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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/97

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THE USE OF ALCOHOL IN MEDICINE.

After I took my degree in medicine I passed at once into the army, and my first cases of independent medical practice were in a battery of artillery in the Punjab. After a year or so with this corps I served two years in an infantry regiment without a senior surgeon, all this time acting to the best of my lights, but entirely independent and uncontrolled. At the end of this period, and about my fifth year of service, a senior surgeon joined the regiment with power of superintendence. He was an able and a kind man, and it was not at all in a spirit of unfriendliness that, going into dinner one night, he said to me, "I was in your ward this afternoon and found a bad case of delirium tremens in which you had omitted to order stimulants; however, I have made it all right." I replied, "I have no case of delirium tremens at present." He said, "Yes, a bad case, which will probably not survive, and so you had better take care." After some consideration I at length made out the case he referred to, and replied, "That man has no delirium tremens and will certainly be at duty in a week." We thus had a difference of opinion. I begged him, however, to leave the case in my hands, which he did, and the man was at duty in fair health in a week. It was, in fact, a discovery to him, an old soldier, that delirium tremens could be treated successfully without stimulants; and, I must add, it was a discovery to me that, although I knew there was such a disease in the regiment, I had actually treated cases of the ailment myself without knowing it. That delirium tremens can be, and ought to be, treated without stimulants is now a commonplace of practice. I speak of the year 1866. At that time the treatment consisted chiefly in administration of stimulants and opium, and I take no great credit to myself for breaking away from the traditions of the profession. I simply did not treat the disease by name. It would now be called "alcoholic poisoning." I looked on recovery as a matter of course, recorded the case as debility, sometimes from drunkenness, but more generally omitted the remark as likely to draw down the attention of the commanding officer to the offender. On the occurrence of the above incident, however, my attention was directed to the subject. I continued my treatment. My two colleagues continued theirs, and, although we were seldom without a case of delirium tremens, no case of any severity occurred among my patients. I need not say that the matter was often warmly debated. In those days Aitken's Practice of Physic was, as it still is, the chief authority in the medical service, and it was with keen delight that in the new edition of that year I found the treatment of this disease laid down: that, as it proceeded from an irritation of the nervous system by alcohol, the first condition of cure was to remove the cause, to forbid alcohol, and to give food in all possible ways, as