Popular Science Monthly/Volume 23/May 1883/The Remedies of Nature I
|THE REMEDIES OF NATURE.|
THE organism of the human body is a self-regulating apparatus. Every interruption of its normal functions excites a reaction against the disturbing cause. If a grain of caustic potash irritates the nerves of the palate, the salivary glands try to remove it by an increased secretion. The eye would wash it off by an immediate flow of tears. A larger quantity of the same substance could be swallowed only under the protest of the fauces, and the digestive organs would soon find means to eject it. The bronchial tubes promptly react against the obtrusion of foreign substances. The sting of an insect causes an involuntary twitching of the epidermis. If a thorn or splinter fastens itself under the skin, suppuration prepares the way for its removal. If the stomach be overloaded with food, it revolts against further ingestion.
These automatic agencies of the organism generally suffice to counteract the disturbing cause, and the sensory symptoms attending the process of reconstruction constitute merely a plea for non-interference. The suppurating tissues push the thorn outward, and resent only a pressure in the opposite direction. The eye volunteers to rid itself of the sand-dust, but remonstrates against friction. The rum-soaked system of the toper undertakes to eliminate the poison, and only asks that the consequences of the outrage be not aggravated by its repetition. But, if that plea remains unheeded, it finally takes the form of the emphatic protest we call disease. For, even in its urgent manifestations, the reaction against a violation of Nature's health-laws is a cry for peace, rather than a petition for active assistance in the form of medication. "Accustom yourself in all your little pains and aches," says Dr. Jennings, "and also in your grave and more distressing affections, to regard the movement concerned in them in a friendly aspect—designed for and tending to the removal of a difficulty of whose existence you were before unaware, and which, if suffered to remain and accumulate, might prove the destruction of the house you live in—and that, instead of its needing to be 'cured,' it is itself a curative operation; and that what should be called disease lies back of the symptoms which, in fact, are made for the express purpose of removing the real disorder or difficulty" ("Medical Reform," p. 310).
Drugs can rarely do more than change the form of the disease, or postpone its crisis. Mercurial salve, which conscientious physicians have almost ceased to regard as a lesser evil of any alternative, was once a favorite prescription for all kinds of cutaneous diseases: it cleansed the skin by driving the ulcers from the surface to the interior of the body. A drastic purge counteracts constipation—for a day or two—by inducing a still less desirable state of artificial dysentery. Combined with venesection the same "remedy" will suppress the symptoms of various inflammatory affections by compelling the exhausted system to postpone the crisis of the disease; in other words, by interrupting a curative process. The best way to "assist" Nature in such cases is to give her fair play by forbearing to meddle with her restorative methods, and by removing the predisposing cause of the disorder. Diseases plead for desistance, rather than for assistance, and the discovery of the cause is the discovery of the remedy. For there is a strong upward and healthward tendency in the constitution of every living organism: Nature's revenge is but an enforced condition of peace. Pain, discomfort, and even the premature loss of organic vigor, are the attendant symptoms of a reconstructive process, and their permanence is a presumptive proof that, in spite of such admonitions, that process is a struggle against a permanent obstacle, or against a constantly repeated frustration of its efforts.
To this self-regulating tendency of the living organism, certain disorders (the lues veneris, prurigo, etc.)—probably due to the agency of microscopic parasites—oppose a life-energy of their own, and have thus far resisted the influence of hygienic or non-medicinal remedies. But, with that exception, it may be laid down as a general rule that the virulence and duration of every disease are proportioned to the degree and the contumacy of the provocation—a retribution proportioned to the degree of the guilt, we should say, if Nature did not administer her code after the principle that ignorance of the law constitutes no excuse. The ignorant mother who, with the best intentions in the world, forces her child to sleep in an air-tight bedroom, incurs the penalties of an inexorable law as surely as the vicious father who tempts his child to a life of infamy.
