Some of the physicians of the past went the whole drug-shop in the line of inhalative druggery. Among their multitudinous remedies which they recommended to be introduced into the delicate structure of the lungs, through the medium of their multiform poisons, were such wholesome substances as opium, cubebs, deadly nightshade, iodine, calomel, corrosive sublimate, sugar of lead, belladonna, digitalis, hellebore, aconite, dog-bane, tobacco, arsenic, antimony, niter, lobelia, cinebar, etc.
We need hardly remind our readers that all fumigators and fumigations, whether multiform, monoform, or any other form, were strongly objected to by Hygienists because they are false in science and injurious in practice. There is no way of accurately estimating the number of poor, miserable victims of tuberculosis, bronchitis, diseases of the throat, etc., who have died as a direct consequence of the practice of fumigating the lungs with poisons; but we may be positive that the number is large.
The patent medicine business flourished then as now. The land was flooded with bar-rooms and horse sheds were covered, houses, public and private, were filled, the papers and magazines swarmed with advertisements of this or that so-called remedy, which was guaranteed to cure this or that so-called disease. All the ills of man found their cures in the much-advertised patent nostrums and both the civil authorities and the medical profession knew that they were frauds. Yet the fight against such advertising and such fraudulent nostrums had to be started outside the profession and outside the ranks of the civil authorities. From college (medical) president to country practitioner, no word of protest was heard.
Many of the patent medicines amounted to little more than cheap whiskey. Alcohol was a foundation of the many bitters that were sold to the people as tonics, as it was the chief ingredient in many of the patent nostrums sold to women for female diseases. They even sold remedies for alcoholism that were chiefly alcohol. Among all the patent nostrums advertised to the public only one, sold under the name Matchless Sanative, was of value. When this drug was analyzed, it proved to be pure water:
It was well known to the physicians of the period that their drugs were damaging. For example, the celebrated Charles D. Meigs, M.D., of Philadelphia said in his work, Observations on Certain of the Diseases of Children (edition of 1850, p. 73): "It appears to me to be an outrage to give a child a dose of castor-oil, or rhubarb, or magnesia, when it is not required; for such articles cannot be taken into the stomach without exciting the beginning of trains of actions whose end no man can foretell." The reader will be quick to understand that when these drugs are administered to children when they are supposed to be "required," no man can foretell the results. James Stewart, M.D., wrote in his Practical Treatise on the Diseases of Children (second edition, 1846, p. 220): "The use of any medicine must, as a general rule, be regarded as injurious, as the object of medicine is but to create a temporary disease for removal of another; and only applicable when the disease demanding it is itself the greatest source of danger." This expressed the old fallacy contained in the choice of the lesser of two evils, except that in this case one chooses both evils. The theory that a serious disease can be removed by creating a temporary and less serious one must have been invented in a mad house.
In addition to drugging their patients to death, physicians have frequently bled them to death. Butchers bled pigs to kill them; physicians bled patients to cure them. So common was the bleeding practice that Trall used to refer to the allopathic physicians of his time as "our bleeding friends of the blistering school." For hundreds of years a profession, "born to bleed," hung like vampires about the bedsides of the sick with their cups and lancets. Indeed, the blood-loving and bloodspilling allopaths shed the vital current of their patients for over 2,000 years before they were compelled, by the opposition of other schools and rising public protest, to discontinue the bleeding of the sick. When the practice was at its height, a physician might be highly praised by many of those whom he had bled and physicked for his "energetic practices." It is probable that physicians spilled more blood from the time of Hippocrates to the middle of the last century than all the wars during the same period.
In the old bleeding practice at the middle of the last century 12 ounces of blood was an "ordinary," 16 ounces a "full" and 20 ounces a "large" bleeding. Often the bleeder seems to have had in view chiefly the quantity of blood withdrawn--thus reducing the patient as much as possible. Such large and butchering wastes of blood were routine procedures in the treatment of almost all kinds of abnormal conditions. If fever was high and the pulse full, the patient was bled; if he was collapsed, with hands and skin cold, corrugated, pale and of a purple hue, he was bled. If a child was of "strumous diathesis"--delicate, frail and of feeble organization--it was bled. In "low typhus fever" and in collapsed cholera, bleeding was resorted to, to unload congestion in the large, deep-seated internal blood vessels. Blood was withdrawn quickly from a large artery to make the requisite impression on the body, as indicated by faintness, a "train of morbid actions could be broken up."
If a physician was called to see a nervous, feeble, irritable, sick man, prostrated by over-excitement, enervating habits, depressing fears and loss of blood, he sought to help him by producing further loss of blood and by more poisoning. It was even common to bleed in pregnancy to relieve symptoms. Bleeding was resorted to in cases of apparent death from a fall and in other injuries. Bleeding was employed in wounds and head injuries that resulted in unconsciousness. Not only were pregnant mothers bled, but physicians also drew blood from blue babies. It was even a custom at one time to have oneself bled each spring and fall to preserve health. Not all of this bleeding was done by physicians, as there were professional bleeders and barbers who did the work. In Philadelphia one could see signs reading: "Cupping, bleeding and leeching done here by . . ." In the last century laudanum was given to "sustain the action of the heart." Bleeding reduced the heart action and laudanum was then administered to undo the work of the bleeding. Nitre and tartar emetic were given in alternate doses with laudanum to "keep down the action of the heart." What a beautiful medley! It could logically be inferred that if no laudanum were given, there would be no need for the nitre and tartar emetic and if no bleeding had been done, there would have been no need for the laudanum. In other words, if the patient had been let alone, the physicians would not have had to treat one effect of treatment with another measure that called for more treatment. Letting the patient alone would have saved his life even if it had not increased the physician's income.