Popular Science Monthly/Volume 25/July 1884/Colorado for Invalids

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COLORADO FOR INVALIDS.

By SAMUEL A. FISK, M.D.

THE romantic features of life in the Rocky Mountains have been so gracefully portrayed by such facile pens as those of Bayard Taylor, "H. H.," Miss Bird, and some of our magazine-writers, that the reading public have come to regard this country as adapted either to the tourist, bent on seeking something unusual, looking for novel and startling experiences, or else as an immense treasury of gold and silver, an El Dorado for the miner. But there is a larger class, that portion of our population throughout the East and South suffering from some pulmonary trouble, which should be much more interested in Colorado than either the pleasure-seeker or the money-getter. For such there is a wealth of life stored up in the dry, sunny climate of this State, more precious than the hidden treasures which the mountains contain.

It is the intention of the writer to supplement some past efforts in calling the attention of the public to this salubrious climate, by giving a few details in regard to methods of living, society, resorts, expenses, occupations for the invalid, etc.; and he is led to this by the lack of information that he has found, from a personal experience, exists among Eastern people in regard to these very points, and by the erroneous impressions which he finds most new-comers have as to what they are to expect.

Before entering into these details, it may be well to call attention, very briefly, to the climatic conditions existing in Colorado, which are favorable to the arrest and cure of a large percentage of pulmonary troubles. A careful analysis of Signal-Service statistics for a range of years has shown that the climate of Colorado affords an air 410 only saturated with moisture, while the air of Jacksonville, Florida, is 710, and that of Los Angeles, California, is 66100 of saturation; that the average rain and snow-fall, per annum, is only a trifle over fourteen inches, while at Jacksonville it is forty-nine inches, at Los Angeles nineteen inches, and at New York forty-two inches; that the elevation, ranging from five thousand to seven thousand feet, is such as secures the most healthful action for diseased lungs; that the direction and daily motion of the winds are favorable and salubrious; that the mean temperature would place this climate under the head of a "cool climate"; and, lastly, and of the greatest importance, is the fact that it affords an average of three hundred and twenty sunny days per annum, or, to quote the article referred to:[1] "It is seen that in Denver there is only about one eighth of the entire year when an invalid would be kept in the house on account of the weather; in Jacksonville and Augusta (Georgia) he would be confined to the house, for the same reason, one quarter of the year; in St. Paul he would be kept indoors between a third and a quarter of the time; while in Boston he would have to be housed a good third of the time."

Many invalids who recognize the force of these data would, nevertheless, hesitate to come to Colorado because of their impression that the people are rough and only semi-civilized, and that the lack of accommodations is so great as to make life, especially for a lady, unendurable. Persons, gaining their information from newspapers, have a vague idea that the State is infested by the cow-boy element, that everybody carries fire-arms, that society is lawless or at the best crude, and that social life is regulated by the nouveaux riches. Such persons would be astonished at the facts in the case. In Denver they will find regular and well-laid streets, numerous and magnificent public buildings, imposing rows of business blocks, numerous and flourishing banks, stately churches, and, above all, comfortable and wealthy homes. A personal investigation will convince any one that Denver is the finest, cleanest, most healthful, and by far the most imposing, of any of the so-called new cities in the United States. It is a false impression that leads any one to think that affairs are crude in Colorado. Throughout the State, even in the smallest towns, are to be found people of culture and refinement. It is a noteworthy fact that the average of education is higher here than in almost any other part of the Union, and there is not a town in the State that is wanting a circle of people who have both read and traveled. It is also a mistaken impression that lawlessness prevails. In the mountains one can go anywhere unarmed, while in the centers life and property are as secure as in the East.

It is an equally mistaken idea that would cause one to hesitate about coming to Colorado for fear of the privations he would have to endure. Throughout the State the comforts of living, in any given place, are as great as they would be in a place of equal size East. Most of the towns are supplied with water- and gas-works. The markets have fruits and vegetables in their seasons, and fish and oysters from the coast. Such articles as groceries, clothing, furniture, are to be had as readily here as elsewhere. Hotel accommodations are as good as, if not better than, are to be found in most places of equal size East.