In the aggregate, hygienic errors cause more mischief than hygienic recklessness; and, if we would know the most baneful of those errors, we must inquire after the cause of the most fatal disease. The alcohol habit slays its thousands every year; but statistics prove that human life has a more terrible foe. The proportion of deaths from all diseases that can be ascribed to the effects of intemperance relates as three and a half to ten in Northern Europe, and as four to ten in the United States and Canada—to the mortality-rate of pulmonary consumption. Without counting acute pneumonia and other fatal lung-diseases, tubercular phthisis alone claims yearly one life out of 410 to 415; or an aggregate which, for the United States, has been estimated at 94,000; in Great Britain and Ireland, 110,000 (or one of every 300 inhabitants); in France, 80,000; in European Russia, 105,000; in Northern Germany (including the Polish provinces of Prussia), 82,000. And the quantum of the mischief is still aggravated by its quality. Consumption fulfills no scavenger's mission: the most voracious is, withal, the most fastidious disease, and selects its victims from the most industrious classes of the noblest nations; hard-working mechanics, devoted supporters of large families, bread-winning laborers and prize-winning students are its favorite victims. For the last fifty years its ravages have steadily increased; but the excess of the evil has finally revealed the means of deliverance, and the worst scourge of the human race has one redeeming feature: that its cause, and consequently its proper cure, have at last been determined with absolute certainty. Not more than fifty years ago the consumption-problem was still the crux medicorum; the disease seemed almost unaccountable and wholly incurable. Practical physicians had ascertained the value of certain secondary remedies, the prophylactic influence of fat and phosphates (cod-liver oil, etc.), and of chest-expanding gymnastics; but they had failed to recognize the great specific. Misled by the most prevalent of all popular delusions—the Cold-Air Fallacy—they ascribed consumption to the influence of a low temperature, and tried to cure it by sending their wealthier patients to a warmer climate and the poorer to an air-tight sick-room. There were hospitals for consumptives where invalids were nursed with a care that would have insured recovery from almost every other disease, but here all calculations were defeated by the result of one wrong factor; the chief efficacy of the treatment was supposed to depend upon the exclusion of every draught of fresh air.
But statistics have at last exploded that delusion. It was ascertained that consumption is essentially a house-disease. North or south, east or west, the death-rate from lung-diseases was found to bear an exact proportion to the percentage of the inhabitants habitually engaged in sedentary and in-door occupations. Towns suffer more than the rural districts, cities more than country towns, manufacturing cities more than commercial and semi-agricultural cities, weaver-towns more than foundry-towns. "If a perfectly sound man is imprisoned for life," says Baron d'Arblay, the Belgian philanthropist, "his lungs, as a rule, will first show symptoms of disease, and shorten his misery by a hectic decline, unless he should commit suicide."
Moreover, it was shown that in non-manufacturing (uncivilized or pastoral) regions a low temperature seems to afford a protection against pulmonary disorders. Professor Jacoud found that, at an elevation of four thousand feet, the cold Alpine districts of Northern Savoy are almost free from lung-diseases. The medical statistics of the Austrian army have established the fact that recruits from the Tyrol, from Carinthia, and the Carpathians (Transylvania), i. e., from the highest, and consequently the coldest, provinces of the empire, enjoy a remarkable immunity from tubercular consumption. Dr. Hjaltelin, a resident of Iceland, states that among the inhabitants of that country pulmonary diseases are almost unknown.
But in the temperate zone consumption-statistics alone would enable us to infer the amount of dust-breathing and in-door work incidental to the pursuit of each trade. In the Italian cities that have largely engaged in the production of textile fabrics, consumption has become as frequent as in Lancashire. Irrespective of race-differences and special dietetic habits, the habitual breathing of vitiated air leads to the development of pulmonary scrofula. And science has furnished the rationale of that result. Physiology has demonstrated that air is gaseous food, and respiration a process of digestion. The atmosphere furnishes the raw material of the pulmonary pabulum; at each inspiration the organism of the lungs imbibes the oxygenous or nutritive principle of the air-draught, and excretes the indigestible elements. By breathing the same air over and over again, the atmospheric aliment becomes azotized, i. e., depleted of its life-sustaining principle, and therefore unfit to supply the wants of the animal economy. The continued inhalation of such vitiated air fills the respiratory organs with indigestible elements, which gradually accumulate beyond the dislodging ability of the vital forces, and at last corrupt the tissue of the congested organ and favor the development of parasites. Consumption is one of the diseases that seem to confirm the tenets of the germ-theory. A tubercular diathesis is favored by stagnant impurities of the circulatory system, by a warm and humid climate, and counteracted by cold air and other antiseptics. Six years ago a German physician demonstrated that the progress of pulmonary scrofula can be arrested by a pectoral injection of carbolic acid; and one of his countrymen lately ascertained that the tubercle-virus is alive with microscopic parasites, that multiply like the spores of a prolific mushroom. The first development of these lung-devourers would seem to amount to a sentence of speedy death; yet their fecundity hardly exceeds that of certain intestinal parasites, and the vis vitæ has methods of her own for dealing with such foes, and is ever ready to begin the battle for life, on the sole condition that we do not complicate the difficulties of the undertaking by counteracting her efforts or by perpetuating the influence of the original cause. Cease to feed the lungs with azotic gases, and Dr. Koch's animalcula will starve and disappear as surely as maw-worms will starve and disappear if we change a pork and sourcrout diet for bread and apples.
