Although the use of the vapor bath as a means of curing disease was employed many centuries back, still the principle upon which it operates in removing disease was not fully explained, nor its utility in aiding the operation of medicine appreciated, before the time of Samuel Thomson.
The vapor bath constitutes an important part of the Thomsonian system of practice, fulfilling several important indications in the cure of disease. It diffuses warmth through the system, equalizes the circulation, imparts electricity to the blood, and increases the sensibilities of the system to the impression of medicine.
"I had but little knowledge of medicine," says Samuel Thomson, "when through necessity I discovered the use of steaming, to add heat or life to the decaying spark; and with it I was enabled by administering such vegetable medicines as I then had a knowledge of, to effect a cure in cases where the regular practitioners had given them over.
"In all cases where the heat of the body is so far exhausted as not to be rekindled by using the medicine, and being shielded from the surrounding air by a blanket, or being in bed, and chills or stupor attend the patient, then applied heat by steaming becomes indispensably necessary; and heat caused by steam in the manner that I use it, is more natural in producing perspiration than any dry heat that can be applied to the body in any other manner; for a dry heat will only serve to dry the air and prevent perspiration in many cases of disease, where a steam by water or vinegar would promote perspiration and add a natural warmth to the body, and thereby increase the power of life and motion and aid in removing disease."
We often hear people say that when they bleed the blood is almost black, and so thick that it will scarcely run, and they believe that the blood is bad. The blood becomes thick and dark in consequence of its slow and torpid circulation for want of heat. Place a patient in the condition just mentioned in a vapor bath at a proper temperature, and in less than twenty minutes the character of this blood will be changed, so that instead of being almcst as thick and dark as molasses, as it was before steaming, it will be of a natural color and consistency, in consequence of the warmth and electricity imparted to it by the steam, which also restores the natural current of its circulation through the lungs.
There is scarcely a form of disease or a condition of the system in which the vapor bath may not be employed, not only with safety but benefit. One of the most important objects gained by the application of the vapor bath is adding warmth and electricity to the blood. It has been ascertained that in disease even of the most inflammatory character, the blood contains less electricity than it does when in a healthy condition, and by applying the vapor bath in the early stage of pleurisy, or rheumatism, the disease in many instances will be removed by it.
Disease of an inflammatory character generally proceeds from cold, and the buffy coat which appears on the blood drawn from one laboring under an inflammatory disease, may be attributed to the want of a sufficient amount of heat and electricity in the blood.
The vapor bath may be employed with immense benefit in disease of the urinary organs, as stranguary, gravel, retention of urine, inflammation of the lungs, etc.
Slight attacks of jaundice can be cured, in many instances, by a single vapor bath, followed by an emetic. In croup where the disease has continued several hours, the vapor bath is almost indispensible, in order to restore the natural warmth of the blood, and assist the operation of the medicine.
In asthma when the system is in a cold and torpid condition, medicine will often fail of affording much relief without the previous use of a vapor bath. In this form of disease it has been found that the hot air bath is as effectual as the vapor bath, and it may be administered with much less trouble.
Ordinary headache is speedily cured by a vapor bath. In dysentery and bowel complaints in general the use of the vapor bath is attended by the most signal benefit.
In eruptive diseases, nettle-rash, small-pox, scarlet fever, varioloid, and measles, the vapor bath may be used with benefit at any stage of the disease. If the eruption be slow to appear, applying a vapor bath will bring it out to the surface; or if there be a tendency to retrocession or striking in of the eruption the vapor bath should be applied, or at least a moist heat should be applied around the patient, and powerful stimulants given, as the third preparation of Lobelia, and stimulating injections. In every stage of smallpox the vapor bath is grateful to the patient and aids the constitution in working off the disease. In the later period of small-pox, when scabs are forming and the patient much distressed, the steam bath will afford more relief than any other means that can be employed; and when the scales are dry and falling off there can be no better means employed for restoring the natural healthy condition of the skin than steaming. Scarlet fever and measles are very liable to be followed by dropsy, running of the ears, swelling of the glands, etc., arising in part from an unhealthy condition of the skin, which may be remedied by steaming the patient two or three times about the termination of the eruptive disease.
The duration of erysipelas may be shortened and the symptoms mitigated by steaming, and in severe cases it should not be neglected.
The vapor bath may be employed with especial benefit in all cases of dropsy except when the disease is incurable.
