This section is from the book "Smith's Family Physician", by William Henry Smith. See also: Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know.
"Southey, in one of his published letters, speaking of his mother, says: ' While she was a mere child she had a paralytic affection, which deadened one side from the hip downwards, and crippled her for about twelve months. Some person advised that she should be placed out of doors in the sunshine as much as possible; and one day, when she had been carried out as usual into the forecourt, in her little arm-chair, and left there to see her brothers at play, she rose from her seat, to the astonishment of the family, and walked into the house. The recovery from that time was complete.'
"These are the cases which suit the purposes of miracle-mongers. A few years ago all the journals belonging to a certain party in the religious world were full of an instance of miraculous cure. The patient was a young woman; her legs had. been paralytic, or contracted, I forget which; some enthusiastic preacher had. influence enough with her to make her believe that if on a certain day she prayed for recovery with a strong faith, her prayer would be successful, she would recover at once; and she did so. No one can doubt that it was just such a case as those I have now been mentioning. Many of these pseudo-diseases terminate suddenly under some strong moral emotion. A fall, a fire in the house, any overwhelming terror, will sometimes put an end to them. And where the joints have been the parts affected, several patients have declared that they felt a sensation as if something had snapped or given way in the part, immediately before the sudden recovery took place. "
"As might be expected," says Sir Benjamin Brodie, "similar cures have been furnished by mesmerism and homoeopathy." And, he might have added, clairvoyance.
"Some of the shapes assumed by this pathological Proteus are hideous and disgusting. Paralysis of the muscular fibres of the bladder, or spasm of its sphincter, sometimes really occurs, sometimes is only aped in Hysteria. It is a common trick with these patients to pretend that they labour under retention of urine; and that, although the bladder is full, they cannot make water. The daily introduction of the catheter by a dresser or surgeon's apprentice appears to gratify their morbid and prurient feelings. Sometimes, no doubt, the difficulty is real; but is oftener feigned or exaggerated. I have again and again known it disappear upon the patient being left, without pity, to her own resources. But girls have been known to drink their urine, in order to conceal the fact of their having been able and obliged to void it. The state of mind evinced by many of these hysterical young persons is such as to entitle them to our deepest commiseration. The deceptive appearances displayed in the bodily functions and feelings, find their counterpart in the mental. The patients are deceitful, perverse, and obstinate; practising, or attempting to practise, the most aimless and unnatural impositions. They will produce fragments of common gravel, and assert that these were voided with the urine; or they will secrete cinders and stones in the vagina, and pretend to be suffering under some calculous disease. A young woman contrived, in one of our hospitals, to make the Surgeons believe that she had stone in the bladder; and she actually submitted to be placed upon the operating table, and to be tied up in the posture for lithotomy, before a theatre full of students; and then the imposture was detected. Sometimes they simulate suppression of urine, and after swallowing what they have passed, vomit it up again, to induce the belief that the secretion has taken place through the new and unnatural channel.
"There is another very common hysterical pain; a pain occupying some one point in the head; the patient speaks of it as a sensation like that which would be caused by driving a nail into the part. It is often situated just above one eyebrow; and it sometimes comes on every day, at the same hour. In this it imitates very closely that form of Intermittent known as Brow Ague. The distinction between the two is not of any great consequence, but in many of the foregoing examples of hysterical pain mimicking organic or inflammatory diseases, it is of great importance to distinguish between the two.
"You may guess that the affection is hysterical if the patient be a young unmarried woman; if there be any disorder or irregularity in the uterine functions; if you can gather any history of former hysterical disease; and especially if she be subject to fits of Hysteria. The suspicious symptoms may often be traced back, and found to spread themselves over a considerable previous period of time; yet there is no such wasting, or commensurate deterioration of the general health and strength, as might be expected in organic disease. When the complaint simulated is some acute local inflammation, and there is pain, which seems increased upon your pressing the part, you will find that the pain is aggravated by the gentlest touch; it is more felt if you brush your hand over the surface, or slightly pinch up the integuments, than when firm pressure is made: and you will find also that this exquisite tenderness is not limited to the part complained of. Suppose it to be the abdomen, the patient will shrink and exclaim if you suddenly put your finger on her neck or her arm. Again, wherever this tenderness may be evinced, if steady pressure be kept up while the patient's attention is diverted to some other part, or to some other topic, she will cease to complain of the pressure. The suspicion that the disorder is nervous or hysterical will also be corroborated if the symptoms which resemble the symptoms of inflammation arise and subside rapidly, without obvious cause for such fluctuation; and if various organs appear to be attacked in succession.
"I have hitherto spoken of Hysteria as if it were a malady of females, but that peculiar modification of the nervous system which is observed in hysteric girls does certainly present itself, though rarely, in young men. I have seen two or three instances of what I could give no other name to than Hysteria in males. One of them was in the person of a young Surgeon who had been House-Surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital. I believe he applied to not less than a dozen medical men for advice: and in that batch I happened to have my turn. He had some of the symptoms that are ascribed to hypochondriasis; he was exceedingly attentive to his own sensations, and fancied that he laboured under a number of diseases which had no existence but in his own imagination: he showed great unsteadiness and infirmity of purpose; was what is called "very nervous;" and had occasionally bursts of choking, and tears, and laughter, exactly resembling those which we so often witness in the other sex.