About the comparative advantages of a dry and cold or moist and tropical climate, opinions are divided, with a preponderance of arguments in favor of the former; but so much is certain, that in all latitudes of the temperate zone the disease known as pulmonary consumption is caused by the breathing of vitiated air and can be subdued by out-door exercise. In certain cases cured would be an ambiguous term. The respiration of vitiated (azotized and dust-impregnated) air results in the corruption of the pulmonary tissues, and finally in a process of disintegration that fills the structure of the lungs with ulcerous cavities. These cavities often cicatrize, but it is not probable that they can be entirely healed, i. e., that the wasted tissues can be reproduced. Yet in all but its last stages the progress of the disease can be arrested by out-door life alone. The voice of instinct adds its testimony to the teaching of science. In the language of our senses, every feeling of discomfort suggests its own remedy. If the proximity of a glowing stove begins to roast your shins, the alarmed nerves cry out—not for patent ointments, not for anti-caustic liniments and "pain-killers," but for a lower temperature. Nothing else will permanently appease them. Millions of prisoners, school-children, and factory-slaves, pine for lung-food as a starving man yearns for bread; and that hunger can not be stilled with cough-pills, but only with fresh air.
There are adjuvant remedies which will be noticed hereafter, but their co-operation is not indispensable. Without a sufficient supply of wholesome food, without warm clothes, without domestic comforts, under the disadvantage even of excessive hardships and protracted fasts, a three months' mountain-excursion, with or without tents, will cure all the symptoms of the disease with the exception of an accelerated pulse and a panting respiration during active exercise. Canadian trappers who leave their supply-camp with a bad cough, get rid of it on the fifth or sixth day "out." They may get foot-sore, and, if game is scarce, hipped and homesick, but the feeling of haleness about the chest continues. Night-frosts do not affect it. Fatigues rather improve it. They may wake up with a feeling of frost-cramp from their chilblained toes to their shivering knees, but the lungs are at ease: no cough, no asthmatic distress, no stitch-like pains, no night-fever. An old campaigner would laugh at the idea of "colds" being taken in the open air. He knows that they germinate in close bedrooms and flourish in musty beer-shops, but vanish in the prairie-wind. If he is a government teamster and sells his meat-rations for brandy, he may know that sun-heat and fire-water are burning his candle at both ends; he may see trouble ahead, but he is sure that it will not come in the form of lung-trouble. Koch's lung-parasites do not thrive upon a fresh-air diet.
After the tuberculous cachexy has once been subdued, a moderate daily dose of Nature's specific will suffice to maintain, or even to fortify, the recovered vantage-ground. A foot-trip across the continent would regenerate the respiratory organs, but even a stroll across the next meadow will be booked to the credit of our health account. The human organism is a savings-bank for the elements of vital strength, and in the form of fresh air it accepts the smallest deposits. In stress of circumstances, an hour per day of active exercise will help to keep the lungs catarrh-proof, and that hour may even be subdivided. Buy a large umbrella, and make it a rule to walk on your way to market, to your place of business, or to church; or at least part of the way, if the distance is great and your time limited. In the evening take a large satchel and go a mile out of your way to patronize a good fruit dealer or a vender of old books—or fill the satchel at home, and earn the blessings of a poor family in the factory-suburb. Street-rambles should have a proximate object; the regulation-walk on general principles is too apt to be shirked on very slight pretexts. If you have a garden of your own, fence off a digging corner and prospect for geological specimens. If you have a wood-shed, import an old stump-log (hickory preferred), and do not be too particular about keeping your axe sharp. Ventilate your office; keep a stove and an overcoat in your workshop, and open the windows every now and then. Open the dining-room windows in the forenoon and the kitchen-windows in the afternoon; no force-ventilator can compete with the effect of a direct influx of atmospheric air. If you teach a class or work in a warehouse or counting-house, prevail upon the managers to ventilate the place during the dinner-recess, or else try to do your work in the airiest corner, near a window or near the door of a vacant side-room or hall. In ill-ventilated rooms the azote miasma has its centers of density that can be avoided with a little management.
