Writing in 1850, a woman who signed herself Marian thus pictures the requests of a dying child for water and air, both of them forbidden by her physician:
" 'Mother,' said the feverish child,
'Give me water to drink, I pray.
Some water from the deep, cool spring,
Round which I used to play.
" 'Mother, I burn with fire within,
I surely will grow wild;
Give me water to cool my tongue,
If still you love your child.'
" 'My child!' the frenzied mother cries.
'O, ask not this of me;
Cold water is forbidden drink--
It would be death to thee.'
" 'Mother, open the window, 'then,
And let me feel the air;
This room's so close I cannot breathe,
O, mother, hear my prayer.'
" 'My child, demand ought else besides
That love or wealth can give.
They say I must shut out the air,
As I wish my child to live.' "
It is simple poetry, but it feelingly describes the tragedy of the time. Physicians were good at bleeding, leeching, cupping, blistering, purging, puking, poulticing and rubbing with ointments; but they could not comprehend that a child cannot breathe without air, that the parched tongue of the sick indicated the urgency of the need for water. Children and adults alike were killed by the thousands for want of the simplest elemental needs of life because physicians were prejudiced against what they called the non-naturals. They classified their drugs as naturals. Food, air, water, sunshine, rest, sleep, exercise, the emotions, bowel movements and the like were non-naturals. It was to protest against such practices that Oliver Wendell Holmes, himself a physician, but an avid reader of Hygienic literature, wrote the following lines:
"God gave his creatures light and air,
And water flowing from the skies;
Man locks him to a stifling lair,
And wonders why his brother dies."
Especially in those more protracted struggles of the organism, when its powers show signs of failing, when it is languishing and exhausted, certainly every effort should be made to secure to the sick organism a plentiful supply of fresh air. Too often, when the exhausted organs of the body cry out for fresh air, which would supply needed support to their wasted energies, they were given drugs and goads but no oxygen. The hospitals were not only poorly lighted, but they were poorly ventilated. Trall marveled that graduates of the best medical schools were entirely ignorant of the necessity for pure air in the hospitals and apartments of the sick, but said: "When it is understood that health is not taught in medical schools, the wonder will cease."
Writing in 1853, E. M'Dowell of Utica, Michigan, said: "In 1840, under a popular Allopath, I was fast sinking under a fever. On a feather bed, windows and doors closed on a hot summer day, pulse and breath nearly gone, I lay roasting. Friends stood around, 'looking at me to die.'
"At this critical moment a woman called in to see me. She ordered both doors and windows thrown open, and with a pail of cold water and towels she began to wash me. As the cold water towel went over me, I could feel the fever roll off before it, and in less than five minutes I lay comfortable, pulse and breath regular, but weak, and soon got well." This is a typical example of the way in which windows and doors were kept closed and the sick were smothered in blankets, even though it was a hot summer day and the patient's temperature was very high.
The body cried out for oxygen and was given a poison and tortured with blistering plasters (scorpions) and stuffed with milk, eggs, meat slops and brandy. At such times, when languid and exhausted nature more especially needs a full supply of oxygen to strengthen and quicken her for a more successful struggle, certainly, fresh air should be insisted upon. In the organism's great extremities, when its powers flag in the swoon or ebb and sway of the approach of death, it may be too late to throw open the windows or carry the patient into the fresh air; yet we often instinctively do just this. How much wiser it would be to provide fresh air when there is strength with which to struggle! The value of pure air to the sick, as well as to the healthy will not now be denied, even, if in practice, fresh air itself is denied the sick.
If diseases are to a certain extent evanescent; if there are no specifics in medicine; if the causes of disease cannot be driven from the body by drugs and treatments; if we must rely upon the vital powers themselves as exercised in the various organic processes and functions; if by providing for the free, healthy, unobstructed exercise of these functions in all cases, we can best promote the work of restoration; if a constant supply of oxygen is necessary to the conduct of the nutritive processes, both in health and in sickness, then a constant supply of fresh air and full, free draughts will be found most helpful to the sick. It is especially wrong to withhold from the sick organism full supplies of the essentials of existence in the hour of its greatest need.
The medical profession has never fully accepted the fact that fresh air is needed by the sick. There was a time, well over a hundred years ago, when the medics asserted that the atmosphere of the cities was more suitable for asthmatics than the air of the country, and the smokier the air and closer the streets the better. This was a time when tubercular patients were put into caves or required to sleep in cow stables, that they might breathe the effluvia from the decomposing manure.
Medical men have never entirely accepted hygiene and sanitation and have never completely abandoned their opposition to it. An article in the September 1955 issue of The Practitioner accuses the average person of regarding the open bedroom window with near fanaticism. It says that certain people can sleep much more healthfully if they keep their bedroom windows closed and their rooms comfortably warm. The article also says that asthma patients may obtain relief from pollens by simply excluding the cold, damp night air from their rooms. Here we have an echo of the old medically fostered fear of cold air, damp air and night air. The article says that sufferers with chronic bronchitis may sleep more comfortably in a warm room with the windows closed. It also suggests that perhaps the body can fight "virus infections" of the respiratory passages if the room is warm and the windows closed.