Although it is rare to find a doctor who will recommend strict dieting in chronic cases, I think it is becoming equally rare for a doctor to make any objection if the patient himself proposes it. He will not risk offending a patient by not giving him medicines and by greatly reducing his food. One can hardly blame a doctor for this, and it brings us to the conclusion that the initiative in matters of diet and abstinence must come from the patients themselves.
Not many people seemed to take any interest in the health allusions in my last book. Still I received the following letter, which, in a chapter bound to be unpopular, the few who read it may find as interesting as I did:
'I have been specially interested in your health chapter, for if there is one subject more than another which ought to be thrashed out by the lay mind it is health. On it depends to a great extent the future progress of mankind. As a rule, individuals lean to the idea that it is not a question for themselves to think on.
They seem to imply that it is a question solely for the medical hierarchy. But these authorities are so hampered by the limitations engrained in them in their medical education that it is with difficulty any of them exercise a free mind on the subject. You have given examples, it is true, of some few; and I know a few more, both here and in America, who have broken away and have given full vent to their reasoning powers. All hail to them, but they want supporting. There is no doubt that if doctors were to take up the reforms honestly they would do good, inasmuch as there is a blind faith in them on the part of the majority of people. But when has a profession reformed itself? All reforms come from outside.
'There are two great assumptions on which medicos act, and on which they impel their patients to act. The first is: that it is positively necessary under all circumstances to eat every day in order to live. Dr. Keith, whose book I have just seen before I got yours, is an exception to this; and Dr. Dewey, in America, in his "New Gospel of Health" is another. They show clearly that not only is it not necessary, but under certain conditions of illness it is positively injurious to eat. I have seen, I am sorry to say, food violently forced down the throat of a patient by a medical man when Nature was evidently telling the patient that food was no good, but, on the contrary, was adding to the troubles. This is quite irrespective of what is suitable food and what is not. All I maintain is, that at times no food at all is required, for it is then only by the absence of food that Nature finds time to recuperate herself. The second assumption that the Faculty as a body insist on is: that meat is absolutely necessary for strength. Meat is no doubt a concentrated food, but concentrated foods are not necessarily nourishing. On the contrary, the waste that comes from them is most trying to all the organs of the body, which after a time break down entirely. There are heaps of foods which are natural foods, which easily assimilate, and which in their waste are not unduly trying. Then, no doubt, in meat there is decomposition always going on, which, when it is eaten by human beings, may produce fermentation leading to serious diseases. Of course there are many other arguments against meat; but as long as it is considered a positively necessary food, there is no good using them. I find that with young people it is useless to preach against meat. They like it, they see everybody eating it, they are told that the Faculty consider it positively necessary, and, owing to their youth, they feel no ill-effects, except now and then a temporary derangement, which they attribute to something they don't like so much. The great thing with them is to urge abstemiousness and even at times total abstinence, and, when they feel ill, simple starvation. The day may come when they will find it best for themselves to give up meat. I only wish that I had been brought up to rely upon my own reason in dealing with illness. Half the ailments that mankind suffers from could be cured by Nature herself, if she were given time and were not forced. She is interfered with in every way by both doctor and patient.
'Power has been usurped by the Faculty. Very few men can stand power; they get to be assertive and dogmatic, and eventually become tyrants.'
So I hear of bad health here, sufferings there, and, what we used to say of old people when we were young, 'cases of fifteen mortal maladies and yet living on to a good old age.' They live long because their constitutions are good; they suffer much, in my opinion, because they eat what is not good for them, both as to quality and quantity, only adding to their ailments instead of diminishing them. The modern invalid always says: 'The doctor has ordered me to eat well,' and feels his conscience absolved. This reminds me of a rather good old story which a doctor told me, when I was a girl in Brussels, as having happened to himself. A bishop who was eating stuffed turkey with this doctor on Good Friday excused himself to a punctilious friend, who was shown into the dining-room by accident, saying: 'Le docteur me le commande, et moi je lui donne absolution.' But can one imagine anything more hopelessly exasperating for poor doctors, who have to make their living, than to find that loss of patients is the result if they venture even to ask in chronic cases what people eat and drink? We all know how they knock off food in cases of serious illness, though even then I think they still allow far too much. During convalescence it is often desirable for the patient to eat anything that he can digest.
I know it will be said that the next generation may suffer from the results of a low diet, as the doctors are perpetually telling us that we have all suffered from the port wine drinking and high living of our ancestors. Nothing but time can prove this.
In my youth heaps of doctors, especially on the Continent, still believed in bleeding, particularly in fever cases. Now this is as unknown as if it had never been practised at all. Is this right or wrong?