Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/12

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

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,