It should be remembered, however, that the expenses of living may be higher in Colorado, which is a new country, than in the older and more settled portions of the Union. This is to be accounted for partially by the fact that the home production is inadequate to the consumption, by the great distance that intervenes between this State and the centers of supply, and by the fact that it is impossible to grow certain things in this soil. As the question of expense is often of prime importance to invalids who would like to come to Colorado, it may not be out of place to give a few brief details. A first-class railroad ticket from Chicago to Denver costs thirty-seven dollars; a berth in the sleeper is eight dollars; meals are seventy-five cents apiece. Hotel accommodations in Denver range from two to four dollars a day. Comfortably furnished rooms can be found at from twelve to twenty dollars a month, and good board costs from five to ten dollars a week. These are not bottom figures, but are means. House-rents and servants' wages are somewhat higher than in the East.

The invalid having determined to come to Colorado, the question then arises as to the best place for him to go. This is a point of considerable importance, and one in regard to which very erroneous advice is frequently given by physicians unacquainted with the State. For instance, it is not an uncommon thing for Eastern physicians to advise their patients to go into one of the parks in mid-winter, when, in point of fact, the snow would be lying so deeply on the ground in these places that it would be impossible to get into them, and certainly very injudicious for an invalid to attempt it. As a broad rule it can be stated that the best points in which to winter are the towns situated at the junction of the plains and foot-hills. In the summer the invalid will do well to go into the mountains, to such places as Estes Park, Manitou Park, Poncha Springs, Wagon-wheel Gap, Georgetown, or Idaho Springs.

The most available towns for the invalid who has to earn his support are Denver and Pueblo, but there is a moderately wide field from which to choose when health and comfort, and not money, are the main considerations. Colorado Springs combines so many favorable conditions of climate, good accommodations, pleasant society, and natural objects of interest, as to render it, in addition to its sanitary condition, an almost ideal resort for phthisical invalids. Six miles to the west of Colorado Springs, nestling among the foot-hills at the base of Pike's Peak, is Manitou, the so-called "Saratoga of the West." Its winter climate is mild, but it is chiefly a summer resort, as its large hotel accommodations, its iron and soda springs, its baths and drives, make it exceedingly popular. These springs furnish a large flow of agreeable drinking-water of real medicinal value. The soda-spring water resembles the Apollinaris, while the "Iron Ute" carries, in addition to the carbonates of soda, lime, and magnesia, a percentage of iron sufficient to give a marked reaction to the prussiate-of-potassium test. At Poncha Springs there is an abundant flow of a hot chalybeate water, containing in addition salts of sulphur, soda, lime, and magnesia in solution. The mean temperature of these springs is 150° Fahr., and they are considered to be very valuable in the cure of rheumatism and kindred troubles. The natural location of Poncha is one of the finest in the State, and it must in time become one of the well-known resorts. At present the hotel accommodations are meager and insufficient. Idaho Springs is a popular resort, adapted to both winter and summer. The springs furnish agreeable bathing, the climate is mild and stimulating; it is so sheltered from the winds as to be warm, even in winter, and socially it is attractive. The hot springs at Las Yegas, New Mexico, combine the advantages of a good winter climate, excellent hotel accommodations, and baths of natural hot water. The temperature of these springs varies from 71° to 136° Fahr., and they contain salts of soda and lime. We give tables showing the constituents of these several waters:

IN 100,000 PARTS OF SPRING-WATER ARE CONTAINED— Manitou. Manitou. Las Vegas. Idaho Springs. Wagon-wheel Gap.
Iron Ute, 44° F. (Wheeler expedition). Soda, 44° F. (Wheeler expedition). No. 18, 186° F. 110° F. 150° F. (Wheeler expedition).
Carbonate of soda 59·34    88·80    1·50    52·81    69·42   
Carbonate of lithia trace     trace            trace   
Carbonate of lime 59·04    108·50    3·01    16·32    13·08   
Carbonate of magnesia 14·56            4·94    10·91   
Carbonate of iron 5·78            7·07   
Sulphate of potassium 7·01    5·12            trace   
Sulphate of soda 30·86    37·08    17·72    50·34    23·73   
Chloride of soda 31·59    42·12    28·03    7·13    29·35   
Silica 2·69    trace    6·16    6·99    5·73   
Solid residue         57·00        trace   
Sulphate of magnesia             32·09   
   Total 210·87    281·62    113·42    177·69    152·12   

Denver itself makes a good winter resort, as it combines the comforts and attractions of a city with a dry, warm, and sunny climate. But no directions can be given as regards the place that is best suited to any individual case; that should be determined by some competent physician who would take into consideration the demands of the case and the season of the year. In the summer it is well for the invalid to go into the mountains, either camping out or going to some of the resorts; in the winter, let him do as the Indians did, come down to the edge of the plains.