But at all events get rid of the night-air superstition, and enjoy the blessing of an airy bedroom—the luxury, I might add. A natural instinct may be suppressed, but needs but little encouragement to resume its normal functions, like a river returning to its ancient channel. Thus the fresh-air instinct. In families cursed with the night-air superstition, children are ofter fuddled with miasma till they prefer it to fresh air, and dislike to sleep near an open window. But, in a single month, that aversion can be changed into a decided predilection, till the cool breath of the night-wind becomes a chief condition of a good night's rest, and the closing of the bedroom windows creates a feeling of uneasiness not unlike the discomfort induced by an attempt to sleep with your head under the blankets. In the sleeping-dens of the French village-taverns, where, after September, the window-sashes are actually nailed down, the children of a hygienic home would pine for a draught of oxygen as a sweltering traveler thirsts after fresh water.
Besides open windows, Dio Lewis recommends an open fire-place and a good wood-fire all night; but that is a matter of taste: an extra blanket will serve the same purpose, and the danger of damp bedclothes  in winter has been as strangely exaggerated as have the perils of cold drinking-water in midsummer.
In stormy nights a half-closed "rain-shutter" (a window-blind with broad bars) will keep the room perfectly dry without excluding the air. If the mercury sinks below zero, close every window in the house. Intense cold is a disinfectant, that purifies even the air of the hide-covered dungeons where the natives of the polar regions pass the long winter nights. In the dog-days, on the other hand, do not be satisfied with anything less than a thorough draught; open every window in and around the bedroom. Consumption has been recognized as a zymotic disease, and sultry heat favors the development of all morbific germs.
Where the prejudice against open windows has been cured, the cold-air superstition often lingers in the form of a repugnance to outdoor exercise in winter. After the last of October thousands of convalescents suspend their morning rambles, and the hectic symptoms soon reappear. The aggravation of the disease may scare the patients into a warmer climate, but most of them would rather breathe sickroom miasma than the winter air of a high latitude. The truth is, that the prophylactic influence of the out-door atmosphere depends less upon its temperature than upon its purity, and for the open-air treatment of lung-diseases a cold, clear winter morning is more propitious than a dusty summer day. The contrast is shown in the effect. A single hour's exercise in the skating-ring or under a snow-covered wood-shed, a sleigh-ride, a brisk walk through an ice-glittering park, will ease the respiratory organs more effectually than a week of languid rambles through the dust and heat of an Italian campagna.
In larger cities, especially, a good frost defectates the lung-poisoning effluvia of the slum-alleys, while heat aggravates their offensiveness. In the cities of our Atlantic seaboard July is about the most unfragrant month in the year, and August the dustiest. Soon after the summer solstice wealthy invalids should, therefore, pack their camping-gear for the Alleghany highlands, and arrange for their return by the end of October. Patrons of a transatlantic passenger line had better go a month sooner, to avoid the midsummer nightmares of a superheated cabin. European tourists can combine the useful with the agreeable by doing their sight-seeing afoot; but they should remember that Alpine morning breezes can not always neutralize the bedroom air of a South-German tavern, and that sultry heat aggravates the effects of mal-ventilation. The German, Austrian, and Russian shepherds stay the whole summer with their flocks, but, as a class, are nevertheless remarkably subject to pulmonary diseases, and for the following reason: They pass the night in a Schäfer-hütte, a sort of ambulance-box, eight feet by four, and six feet high, without windows, but with a tight-fitting sliding-door. This door the ill advised proprietor shuts after dark, and breathes all night the azotized air of his Black Hole of Calcutta on wheels. In the morning he awakens with a hacking cough, superadded to a profuse perspiration and a feeling of nausea. The air of the mountain meadows gradually relieves the other symptoms, but not the cough, which finally becomes chronic; and, with exquisite facilities for the attainment of a patriarchal longevity, the slave of the night-air superstition dies in the forenoon of his life.