In violent colds and catarrh where the breathing is greatly oppressed or the skin dry and husky, or cold and clammy, and the patient much distressed, the use of vapor baths becomes highly necessary, not only to relieve the distressing symptoms but to facilitate the operation of medicine. Thousands of patients die annually of consumption that in its early stage is curable under Thomsonian treatment.
In peritonitis, which is a most fatal form of disease after it has progressed to a certain stage, the vapor bath should be promptly and perseveringly applied, besides giving largely of Lobelia and pure stimulants.
In inflammation of the lungs, liver, stomach, bowels, or any other of the internal organs the use of the vapor bath will be found to relieve pain, assist the operation of medicine and shorten the course of the disease.
In "low fevers," as they are termed, where the heat and strength of the patient are far reduced, I have observed marked benefit to result from the application of steam to the patient. A patient who is too weak to sit up or even raise his head, will bear steaming on a couch or mattress in many instances over an hour without being debilitated by it, provided proper attention be paid to bathing the face and surface of the body occasionally with spirits or vinegar and giving stimulants. The most remarkable recoveries from "low malignant fevers," as they are termed, that I have known have been where the vapor bath has been administered frequently and the third preparation of Lobelia administered freely, both by injection and to the stomach. In these cases the steam was of course applied to the patient in bed or on a couch.
The vapor bath forms an important auxiliary in the treatment of rheumatism, gout, lumbago, palsy, hysteria, chlorosis, neuralgia, consumption, fevers of every variety, scrofula, etc. Finally, the application of warmth to the body by means of steam aids the efforts of nature to overcome disease of every variety that is curable by the aid of medical treatment.
The steam bath affords a protection to the system against sickness; and when applied in the early stage of many forms of disease will effectually prevent it from becoming seated, by restoring the lost heat, promoting the secretions, and removing obstructions.
If the efficacy and safety of the steam bath in midwifery was generally known, the practice of giving ergot would become entirely abolished; for no sensible woman would willingly admit to be poisoned herself as well as the child, who had a knowledge of the utility of steaming, and more especially of the course of medicine. By means of the vapor bath and Lobelia the muscles may be more effectually relaxed than by anything else, and at the same time the secretions are promoted and nature assisted without the least possible degree of danger to the patient from the treatment. For pain in the back and loins during pregnancy the steam bath may be used with much benefit.
As a course of medicine has so frequently been mentioned, it is well to here state what is meant by it and the most proper way to give it. First, give Nos. 2 and 3, or composition, adding a teaspoonful of No. 6; then steam, and when in bed repeat it, adding No. 1, which will cleanse the stomach and assist in keeping up a perspiration; when this has done operating, give an injection made with the same article. Where there are symptoms of nervous affection, or spasms, put half a teaspoonful of the nerve powder into each dose given, and into the injection. In violent cases, where immediate relief is needed, Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 6 may be given together. Injections may be administered at all times, and in all cases of disease, to advantage; it can never do harm, and in many cases they are indispensably necessary, especially where there is canker and inflammation in the bowels, and there is danger of mortification, in which case, add a teaspoonful of No. 6. In cases of this kind, the injection should be given first, or at the same time of giving the composition, or No. 3. The latter preferred.
The use of steaming is good in preventing sickness, as well as curing it. When a person has been exposed to the cold, and is threatened with disease, it may be prevented, and long sickness and expense saved, by a very little trouble, by standing over a steam and following the directions before given till the cold is thoroughly thrown off, and a lively perspiration takes place, then go to bed, taking a hot water bottle along and putting it to the feet. This may be done without the medicine, when it cannot be had; but it is much better to take something to raise the inward heat at the same time. A tea made of Mayweed or Summer-Savory, or Ginger and hot water sweetened, may be given, or anything that is warming.
When a patient is carried through a course of medicine and steamed, who has been long under mercurial treatment, and while under the operation of the steam, when the heat is at the highest, the face will swell, in consequence of the poisonous vapor being condensed by the air, the face being open to it. To relieve this, put them in bed, and take a hot stone, wrapped in several thicknesses of cloth, wet with water, pouring on a little vinegar, and making a lively steam; put it in the bed and cover the head with the clothes and let them breathe the steam as hot as can be borne, until the sweat covers the swelled parts. This will, in about fifteen or twenty minutes, throw out the poison, and the swelling will abate. This method also is of great service in agues and toothache caused by cold; and many other causes of obstruction from the same cause, especially young children stuffed on the lungs.