Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/243

This page has been validated.
231
INDIGESTION AND NERVOUS DEPRESSION.

are much less sensitive to this process of choking than the delicate structures of the nerve-centers. The gastrocnemius, or the heart of a frog, may retain its irritability for very many hours after its sepation from the body, but the spinal cord of the same animal will rarely retain its irritability for a single hour after the circulation through it has been arrested. In warm-blooded animals the spinal cord is much more sensitive than in the frog, and, if the circulation in the lower part of the spinal cord be arrested in a rabbit by the pressure of a thumb upon the aorta for three or four minutes, the hind-legs of the animal will become completely paralyzed. Still more sensitive than the spinal cord is the brain, and if the circulation in the latter organ be arrested, consciousness is almost instantaneously abolished. In the animal body as in the steam-engine, the governing and directing parts are much more sensitive and easily acted upon than the working parts. A single touch of the hand to the steam-valve will set the engine in action or stop its movement, although the power of a thousand men applied to the fly-wheel would avail little or nothing. And in animals the nerve centers are most sensitive and respond most readily to those circumstances which affect the organism. Not only are they exceedingly sensitive to the accumulation within them of the products of their own waste, but they are easily affected by alterations in the blood which circulates through them, and which conveys to them not only the products of muscular and glandular waste formed in other parts of the body, but also substances introduced from without, or absorbed from the intestinal canal. A single whiff of nitrite of amyl is sufficient to dilate the blood-vessels; a fraction of a grain of pilocarpine will stimulate the sweat-glands to the most profuse secretion; and half a drop of pure hydrocyanic acid is enough almost instantaneously to abolish consciousness and destroy the functional activity of the entire nervous system. In the case of the nitrite of amyl, the pilocarpine, or the hydrocyanic acid, we are able to distinguish the relation of cause and effect between the administration of the drug and the resulting changes in the organism. We do this, however, because of our knowledge, obtained by observation and experiment. Sometimes we can not do this. I have seen, for example, a person become aware of a peculiar sensation which, to the patient, was quite unaccountable, but of which I understood the reason, as I knew it to be due to the fumes from a bottle of nitrite of amyl, which the patient could not see. We may notice a similar occurrence in poisoned animals. The poison of the cobra causes paralysis of the spinal cord and nerves, and induces intense weakness, so that the limbs of the animal fail under it, I have seen an animal in this condition attempt to walk, and look round at its legs with a puzzled air, as though it could not understand what was the matter with it. It could not connect the weakness in its limbs with the introduction of the poison some time previously, although the connection between them was to me perfectly clear.