Mal-nutrition, combined with a tubercular diathesis, hastens the macerative (or "hectic") stage of the disease. Air is gaseous food, and the body of an ill-fed man who stints his lungs in life-air is thus suffering under a compound system of starvation. Hence the occasional rapidity in the development of tubercular consumption, and its frightful ravages in the homes of the poor, and in the stuffy tenements of French dress-makers and Silesian weavers, where a perpetual air famine aggravates the want of bread.
Fat is the best lung-food, and, among all fat-containing substances, fresh, sweet cream is about the best, and salt pork the worst. There is a close correlation between consumption and the various scrofulous affections; "pulmonary scrofula" is, indeed, sometimes used as a synonym of tuberculosis. The French physiologist Villemin found that in Guinea-pigs, rabbits, and other animals, the symptoms of tuberculosis can be artificially produced by a repeated inoculation with scrofula virus; and in the children of scrofulous parents the inherited taint often leads to the development of a malignant form of tuberculosis. Consumptives should therefore avoid all scorbutific articles of diet: salt meat, pickles, indigestible made dishes, rancid fat, pungent spices, cheese, and all kinds of intoxicating liquors. A predilection for such diet is often encouraged by the circumstance that in the incipient stages of consumption it can be indulged without apparent inconvenience to the digestive organs. The victims of pulmonary disorders often enjoy an omnivorous appetite. But they should not forget that their diseased lungs act as an absorbent of all morbid matter, and that the immunities of the digestive apparatus are purchased at the expense of the respiratory organs.
Pathological conditions, involving an abnormal waste of tissue, require, indeed, an extra supply of nutritive aliments, and the patient may claim the right to indulge his appetite in regard to the quantity of his food, but he should earn that right by restricting himself in regard to the quality. His diet should be nutritious, non-stimulating, and slightly aperient; the regulation of the quantum may be trusted to the promptings of Nature. The first full meal, however, should not be taken before the morning exercise. Those who are in the habit of wasting the energy of the day's prime on the digestion of a massive breakfast may palliate their craving with a glass of sweet milk, or a piece of brown bread, dabbed with treacle or cream. Fresh cream, Graham bread, honey, beans baked with butter instead of pork, and a liberal dessert of such fruit as sweet grapes, pears, strawberries, or stewed prunes, at about 1 p. m. At six or seven a similar meal; for the sake of variety, perhaps buckwheat-cakes instead of bread, and apple butter instead of honey. In point of quantity let the supper rival the dinner, with the proviso that the rules of the bedroom hygiene shall be duly observed, for, if the vigor of the digestive organs is aided by a liberal supply of oxygen, it is a fallacy to suppose that the night is an unfavorable time for the assimilation of a hearty meal. Animals rest after repletion, and some of them never sleep till they have a good meal to digest. There is no doubt that after meals neither mental nor muscular exertion is favorable to the performance of the organic functions which concur to effect the nutrition of the system. And, if the stomach can bear it, before going to bed an extra glass or two of sweetened cream may be taken— not as a food, but as a medicine. It is an established fact that fat counteracts a tuberculous diathesis. The inhabitants of the polar regions consume enormous quantities of non-nitrogenous food. Our negroes, to whom the climate of the United States must be semi-polar, lose no opportunity to gorge themselves with fat meat. The poor monkeys of our Northern menageries are ravenously fond of sweet milk and cream; instinct teaches them that fat stifles tubercles. The dairy-districts of the chilly Netherlands enjoy a remarkable immunity from pulmonary diseases. Sandor Czoma, the Hungarian traveler, who passed several years in the highlands of Thibet, states that the Thibetan (Buddhist) monks prolong the lives of consumptives by heroic doses of clarified butter.
