air itself is denied the sick.
If diseases are to a certain extent evanescent; if there are no specifics in medicine; if the causes of disease cannot be driven from the body by drugs and treatments; if we must rely upon the vital powers themselves as exercised in the various organic processes and functions; if by providing for the free, healthy, unobstructed exercise of these functions in all cases, we can best promote the work of restoration; if a constant supply of oxygen is necessary to the conduct of the nutritive processes, both in health and in sickness, then a constant supply of fresh air and full, free draughts will be found most helpful to the sick. It is especially wrong to withhold from the sick organism full supplies of the essentials of existence in the hour of its greatest need.
The medical profession has never fully accepted the fact that fresh air is needed by the sick. There was a time, well over a hundred years ago, when the medics asserted that the atmosphere of the cities was more suitable for asthmatics than the air of the country, and the smokier the air and closer the streets the better. This was a time when tubercular patients were put into caves or required to sleep in cow stables, that they might breathe the effluvia from the decomposing manure.
Medical men have never entirely accepted hygiene and sanitation and have never completely abandoned their opposition to it. An article in the September 1955 issue of The Practitioner accuses the average person of regarding the open bedroom window with near fanaticism. It says that certain people can sleep much more healthfully if they keep their bedroom windows closed and their rooms comfortably warm. The article also says that asthma patients may obtain relief from pollens by simply excluding the cold, damp night air from their rooms. Here we have an echo of the old medically fostered fear of cold air, damp air and night air. The article says that sufferers with chronic bronchitis may sleep more comfortably in a warm room with the windows closed. It also suggests that perhaps the body can fight "virus infections" of the respiratory passages if the room is warm and the windows closed.
Cleanliness was utterly disregarded. Physicians not only frowned upon, but actually opposed bathing. Surgeons performed operations without washing their hands and the operating rooms of hospitals were veritable pig sties. Physicians would go from the post-mortum room directly to the delivery room and assist in the birth of a child without washing their hands. Child-bed fever was a very common disease and the death rate in this condition was very high.
Dioclesian (Dio) Lewis, M.D., writing to the Journal from Paris under date of November 12, 1856 said: "Dear Journal--I have now been in Paris ten days, and several hours of each day walked the hospitals. I need not tell you that no hospitals have a more exalted and world-wide reputation. Nowhere on earth have the refinements of medical science been so completely elaborated. For instance, gentlemen of the highest attainments spend a long life in the study of one single species of the diseases of the bones. They pursue the study with the zeal of an apostle, and exhaust fortunes in purchasing the most advantageous opportunities for thorough research. Large works, filled with exact illustrations, appear from time to time, and a fine hospital is thrown open for the gratuitous treatment of this particular specialty. There is scarcely a human disease that has not in this city its special professors and hospitals, and every thing is free, not only to the patients, but to students. I believe it is not extravagant to say, that there is more of this special, high-toned, gratuitous intellectual labor performed in this city in one year than in all the rest of the world in ten years.
"But notwithstanding all this, I believe there is no civilized city in which disease is treated so unsuccessfully. This apparent paradox needs no solution to those who visit the hospitals, and observe the utter disregard of the most common laws of hygiene. With one exception, I have not visited a hospital in which ventilation receives any systematic attention; and as to bathing, I must give you a fact or two. Yesterday I spent two hours in L'Hopital de la Charite, and followed in the train of Broca, who is perhaps the most promising medical man in Europe. The first patient I saw was a young lad whose foot had been seriously cut with an axe. Broca gave the facts in the case, then removed the strips of adhesive plaster, and ordered some new ones. These were immediately put on, and then Broca proceeded to put over the wound a large mass of lint, several thicknesses of linen, and bound over all this a thick, strong roller. But in addition to this miserable hot-bed, the foot and leg were completely covered with a crust of black dirt. Just about the incision the scab had been softened, and evidently scraped off, but the rest of the limb bore the accumulations of months. Of course the wound wore a very unhealthy appearance. I whispered to an intelligent student that I thought that foot only needed thorough soaking and cleansing, and I added, that I thought the incision would at once put on a healthy appearance if the patient, in addition to this local purification, could have his whole skin purified, and the window near him opened. The student replied by asking whether I did not think he might take a cold.
"The next was a case of scrofulous enlargement of the knee. Broca informed us that the patient had been in the hospital two months, and it was clear enough that during the whole time the limb had not been even washed. A new liniment was advised, and the crowd passed on. I delayed a little. and, upon examining the patient, found that his whole skin was dirty, dry, and feverish; and so on to the end of the long list of sufferers. The stumps of amputated limbs were dressed with lint and linen to the thickness of an inch or two, but no water.
"It is to me utterly inexplicable that a people so incomparably vigorous and progressive in all the higher and more abstruse departments of medical science, should so utterly neglect these common necessities of a successful treatment . . ."
Patients were dosed heroically, had their veins and arteries emptied of blood, were denied water to drink and fresh air to breathe and stuffed on slops. Is it any wonder that otherwise simple diseases were regarded as very malignant and the death rate was high? Should we marvel that the people lost confidence in their physicians and began to (correctly) suspect that they were being killed by them? A real revolutionary situation existed. The time was ripe for a change. No mere reform would suffice.