We have defined remedial action as the sum total of all those modifications of function (diminutions and dramatic exaggerations) and structure designed to resist and expel injurious substances and to repair damages. These modifications of structure and function are commonly called disease or symptoms of disease; they might just as well be called the healing power of nature. Not understanding the nature of disease, the efforts of physicians, from the time of Hippocrates to the present, have been directed at the destruction or suppression of the very efforts and processes by which the living system is endeavoring to protect itself and restore itself to a normal state. Suppressing or trying to suppress remedial action is the usual practice of the schools of healing. In every possible way curative measures are employed to stop vomiting, repress coughing, check diarrhea, palliate pain, reduce fever, etc., etc. Stopping the remedial activities of the organism is called curing disease.
If a poison is swallowed and vomiting follows, the vomiting, although it may be regarded as disease or as a symptom of disease, is an action of the body designed to expel the poison. It is remedial action. If instead of vomiting there follows violent bowel action with griping, the secretion of much watery mucus and violent expulsion of the poison held in dilute solution in the mucus, this is but another means of expelling the poison. It is remedial action. If some of the drug gets into the blood stream and the kidneys hurriedly expel it in the action called diuresis, we observe another remedial action.
The questions obtrude themselves at this point: should the vomiting be cured (suppressed); should the diarrhea be treated; should the diuresis be medicated? Should anything be done to interfere with either of these actions of the organism trying to protect itself from poisoning? Should we seek to cure the remedial processes of the body? If the vomiting is suppressed (with an opiate, for example), is not the poison left in the stomach? If we suppress the diarrhea, do we not prevent the expulsion of the poison; if we suppress the diuresis, is not the poison left in the blood? Are not such efforts at curing the disease severe blows (below the belt) at the integrity of the organism itself? Is the one who seeks to cure disease not making war upon life?
The dynamic quality of life is all too often overlooked when we consider disease and the fact that the body is capable of exerting violent effort in its own behalf is missed. The violence of the vomiting and and diarrhea designed to completely empty the intestinal tract when a poison has been swallowed is exactly the same as the violent vomiting and diarrhea that we see employed in emptying the digestive tract in typhoid or other acute disease. It should be quite obvious that the more complete and more prompt is the emptying of the digestive tract when a poison has been swallowed, either by accident or intent, the less damage will be sustained by the individual and that anything which will sooth the organism and reduce or suppress the expulsive effort will tend to result in death no matter how kindly the intentions of the man who applies it nor how scientifically it is done. Indeed, the more efficient the method of suppression employed the greater will be the danger to the individual. The same reasoning applies with equal force to the suppression of the dynamic actions of the body in sickness.
Mucus or blood or a bread crumb in the bronchial tube or the bronchioles is expelled by violent coughing. Should the cough (the remedial process ) be cured (suppressed) and the irritating and obstructing material left in the air passages? Mucus or dust in the nose is expelled by sneezing. Should the sneezing (the remedial process ) be cured, or should it be permitted to clear the nasal passages of obstructing and irritating material? These same questions could be asked about fever and the other symptoms of disease. The disease process and the healing process are identical. This statement needs a certain modification, due to the fact that the term disease is a broad one that is made to cover many phenomena, some of which are the very opposite of the others. It is not correct to say that paralysis or the wasting of an organ and other pathological states of this character are remedial processes.
Coughing in pneumonia helps to free the air passages of the accumulated exudate and makes continued breathing possible. To suppress the cough is to permit the exudate to accumulate in the lungs and it may cause the patient to drown in his own excretion. Indeed, many thousands of pneumonia patients have been killed in precisely this manner. The high death rate in so many acute diseases is due to the frustrating effects of treatment, especially of drugs. The operations of the redemptive power within are thwarted and suppressed. A physician may spend his whole life throwing obstacles in the way of the healing processes; year after year he may add insult to injury and die without realizing that he has been a foe of the sick.
The remedial process cannot be expected to achieve its object if it is suppressed by vigorous drugging and treatment. If diverted from its remedial work by the presence of more dangers in the form of drugs, the remedial work will be neglected or discontinued. The more virulent the poison, the more will the remedial action be suppressed. Replying to a man who contended that with their drugs medical men control and direct vital activities, Trall said: "Our friend has overlooked the important distinction between dividing and controlling action, and wasting vital power."
Explaining this, Trall says: "With the system warring against one poison, the introduction of another poison is simply to cause two battles to be waged in the vital domain at the same time. The vital power would be wasting itself in two directions instead of one. In this way 'nature,' which is another name for vital action, could never 'rally all her forces.' Why put another enemy into the system so that nature can triumph over both?"
Drugs to suppress symptoms are not only evil because they suppress the symptoms at which they are directed, but also because they temporarily depress other functions of the body. For example, so-called cough medicines, while they do temporarily suppress coughing (a truly undesirable effect, as the cough should not be suppressed), at the same time depress the digestive system and occasion constipation. To take cathartics to force bowel movement also impairs digestion. Drugs to suppress pain do so by depressing the whole nervous system, thus reducing all of the processes of life, both the normal processes and the remedial modifications of these processes. We should know that when we have suppressed pain, we have not removed the reason for it. It is a physiological outrage to render the senses oblivious to pain by obliterating (with drugs) the capacity or ability to feel. There are many ways by which pain may be suppressed, but they all amount to muffling the alarm bells during a conflagration.
What do we gain by our efforts to interfere with, hasten or frustrate the processes of nature? We may reduce fever by a variety of means, but we cannot do so without reducing the very activities that depend upon the extra temperature for their efficiency. A drunk man may be noisy and quarrelsome. His noisiness and quarrelsomeness may be cured by giving him more whiskey. He becomes so drunk that he is as quiet as a lamb and as stupid as a log. Indeed, he may be reduced to a state of anesthesia, which represents the acme of physiological depression short of death. It is impossible to think of remedial processes being carried on effectively in such a profound state of depression.
Among the structural modifications that are seen in the remedial processes is the enlargement of the tonsils. Tonsils enlarge to increase their working capacity, just as one kidney enlarges to increase its working capacity if the other kidney is removed. Muscles enlarge when called upon to do extra work in order to increase their working capacity. Removing the tonsils because they are enlarged is as foolish as would be removing the muscles because they are enlarged or removing an enlarged kidney because of its increased size.