Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/13

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THE REMEDIES OF NATURE.

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[1]—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,

  1. "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).