Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/208

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ABOUT a century before the birth of the Emperor Augustus, the most popular physician in Rome was the Grecian philosopher Asclepiades. His system seems to have resembled that of our "movement-cure" doctors. Instead of being stuffed with drugs, his patients were invited to his palæstra, a sort of out-door gymnasium or hygienic garden, where they were doctored with gymnastics, wholesome comestibles, and, as some writers assert, with flattery—probably courteous attention to the jeremiads of crapulent senators. At all events, his method proved eminently successful, though we need not doubt that all respectable druggists retailed canards about his establishment. He had devised a special course of gymnastics for every disorder of the human organism, and repeatedly declared that he would utterly renounce the claim to the title of a physician if he should ever be sick for a single day. Medicines he rejected on the ground that they accomplish by violent means what the palæstra-method would effect in an easier way.

Still, in certain cases, a short, sharp remedy might be preferable to an easy-going one, but unfortunately there is a more serious objection to the use of drugs, viz., the danger of complicating instead of curing the disease. For—1. The diagnosis may fail to establish the true cause of the disorder. No watch-maker would undertake to explain the irregularities of a timepiece by merely listening to a description of the symptoms, and before he can trace the effect to its cause he must minutely inspect the interior mechanism. But a physician is not only generally obliged to content himself with the evidence of the external symptoms, but he has to deal with an apparatus so infinitely more complex than the most intricate chronometer, that, even under normal circumstances, the process of its plainest functions has never been fully explained.[1]

2. We risk to mistake the suppression of the symptoms for the suppression of the disease. We would try in vain to subdue a conflagration by demolishing the fire-bells, but on exactly the same principle the mediæval drug-mongers attempted to restore the health of their

  1. "Every organic process is a miracle, that is, in every essential sense an unexplained phenomenon."—Lorenz Oken.

    "He obstinately refused to take medicine. "Doctor," said he, "no physicking. Do not counteract the living principle. Let it alone; leave it the liberty of defending itself; it will do better than your drugs. The watch-maker can not open it, and must, in handling it, grope his way blindfold and at random. For once that he assists and relieves, by dint of torturing it with crooked instruments, he injures it ten times, and at last destroys it." (Scott's "Life of Napoleon," p. 368.)