This section of the book is from "The Complete Herbalist" by Dr. O. Phelps Brown. Also available from Amazon: The Complete Herbalist: The People Their Own Physicians By The Use Of Nature's Remedies.
If there is a choice of rooms, the patient's welfare demands that he should be placed in the one affording to a greater degree light, pure air, warmth, etc. The patient should not be put into the room which is dark and gloomy, but let it be one that is light and cheerful, and with a fire-place in it, if possible.
If the illness be fever, an ophthalmic affection, brain disease, or other disease requiring quiet, a back room away from the family should be selected, as quiet is absolutely necessary, and the patient will not care to look at anything or to speak much. If, however, he be suffering from an accident, he will be more contented and cheerful if he is placed near to the rest of the family, where he can assist in the conversation, watch your movements, and see you at your labors. It will greatly tend to make him forget to a greater extent his misfortune, and it will also save time in waiting upon him.
The room should be free from all unpleasant odors, and should not be exposed to disagreeable effluvia from water-closets, sinks, etc. The furniture of the room should be but very simple and plain, and, in infectious diseases, but very little should be placed in the room. If you have ever been in a hospital, you may have noticed the bare floors, the iron bedsteads, the absence of woollen bed-clothing, and the plain tables, and most probably pitied the inmates for their lack of comforts, and involuntarily the thought may have arisen in your mind that fortune is more propitious to you when sick, for your sick-room would have at least a good carpet, upholstered furniture, and your bed an easy one to repose upon, and plentifully supplied with woollen blankets, etc. But you and many more are also deluded in this respect. If you will bear in mind that woollen fabrics retain smells much longer than cotton and linen, and are therefore less sanitary, you would probably not consider them so advantageous. The room should have no upholstered chairs or sofas, cane-bottomed or plain wood are preferable, and it would be better if no carpet was on the floor, except perhaps a narrow strip for you to walk upon to prevent noise, but a clean boarded floor, kept clean and sweet by scrubbing and "elbow-grease" is infinitely better. It is better to have no curtains; but if the room looks too cheerless without them, use light muslin or something which will easily wash.
The position of the bed is also very important. In case of accident the bed should be placed where the patient feels most comfortable, only it should be placed where there is a good light to see and dress the wound; but in fever and small-pox the bed should occupy the position between the door and fire place. The reason for this is that as fire cannot burn without air, there must be a draft to feed it; as this becomes heated and escapes up the chimney, it is replaced by a fresh supply drawn in through the door and window. This prevents a spread of the disease, as the chimney acts as a ventilating shaft, carrying away the impurities of the room. A stove will also do this, but to a much less extent. It is very apparent, therefore, that if a person stands between the bed and the fire-place, he must breathe air laden with the effluvia from the patient, whereas, on the other side, that is, between the bed and door, he inhales air that has not yet come in contact with the patient. If, from the form of the room, the bed cannot be placed in this position, the space between the window and the bed should always be sufficient to stand in.
The room should always be fully prepared before the patient is placed in it, as the setting it to rights is not only annoying, but may do positive harm to the patient. The fire, if any is wanted, should particularly be previously built, for very often the chimney refuses to draw well, and the poor patient is choked with the smoke. He may suffer from a chest complaint, and his difficulty of breathing be so aggravated as to put him in a miserable plight. The windows should not be so fastened that you cannot open them, especially from the top. An equable temperature should be kept up, neither too hot nor too cold, and extremes avoided.
The bed itself is very worthy of consideration. Unqualifiedly, the best is a hair mattress, but, as this is so expensive, it cannot be expected to be found in every house, but, unless obliged, use no feather bed. It is too soft, and the patient sinks into holes, so that, in case of wounds or burns, you cannot get at them properly, and besides, if the feathers get wet, you cananot easily put them right again. Good clean straw or chaff, evenly packed, is far superior. It costs but little, to begin with, is more comfortable, far superior in a sanitary point of view, and has this advantage: that in case of being spoiled, it can be emptied, the cover washed, and refilled without loss of time, and at a very trifling expense.
The bed should not be too wide, for if the patient needs help, the attendant is obliged to move him kneeling on the bed, or at arms' length, should be be lying in the middle.
It is often a matter of much concern how to change the bed-clothing in case of fracture or low states of disease, where the patient cannot be moved from the bed. The following method should be pursued: --roll up the clothes to be changed tightly to the middle, lengthwise, not across the bed; put on the clean things with half the width rolled up close to the other roll, lift the patient on the newly made part, slip off the soiled clothes, unroll the clean ones, and the bed is made.
Before the patient is put to bed scour the floor right well, and wash it with hot water with a few pennies' worth of chloride of lime, or, if you cannot get this, use a little quicklime, and rub it well into cracks and corners. The whole of the lime need not be removed, as the little particles left sticking in the cracks and pores of the wood will prevent insects, give a clean, sweet smell to the place, and tend to keep away infection. After the room is thoroughly dried, it is ready for the sick occupant.
If all this is done, you will have the healthiest sick-chamber possible, and rob the disease of its exciting causes. He must then be well nursed, and as this is so important, the author will next consider