Suppressing the symptoms in any other way means only to change the form of the disease, or to postpone its crisis. Thus, mercurial salves will cleanse the skin by driving the ulcers from the surface to the interior of the body; opiates stop a flux only by paralyzing the bowels i. e., turning their morbid activity into a morbid inactivity; the symptoms of pneumonia can be suppressed by bleeding the patient till the exhausted system has to postpone the crisis of the disease. This process, the "breaking up of a sickness," in the language of the old-school allopathists, is therefore in reality only an interrupting of it, a temporary interruption of the symptoms. We might as well try to cure the sleepiness of a weary child by pinching its eyelids, or the hunger of a whining dog by compressing his throat.
Drugs are not wholly useless. If my life depended upon a job of work that had to be finished before morning, and the inclination to fall asleep was getting irresistible, I should not hesitate to defy Nature, and keep myself awake with cup after cupful of strong black coffee. If I were afflicted with a sore, spreading rapidly from my temple toward my nose, I should suppress it by the shortest process, even by deliberately producing a larger sore elsewhere, rather than let the smaller one destroy my eyesight. There are also two or three forms of disease which have (thus far) resisted all unmedicinal cures, and can hardly be trusted to the healing powers of Nature—the lues venerea, scabies, and prurigo—because, as Claude Bernard suggests, their symptoms are probably due to the agency of microscopic parasites, which oppose to the action of the vital forces a life-energy of their own, or, as Dr. Jennings puts it, "because art has here to interfere—not for the purpose of breaking up diseased action, but for the removal of the cause of that action, the destruction of an active virus that possesses the power of self-perpetuation beyond the dislodging ability of Nature."
But with those rare exceptions it is better to direct our efforts against the cause rather than the symptoms—i. e., in about ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it is not only the safer but also the shorter way to avoid drugs, reform our habits, and, for the rest, let Nature have her course; for, properly speaking, disease itself is a reconstructive process, an expulsive effort, whose interruption compels Nature to do double work; to resume her operations against the ailment after expelling a worse enemy—the drug. If a drugged patient recovers, the true explanation is that his constitution was strong enough to overcome both the disease and the druggist.
Dr. Isaac Jennings, the greatest pathologist (or, at least, patho-gnomist) of our century, was sadly misunderstood, chiefly, I believe, because he called his method the "Let-alone Plan." Prevention Plan, or Unmedicinal Cure, would have been a better word. Diseases do not want to be let alone; they call loudly for relief—not, though,
- Author of the "Treatise on Medical Reform."