Besides the classic patent medicines, such as Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, Castoria, Cod Liver Oil, etc., there are "Colds Cured in One Day," "Appendixine," health foods, massage vibrators, violet rays, Porosknit underwear, sanitary tooth washes, soaps, vitopathic, naturopathic, and faith cures. New ones appear every day,—enough to make a really sick person dizzy, let alone a person suffering from imaginary ailments. All seem to outline my particular symptoms. After they have flamed at me in red letters in the surface cars, pursued me in the elevated and underground, accompanied me out into the country and back again to the city, greeted me each morning in the daily paper and in my daily mail, each week or each month in the periodical, the coincidence of a familiar package on a drug-store counter seems to be providential and therefore irresistible. I know that I ought to be examined by a physician, but I am busy and not unwilling to gamble for my health; it cannot kill me and there is a chance that it will cure me. If there is nothing the matter with us, we may be cured by our faith. If we are taking a cure for consumption, the morphine in it may lull us into thinking we feel better. If we are taking a tonic for spring fever, the cheap alcohol may excite us into thinking our vitality has been heightened. Soothing sirup soothes the baby, often doping its spirit for life, or soothing it into a sleep from which it never wakes.
In spite of the fact that the "Great American Fraud" has been exposed repeatedly in newspapers and magazines of wide circulation, the appeal of the quack still catches men and women of intelligence. The other night a friend went out to a dinner and conference with a lawyer in the employ of the national government. Annoyed by a nagging headache, he made for the nearest drug store and ordered a "headache powder." He admitted that it was an awful dose, but he had been told that it always "did the business." He knew the principle was bad, confessed to a scorn for friends of his whom he knew to be bromo-seltzer fiends, but he had the headache and the work to do—a sure cure and a quick one seemed imperative. The headache was due to overwork, indigestion, constipation. Plain food and quiet sleep was what he needed most. But the dinner conference plus the headache was the unanswerable argument for a dose with an immediate result.
Last winter an Irish maid slowly lost her rosy cheeks and grew hollow-eyed and thin. She was taken to a specialist who discovered a rapidly advancing case of consumption. He said that owing to the girl's ignorance, stupidity, and homesickness, her only chance of recovery was to return to the "auld countrie" at once. The girl agreed to go, but insisted on a few days "to talk it over with her cousins in New York." After two weeks had elapsed she was found in a stuffy, overcrowded New York tenement. She had found a doctor who had given her a little bottle of medicine for two dollars, which would cure her in the city. It was futile to protest. Days in the unventilated tenement and nights in a "dark room" meant that she would never live to finish the bottle.
For a year Miss H. took a patent preparation for chronic catarrh. It seemed to "set her up"; but it so undermined her strength, through its artificial nerve spur, that chronic catarrh was followed by consumption. It later transpired that the cure's chief ingredient was whisky, and cheap whisky. A good grandmother, herself a vigorous temperance agitator and teetotaler, offered to pay for it as long as my friend would take it faithfully. The irony of it makes one wonder how many earnest advocates of total abstinence are in reality addicted to the liquor habit.
Last summer a district nurse of the summer corps who visited city babies under two years of age encountered in the hallway of a tenement a bevy of frenzied women. A baby lay on the bed gasping and "rolling its eyes up into the top of its head." The nurse asked the frightened mother what she had been giving it. "Nothing at all," said the woman. But a telltale bottle of soothing sirup showed that the child was dying from morphine poisoning. Happily the nurse came in time to save it.
Is it not pitiful, this grasping for a poison in an extremity; this seizing of a defective rope to escape the fire?
Learning How To Keep Baby Well Without Patent Medicines Recreation Pier, New York City, Summer, 1908
The patent-medicine evil cannot be cured by occasional exposure or by overexposure. Nor can it be cured by legislation, legislation, legislation, unless laws are rigidly enforced.
Occasional exposure is no better than occasional advertising of good things. The patent-medicine business thrives on constant, not occasional, advertising. Leading advertisers expect so little from the first notice that they would not take the trouble to write out a single advertisement. That is the reason merchants charge advertising in the programmes of church, festival, and glee-club concert to charity, not to business. Warning people once does no more lasting good than sending a child to school once a month. The exposure of patent-medicine evils must be as constant as efforts to sell the medicines.