The Æsculaps of the future will issue their almanacs with a list of household remedies. The knowledge of a few simple dietetic correctives would enable thousands to dispense with the use of costly patent medicines. Common sugar is an effective receipt for depurating the morbid secretions of the air-passages. It relieves hoarseness, and in bronchial affections alleviates the painful, dry cough, by loosening the phlegm and relaxing the stringency of the laryngeal muscles. Various kinds of sweet fruits share this property, and the most palatable form of the specific is perhaps the saccharine element of good layer-raisins. California raisins are now retailed at ten to twenty-five cents a pound, and half a pound of a medium quality can be warranted to afford as much relief as a dollar-bottle of the best cough-sirup. Besides, the demulcents of Nature induce no unpleasant after-effect, while repeated doses of medicated sirup soon become nauseating. A quart of cold water, either pure or slightly sweetened, taken just before going to bed, is a pulmonary febrifuge, and a reliable preventive of night sweats. It also promotes the easy breathing which to far-gone consumptives comes otherwise only after hours of troubled sleep. Dyspnoea, or want of breath, like dyspeptic asthma, can be greatly alleviated by an aperient diet: water-melons and buttermilk in summer, and baked beans, peas, or lentils, in winter. Combined with out-door exercise, digestive correctives often afford permanent relief from the distress of asthmatic affections, for that dyspnoea does not necessarily indicate an irremediable waste of pulmonary tissue is proved by the fact that it often occurs and permanently disappears with the symptoms that characterize the transient affections of the upper air-passages.
Permanence of relief is the best criterion for the value of a remedial agent. The cathartics and alcoholic stimulants of the old-school practitioners suppressed the symptoms of the disease, but the supposed relief was nothing but an interruption of a reconstructive process. While the vital forces were fighting the battle of life against the chronic enemy, we obliged them to suspend their efforts in that direction, in order to meet a more imminent danger at another point; for Nature can fight only one disease at a time. If an asthmatic person is seized with a climatic fever, the respiratory trouble is temporarily suspended: Nature, as it were, postpones the asthma-case in order to give her undivided attention to the fever-affair. Fever and ague give way to small-pox, a drunken man can be "sobered up" by an heroic dose of arsenic, and intoxication relieves the pangs of neuralgia, gout, and rheumatism—for a day. But, at the end of the day, the mal-exorcised demon returns with seven accomplices, and Nature has to resume the original struggle with diminished chances of success—shorn of just as much strength as she had to expend in combating the additional enemy. The exorcist then repeats his dose, but finds that he has to increase the quantum: the exhausted system at last ceases to react against the provocation, and in order to obtain temporary relief the patient must resort to stronger and stronger stimulants.
There is a more excellent way: trust in the wisdom of Nature, and a careful husbanding of the vital forces—by continence, for instance. Sexual excesses, combined with mal-nutrition, are such potent allies of pulmonary consumption that Dr. Zimmermann calls tubercles "Thränen der Armuth und Reue nach innen geweint" ("tears of poverty and repentance wept inward"). That dreadful disease known as "galloping consumption" often results from the co-operation of the three chief enemies of the human organism: impure air, intemperance, and incontinence. The causes of all violent (or painfully suppressed) mental emotions should also be avoided. Give gambling-houses a wide berth. Deprecate quarrels, especially quarrels with superiors. Suppressed wrath has often resulted in fatal hæmorrhages. Consumptives need all the sleep they can get, and must abstain from night-work and nocturnal revels. They should also avoid crowded assemblies, not because of the excitement and the temptation to late hours only, but on account of the danger of infection. For consumption is a contagious disease, though not in the conventional sense of the word. The matter is this: the germs of tuberculosis have no direct effect on the respiratory organs of a healthy person, though cases are on record where the constant breathing of a tainted atmosphere has communicated the disease from husbands to wives, or from patients to nurses. But, after a tubercular diathesis has once been fairly developed, the diseased lungs become extremely sensitive to the contagion of all pulmonary diseases; the tubercle-seeds, as Dr. Koch's theory would explain it, fall upon a receptive soil—the sores of the half-healed vomicæ. Dr. Koch, of Breslau, traced the propagative principle of the tubercle-virus to the development of microscopic animalcula, and I predict that similar parasites will yet be discovered in the morbid secretions of the upper air-passages. This sensitiveness continues after the idiopathic symptoms of the disease have been brought well under control; and observation would show that a ten minutes' interview with a sufferer from catarrh, or a short visit to a reading-room, where swollen-faced children are hacking and coughing, suffices (often before the end of the first day) to prove the contagiousness of those affections.
But, if the danger is recognized in time, the virus can be worked off out-door exercise. Catarrhs can thus be nipped in the bud. I speak from personal experience: I have tried the experiment at all times of the year, and always with the same result, even in one case where my plan of operation involved a ten hours' march across a snow-covered mountain-range. I reached the camp foot-sore and almost feverish with exhaustion; but the catarrh, too, had exhausted its resources, and the next morning I awakened with half-healed feet and wholly-cured bronchi. One day of pedestrian fatigues had saved me two weeks of pulmonary distress.