The inclination to exercise to excess and to overdo is a tendency which the phthisical invalid should guard against. The increased activity of the heart, bearing in its train an increase of metamorphosis and an exalted vitality, frequently leads the invalid to overrate his strength and to exercise too violently. In this way irreparable injury is not infrequently done. The exhilaration produced by the tonic air, coupled with the restlessness incident to change of scene, often induce patients, who should be resting and becoming acclimated, to take long and exhausting walks, or to ride distances that would tax the energies of a well man. It is difficult for most phthisical invalids to understand that they are not as strong as they once were, and to teach them that exercise does not mean exhausting effort. There is a wrong impression, common to this class, which leads them to think that in order to regain health they must be in constant motion, and that the more they can be doing the sooner they will get well. They forget that their disease is in itself a tremendous drain upon their vitality, and that any additional strain is to be avoided. When the heart has become accustomed to the additional work put upon it, by reason of the increase in elevation, and the system has adapted itself to the new conditions by which it is surrounded, it is well to undertake exercise of a moderate character, and the best is riding horseback. Fortunately, the price of ponies (from sixty to one hundred dollars) is so reasonable and the sport so popular as to make this form of exercise both possible and attractive to every invalid.

There is another fallacy inherent in the minds of many consumptives, coming to Colorado, which should be mentioned; that is the idea that the climate is the only factor in the cure of phthisis, and that it will be sufficient for them simply to be breathing this dry air in order to secure a complete recovery. It is most absurd to imagine that an invalid can disregard all the laws of hygiene and health, can keep irregular hours, smoke incessantly, disregard all changes of temperature, expose himself in every possible way to cold, in order that he may become "toughened," and then expect that the climate is going to work wonders in curing his trouble. And yet many a one, leading just this type of life, grumbles at the climate, and wonders that he does not recover his health!

This leads us to speak of the matter of clothing. The ranges of temperature in Colorado are often very large, hence a person should be prepared for both warm and cold weather. In winter one should wear flannels and heavy clothes just as in New York; in summer thin garments will be comfortable at midday, but woolens will be needed at night. The air is so dry and rare, and the soil is so exposed and sandy, that both solar and terrestrial radiation are rapid. The sun's rays heat rapidly, and, they being withdrawn, the air is rapidly cooled. There is, however, this positive fact which makes thermometric variations unfair criteria on which to base comparisons as between Colorado and the East. As has been shown, this air is exceedingly dry, and consequently heat and cold, as indicated by the registration of the mercury, are not felt as much as in New York. Mists are seldom seen here, and dew is rarely deposited.

The question of occupation for the invalid is one of prime importance, and has almost as direct a bearing upon his recovery as have climate and proper care. Even if it be true that consumptives are, as a rule, sanguine about themselves, it is equally true that, if a man has nothing to think of but his health, he soon becomes a hypochondriac—a disease as much to be dreaded as any real malady—and every physician, who has had much experience with chronic invalids, knows how important it is that the mind should be "diverted." The writer regards it as a great mistake for the phthisical invalid to be without some definite plans and occupation. As soon as practicable, it is advisable for such a one to take up some pursuit, either of business or of study, which will give such occupation as is consistent with his physical condition. The geology, mineralogy, fauna and flora of this State, so rich in themselves and so different from those in the East, furnish, to one so disposed, ample fields of study and inquiry, the pursuit of which will be a help rather than a hindrance to recovery. The collecting of a cabinet, requiring as it would something of an out-of-door life, or the getting together of an herbarium of all the choice and unusual flowers and plants of this State, would furnish occupation of an instructive and diverting kind. If one undertakes to study even the birds, he will be surprised to find how many species there are, and will be equally astonished to discover among them his old friends the bobolink, wren, oriole, and the indigo-bird, of the Eastern States.

It may be a good thing for the person affected with phthisis to go into ranching, after he has been in the State long enough to know what he is about in doing so; but we enter a protest against the idea, which is somewhat prevalent in the East, that in order to recover his health the invalid should go on to a ranch and herd sheep. The reasons for making this protest are that such advice is frequently given, and, as we are led to judge, by physicians who have but the vaguest ideas of the nature of the course they are prescribing. The invalid, on coming to Colorado, needs to have life made as easy and pleasant for him as possible. As a rule, the sacrifices he has to make, in consequence of his sickness, render him for the time being peculiarly dependent upon sympathy. He should be so situated that he can have the benefit of pleasant society and diverting companionship. Now, ranch-life is necessarily somewhat rough and usually monotonous, and, when it comes to herding sheep, even a vigorous man, new at the business, finds it most irksome and fatiguing. We think it is a great mistake to increase the trials of an invalid by imposing upon him, in addition to a separation from his friends, an almost entire absence of companionship, a life that is rough in the extreme, and a dietary that is innutritions, uninviting, and monotonous. The average ranch-house is a miserable shanty, out on the plains, away from neighbors, where the usual diet is bacon floating in grease; hot flapjacks, made fresh with water and baking-powder; molasses, and coffee without milk.

