In their very nature, acute diseases are evanescent. On the other hand, chronic diseases are of long standing. Chronic disease is of no speedy termination, but it is not nearly as devoid of remedial processes as our Hygienic predecessors thought. When chronic disease becomes acute, this is a sure evidence that it is in a recoverable state.
Chronic disease does not tend to come to a spontaneous end, as does acute disease. Although not lacking in the purifying tendencies of the acute state, it represents a feeble struggle against chronic provocation. It must be remedied by measures that are skillfully, carefully, appropriately and unremittingly directed to that end. Far more skill is required in adapting Hygienic means to the needs of the chronic sufferer than is required in adapting them to the needs of the acute sufferer. Indeed, as we have already seen, this adaptation is almost wholly automatic and spontaneous in acute disease.
In most chronic disease there are periodic intensifications of symptoms, which should serve to remind us that the sufferer is really in a permanent crisis. These recurring crises are but intensifications of the permanent critical efforts of the patient. The statement that the crisis is permanent needs to be qualified. As things are, the crisis must be perpetuated. It can, indeed, end in but one of two ways--in the death of the patient or recovery, if a thorough Hygienic reconstruction of his way of life is instituted. We are not to be fooled by the quiescent periods between the recurring crises. The dying down of acute symptoms does not mean that danger has passed. Nor should we gamble recklessly on short-run results without regard for long-run effects in the patient. Modes of treatment that give temporary relief are, in the end, disappointing.
Today there is a great and general increase in chronic and degenerative diseases and people in general have been induced to accept all of this disease and degeneracy as normal or, at least, inevitable. Indeed, they are being led to believe that it is due to the allegedly increased life span, as though it is aging and not disease that is increasing.
It is necessary, in order for us to understand why there is so much increase in chronic disease, to know that there are two general causes for this multiplicity of chronic sufferers. At least three-fourths of those treated for acute disease by the prevailing drug method have some form of chronic disease if and when they recover from the acute disease. This has long been true. Kittredge doubted that half of the physicians of his time knew or realized the "potent poisoning" they engaged in, nor the "incredible amount of chronic disease they were causing in their patients," or, if they did, they must "have very elastic consciences."
Is it possible to find a man or woman who has been dosed through an acute illness, who is now well? Are they not all pretty well riddled by the drug bullets? If it were possible to supply accurate figures of all those who die yearly of acute disease because of this poisoning practice, who would, otherwise, have recovered and the many more whose constitutions were strong enough to enable them to survive in spite of the poisoning, but whose after-history will be filled with aches and pains due to the poisoning, the people would be awakened. A book of such facts would be of incalculable value to rising generations, however disastrous it would be certain to prove to the practice of medicine.
We have previously stressed that chronic disease is due to chronic provocation. By this is simply meant that the patient's mode of living is such that he builds trouble daily. He lives in such a way that he keeps himself chronically enervated and chronically toxemic so that his tissues are constantly poisoned. The various so-called diseases and their modifications that grow out of the all too common penchant for overstepping our limitations can never be recovered from unless the sick person himself has an understanding of the causes of his illness and the needs of recovery. What is needed in chronic disease is not a medley of treatments, but a changed way of life, so that the body can undo its damages and renew its structures. This is not always easy and, as the poet has said:
"Habits are soon assumed, but when we strive
To strip them off, 'tis like being flayed alive."
"Oh! My God!" exclaimed a woman Hygienist in the last century. "The patient died in the midst of his time-honored filth and surrounded by all his bad habits. Had he lived, it would have been only to wish for a return of the 'good days' that made him a sick man." People do find it difficult to break old habits and establish new ones and so long as they believe in cures, they do not even make the effort.
Nonetheless, difficult as it may prove to give up old habits and cultivate new ones, this must be done if health is to be restored. Writing in the Journal in October 1853, Charles Parker, M.D., said: "To my mind and feeling the change from the lancet and diseasing ratios of poisonous drugs, in which I was engaged many years, to a cure effective not only in chronic, but in acute disease, with a means so simple, and so much in accordance with the natural laws . . ." is a radical, but meaningful revolution.
Nichols said that: "In chronic disease, the patient makes such steady progress, and gets so thorough an understanding of his case, as to soon get beyond the necessity of advice." Better even than this, he said, is that when the patient gets well, he gets with his recovery the knowledge necessary to maintain his health forever after. Thus, he said, "a patient cured is a patient lost," and if the patient is the head of a family, "don't count on that family's practice to meet your current expenses." So-called local treatment is a mere treatment of symptoms. Hygiene is constitutional in its influence, rather than local. To employ Alcott's explanation, Hygiene seeks "to lead the patient into a course of life, by which he can gain physical capital."
An example of the constitutional approach to the problems presented by chronic disease may be found in the Hygienic care of the patient suffering with worms in the digestive tract. The reasoning of physicians about worms in the intestines was direct and conclusive: the worms must be killed. Thereupon, they dosed their patients with vermifuges--poisonous drugs--hoping thereby to kill the worms without killing their hosts. They rarely injured more than a few worms, but they frequently killed their patients. Today's medical practices are no better--they are still trying to kill the worms.
Hygienists held that worms can neither subsist on the proper food of man nor upon the products of any normal digestive change that these may undergo. "They feed on morbid materials" in the digestive tract, especially the products of indigestion. Addressing parents and nurses, Dr. G. H. Taylor said: "It is not worms of which the health of your children stands in danger, but it is those causes that so deteriorate the digestive power as to allow the growth of these creatures that are to be avoided. In a healthy stomach they would be entirely out of place and would soon perish for want of their proper food. Institute, then, such measures as will secure good digestion, and aliment will be converted to better uses than either to poison the system by morbid changes, or the lesser evil of serving as substance for worms. To dislodge these creatures, then, it is only necessary to improve the digestive powers, and they must either pass away or, losing their own vitality, will no longer resist the action of the digestive juices.