Next to fresh air, active exercise is the best prophylactic:
"Dem Athleten wird vergeben
Was der Schwächling theuer büsst."
By stimulating the action of the circulatory system, gymnastics promote the elimination of morbific matter; disease-germs are removed before they have time to take root. Every gymnastic apparatus is worth dozens of patent medicines; the beneficial effect of the "movement-cure" is permanent, as well as safe and prompt. The five gymnastic specifics for pulmonary disorders are dumb-bells, Indian-clubs, long-handled oars, spears, and a grapple-swing. Ger-werfen, or spear-throwing, is a popular pastime of the Turner-Hall. The missile is a javelin of some tough wood, about ten feet long and as thick as a common axe-handle. It terminates either in an iron lance-head, or in a brass knob, to keep the wood from splintering. A rough-hewed log-man, with a movable head, forms the target, and the problem is to decapitate the figure from a distance of about twenty paces for tyros and forty for veteran lancers. The shock of the throw expands the chest, and has a magical influence on the stitch-like pains of a lingering pleuritic affection. It is a mechanical anaesthetic for all kinds of pulmonary disorders. The grapple-swing consists of a pair of iron (leather-covered) rings, suspended at a height of about four feet from the floor, and affords opportunities — if not facilities — for a great variety of acrobatic exercises. The complex evolutions are somewhat arduous, but even the simplest use of the contrivance — swinging to and fro like a pendulum — exerts a mitigating influence on the strictures of the respiratory organs, dyspnoea, and asthmatic troubles. Faute de mieux, trundling a wheelbarrow, with a gradual increase of the load, chopping or sawing wood, or grubbing out stumps with a mattock, is worth ship-loads of cough-sirup, though it is doubtful in what degree the individual predilections of the patient might bias his choice.
But people of means and leisure can remove that doubt by making out-door exercise pleasant enough to be preferable to any drug; and the following plan would combine, under the most favorable conditions, the best atmospheric, gymnastic, and dietetic remedies for the disorders of the respiratory organs.
[To be concluded.]
- "Dry and intensely cold air preserves decaying organic tissues by arresting decomposition, and it would be difficult to explain how the most effective remedy came to be suspected of being the cause of tuberculosis, unless we remember that, where fuel is accessible, the disciples of civilization rarely fail to take refuge from excessive cold in its opposite extreme an overheated, artificial atmosphere, and thus come to connect severe winters with the idea of pectoral complaints. . . . They avoid cold instead of impurity, just as tipplers, on a warm day, imagine that they would 'catch their death' by a draught from a cool fountain, but never hesitate to swallow the monstrous mixtures of the liquor venders" ("Physical Education," p. 80; compare pp. 85, 98, and 248).
- "I shall not attempt to explain why damp clothes occasion cold, rather than wet ones, because I doubt the fact; I imagine that neither the one nor the other contributes to that effect, and that the causes of ' colds ' are totally independent of wet, and even of cold" (Benjamin Franklin's "Essays," p. 216).
- "The rate of life, and consequently the amount of disintegration, in any organized structure, depend in great measure upon the temperature at which it is maintained; and thus it happens that the production of carbonic acid from this source, at the ordinary rate of vital activity, is much more rapid in warm-blooded than in cold-blooded animals, and that the former suffer far more speedily than the latter from the privation of air. But, when the temperature of the reptile is raised by external heat to the level of that of the mammal, its need for respiration increases, owing to the augmented waste of its tissues. When, on the other hand, the warm-blooded mammal is reduced, in the state of hibernation, to the level of the cold-blooded reptile, the waste of its tissues diminishes to such an extent as to require but a very small exertion of the respiratory process to get rid of the carbonic acid, which is one of its chief products. And, in those animals which are of retaining their vitality when they are frozen, vital activity and disintegration arc alike suspended, and consequently there is no carbonic acid to be set free" (Gurney Smith, "On Respiration").
- The treatise on consumption will be concluded in our next issue, as the first of a series of articles on the hygienic treatment of the prevalent disorders of the human organization, including dyspepsia, pulmonary diseases, the alcohol-habit, rheumatism, and climatic fevers.