Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/209

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197
THE REMEDIES OF NATURE.

patients by attacking the outward symptoms of the disorder. Habitual overeating produced a sick-headache: they applied a blister to the head. Impure blood covered the neck with ulcers: they applied a salve to the neck. The alcohol-vice resulted in a rheumatic affection of the knee-joint: they covered the knee-pan with leeches. They suppressed the alarm-signals of the disease, but, before the patient could really recover, his constitution had to overcome both the malady and the medicine.

3. We risk to confound an appeal for rest with an appeal for active interference, and thus to turn a transient and necessary suspension of an organic function into an actual disease. Numerous enteric disorders, or bowel-complaints, are thus artificially developed. The marvelous self-regulating principle of the human organism now and then limits the activity of special organic functions, in order to defray an unusual expenditure of vital energy. The after-dinner lassitude can thus be explained: the process of digestion engrosses the energies of the system. Mental labor retards digestion; a strenuous muscular effort often suspends it entirely for hours together. Fevers, wounds, etc., have an astringent tendency: the potential resources of the organism are engaged in a process of reconstruction. Perspiration is Nature's effort to counteract the influence of an excessive degree of heat, and, when the effect of sun-heat is aggravated by calorific food and superfluous clothing, the work of reducing the temperature of the blood almost monopolizes the energies of the system, while at the same time the diminished demand for animal caloric lessens the influence of a chief stimulus of organic activity. Warm weather, therefore, indisposes to active exercise, and produces a (temporary) tendency to costiveness. That tendency is neither abnormal nor morbid, and to counteract it by dint of drastic drugs means to create, instead of curing, a disease. If a foot-messenger stops at the wayside to tie his shoe-strings, the time thus employed is not wasted. The sudden application of a horsewhip would force him to take as suddenly to his heels, but during his flight he might lose his way, and perhaps his shoes.

With a few exceptions, which we shall presently notice, chronic constipation results from the abuse of aperient medicines. A spell of dry, warm weather, sedentary work in an overheated room, a change from summer to winter diet—perhaps a mere temporary abstinence from a wonted dish of aperient food—has diminished the stools of an otherwise healthy child. The simultaneous want of appetite yields to a short fast, but the stringency of the bowels continues, and on the third day the parents administer a laxative. That for the next twenty-four hours the patient feels considerably worse than before does not shake their faith in the value of the drug; the main purpose has been attained—the "bowels move." Properly speaking, that movement is an abnormal convulsion, a reaction against the obtrusion of a drastic poison, which has "cured" the stringency of the bowels as a shower-