Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/861

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



THE very great importance of the subject of the cure of consumption, the enormous extent of the malady and its great fatality, would naturally be the means of attracting universal attention to any remedy which was supposed to possess curative powers over it. To one who is familiar with the writings of Koch on this subject it need not be said that he is not properly to be held responsible for the exaggerated ideas which have been received of the efficacy of the new agent; nor, indeed, are any of the numerous scientific men who have carefully observed its effects in different countries. But many visionary persons in the medical profession, and many not in it, became imbued early with the impression that there had at last been found a means of working miracles. Moreover, a few designing and unscrupulous doctors intentionally aided, to a slight extent, in the propagation of this idea; but probably the most generally operative cause of the exaggerated notions that have obtained with regard to the potency of the new remedy lies in the popular inclination toward a belief in the supernatural. People who wish to be deceived often begin by unintentionally endeavoring to deceive themselves.

That the public should derive an idea of the potency for good of this remedy far beyond what Koch has ever claimed for it, or what any experience with it would warrant, is not surprising—such has often been the case before with new and relatively untried remedies. Not only the public, but the doctors, are often deceived by the heralding of new cures. It is but a few years since the benzoate of soda was published by reputable physicians in high places in Austria as a means of curing consumption. Medical literature teemed with accounts of its powers for a few months, and then it sank rapidly into oblivion. A few years later there came to us from the Riviera most startling accounts of cures of consumption and various other pulmonary diseases by means of the introduction into the blood of sulphureted hydrogen dissolved in carbonic acid. These accounts were most circumstantial, and the truth of them was vouched for by several men of good standing in the medical profession. So brilliant were the results claimed that the method of treatment soon became common. Many doctors tried it in many cities, and after a fluctuating existence of a few months the Bergeon treatment, as it was called, quietly died and was decently interred among many other therapeutic procedures that had once had their day. Some years ago the world was startled by the assertion that in South America a cure for cancer had been found in the bark of a climbing plant called condurango. The sensation created by this announcement is remembered by many doctors who are still young. It was tried in that year here and in various European capitals, and was discarded as inert and useless. Condurango was then supposed to be dead as a therapeutic agent beyond all possibility of revival, when suddenly the serenity of the medical world was again rudely shocked by a publication which emanated from the Professor of Medicine in the University of Heidelberg, two years later, in which he reported the cure of a cancer of the stomach by the use of this drug. Since then evidence has accumulated to show that condurango does seem to possess a curative power in some forms of cancer of the stomach; but it is known to be inert as regards cancer elsewhere. It would be easy to adduce evidence in favor of the importance of receiving encomiums upon new and marvelous cures with the utmost caution.