If it be possible for the invalid to go to some nice ranch, near a village, where he can have good, wholesome diet, pleasant associates, out-of-door occupation, and where his hours will necessarily be regular, then the conditions for recovery are excellent. Such ranches are to be found. But the average ranch, on the plains, is much inferior to the average farm-house in the East, and the surroundings and diet are such as, at first, to try very severely the strongest man.

The matter of diet is one to which, as it seems to the writer, sufficient attention is not usually paid by the invalid. He should be so situated that he can have an abundance of plain, nutritious food, well cooked, and a variety sufficient to invite the palate. It stands to reason that if the waste in the system, produced by the disease, is not only to be made good, but if, in addition, as is desirable, the patient is to put on fat, he must take into his system material sufficient in quality and quantity wherewith to do it. Any place, be it on a ranch or at a boarding-house, where the table is uninviting and nauseous, is a bad one for the invalid, and one that he should leave as soon as possible. It is on this ground that we base a good deal of our objection to ranch-life. As indicated, the food is usually poor in quality, insufficient in quantity, and indigestible. Contrary to what might be supposed, even on a cattle-ranch, milk is seldom to be had, and, if the black coffee is to be drunk au lait, it is made so with condensed milk. The life, also, is monotonous and trying, and the distance from medical assistance, if needed, is so great as to be, in hæmorrhagic cases, of serious importance. The writer is convinced that ranch-life, the so-called "ranch-cure for consumptives," especially those just out from the East, is a mistake; and he is certain that its good qualities, in giving occupation and an out-of-door life, are to be had without the bad ones, by going to some one of the many towns on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

In conclusion, it may be appropriate to speak very briefly of the classes of pulmonary troubles to which this climate is adapted. It will not be possible to give a complete list, nor to attempt to catalogue the varieties, but merely to mention, in the most general way, the kinds of pulmonary disease that experience has shown to be relieved in Colorado. It may not be inappropriate to begin with a strong negative, and to say that this climate is not adapted to persons suffering from the last stages of phthisis. The elevation and rarity of the air throw so much extra work on the already embarrassed heart and lungs that the difficulty is increased and the end is only hastened. Such cases need the comforts of home, and the consolation of friends, more than change of scene or climate; and we protest against the cruelty of sending such invalids to Colorado as a dernier ressort, when the probable issue will be that they have been subjected to an exhausting and fatiguing journey only to give up their life, in a short time, in a strange land. The opinion that the altitude is not suited to hæmorrhagic cases is generally discountenanced by the medical profession in this State. Such cases are found to do very well here if they be taken early enough; and experience shows that there is nothing in mere altitude to increase the tendency to relapses. Even those cases where there is a strong hereditary tendency to phthisis are found to do admirably in this climate, provided they come early enough. The so-called catarrhal pneumonias, in the early stages, where resolution is slow, are admirably adapted to this climate. Bronchitic and asthmatic patients find relief and cure here. Where heart-lesions exist, especially if they be complicated with dilatation, elevation is contraindicated. Many cases of nasal and pharyngeal catarrh do admirably here, and deafness, arising from chronic catarrh of the middle ear, is frequently cured. In general, Colorado will be found to be an admirable resort for enfeebled and debilitated persons who need rest, change of scene, and general "toning up."

It has become a by-word that there are two classes of persons who come to Colorado—those who come to get health, and those who come for wealth. We think that the former more often realize their anticipations, and, having found a new interest in life, in consequence of their return to health, they show their appreciation and gratitude by remaining in the air and sunshine that have made "life new around them." How often one hears the expression, "I owe everything to Colorado air," it is impossible to say; but so large a class of our population have sought and found a restoration of health here, that one can not refrain from carrying the good tidings to the thousands upon thousands in the East who are seeking wherewith they may be cured.


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  1. "Science," vol. ii, No. 35, p. 460.