Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/103

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.





EVERY one has tried the experiment of "holding the breath," and has found that after the lapse of a minute, or a minute and a half at the farthest, there supervenes a most peculiar and intolerable kind of anguish. Nature then takes the management of the lungs out of our hands into hers, and we breathe in spite of ourselves. The distress felt at such times we think of when we read of a death by drowning or hanging; and, although it has been asserted over and over again that such a death is painless, hardly any one really believes it. And yet I think it can be shown not only that drowning and hanging are painless modes of death, but why they are so.

When a person, who cannot swim, falls into deep water, he is seized with a sudden and tremendous fright. The exceptions to this rule are too few to be worth noticing. This fright, of itself, kills some persons, and they go to the bottom like a plummet. Women are very apt to faint, and, as they sink beneath the surface and respiration still goes on involuntarily, they probably drown before they regain consciousness. Plethoric persons, or those in whom the degenerative processes of old age have weakened the coats of the arteries, may have a stroke of apoplexy, partly from the sudden emotional shock, and partly from the chill of the water, which, by driving the blood from the surface, over-fills the vessels of the internal organs. In fact, it is estimated by Taylor, in his "Medical Jurisprudence," that of all drowned persons twenty-five per cent, die of pure asphyxia, and in the remainder the asphyxia is complicated by syncope and apoplexy. The chances are, then, three out of four, that a person who falls into the water and drowns will die a painless death, because he becomes insensible on the instant. But what about the remaining fourth?

In the first place, it is to be remarked that persons who have come so near drowning as to be unconscious when taken from the water, and so must have passed through all the suffering that attends death by drowning, say that they remember no feeling of pain whatever. This declaration must have great weight, for it is not to be supposed that they could forget such terrible distress as that which follows when the respiration is suspended voluntarily. They all describe their feeling much in the same way: "I remember falling into the water. It was dreadfully cold. I felt my clothes clinging about me and hampering my movements, and as I rose to the surface I gasped for breath. My mouth was filled with water, and I sank again. I was chilled through and through; then a sort of delirium came over me, and there was a ringing in my ears. I remember nothing more." The last symptom