In all conditions of "disease" there is a reduction of nervous energy and a lessened ability of the organs of the body to perform their functions. Although certain functions are for a time exalted, this can occur only by drawing upon the blood and nervous supplies that normally should go to those organs which have their functions most reduced. The increased pulse, temperature, respiration, etc., in "acute disease" are so noticeable that we are likely to associate them with increased vitality and overlook the signs of diminished vitality.
Reduction of functional activity may result from exhaustion, or weakness, or structural damage; or, it may result from the withdrawal of energy from one part to be employed elsewhere. In so-called "disease" we see reduced activity from both of these causes. The characteristics of "acute disease" are elevation or heightening of some of the most important manifestations of life, with diminution of others--increased respiration, circulation, flushed skin, suspended digestion, etc.
Increased action means increased expenditure. The funds of the organism are limited. This limitation, together with the dependence of expenditure on compensation, render it impossible that all or many organs should simultaneously increase their function. Goethe says: "In order to spend on one side, Nature is forced to economize on the other." Action can be increased in one direction only by a corresponding reduction of action in another. If blood flows in excess to one part, other parts must do with less. If nervous activity is increased in one direction, it must be decreased in another. The body cannot speed up one function without slowing down another. You cannot engage in intense mental work and carry on physical work at the same time. You must give your whole attention to the mental work. Try solving a simple mathematical problem while running at top speed and you will get a clear example of this. The common expression, "breathless attention", is not without foundation. Breathing is greatly lessened when one is engaged in mental effort. If a heavy meal is eaten there is a marked falling off in mental efficiency and a decided disinclination to do physical work. While engaged in the work of digestion, blood and energy are required in extra quantities in the digestive organs.
The water runs into your bath tub with great force until you turn on the water in your lavatory. Immediately the force of the flow into the tub is lessened. The current of water divided between two outlets, flows with lessened force through each. An electric light burns brightly when it alone is receiving the electrical current. But if another light in another room, or if an electric iron is switched on, on the same current, the lessened brilliancy of the light may be seen at once. If, then, the iron or second light is turned off, the first light will instantly brighten. This same thing is true of all power machines. Power cannot be expended with full and equal intensity in all directions at once.
The vital force may be withdrawn from one organ and concentrated at any point desired. The aggregate of powers of the organisim may be regarded as a reservoir of force, capable of being called in any direction or to any point needed. The body is capable of directing or concentrating its reparative and defensive efforts at any given locality, as occasion demands. Much greater quantities of blood, than is requisite for the ordinary functions of the tissue or organ, may be almost instantaneously accumulated in any tissue or organ. It may be almost as rapidly diminished in a tissue or organ. Nervous activity may be "willed" instantly in any direction in response to need, as surely as the reader can will his arm to move.
The living body has means of directing its energies into different channels--increasing them in one direction and correspondingly decreasing them in another. It may so increase activity in one part that it completely suspends the functions of another part. It may simultaneously suspend and reduce all activities at once, as in sleep and suspended animation.
Who has not dozed off to sleep and been suddenly aroused, before becoming soundly asleep, and found himself too weak to rise? There did not seem to be any power in the muscles. Although, a few minutes or seconds before, no feeling of weakness was felt. The usual power and vigor were present. Activity or stimulation, a cold bath perhaps, soon restored the normal feeling of strength. This apparent weakness was not due to lack of power, but to withdrawal of power from the voluntary functions. The body seems to have some way of switching its power on and off, as electricity is switched on or off.
Thus it may be seen that, though the work of an organ in "disease" is a special act, yet the conditions for its continuance are coincidentally transferred from parts quite beyond that of its exercise--from the whole organism. The ability of the organ to perform the extra work thrown upon it, therefore, depends upon the support it receives from its symbiotic partners. All of the processes of biogony are interdependent and involve the cooperation of the whole organism.
In all biogonies the operation of this principle is seen in all of its perfection. First nature suspends the voluntary functions, in order that the power ordinarily employed by these in doing work may be utilized through other channels in the work of elimination. Nature sends us to bed to rest. We find it painful, even impossible to be up and around; much less can we work. Sometimes the sick person is too weak to sit or stand. All muscular power seems lost. He is said to be "prostrated." But little energy is expended through any of the voluntary functions.
Organs with dual functions may have one function increased and the other decreased. Jointly considered, the power of the body is insufficient for the purpose of maintaining healthy action in all organs. When there is a departure from the highest standard of healthy action or condition in the individual, the parts concerned fail in their functions and in maintaining their healthful conditions, not from any want of disposition or tendency to do right, but for want of sufficient power to do what they would do if they could. They do the best they can with the power at their disposal. Mental and sensory power and activities are greatly reduced. Sometimes even consciousness is lost. Mental work is well-nigh impossible. Diminished action conserves the body's energies so these may be employed elsewhere.
The body does not merely enforce mental and physical rest. A great amount of physiological rest is secured by the suspension of digestion and absorption. Secretion is reduced to a minimum. There is lack of appetite-- anorexia--, perhaps a distinct repugnance to food. If food is taken it is likely to be vomited. In all acute diseases, appetite or hunger is lacking. In most chronic diseases appetite is poor. This lack of appetite has been dignified by the euphonious title of anorexia and is considered as a disease, or rather a symptom of disease. There is no appetite following the ingestion of a meal and this absence of desire for food is considered normal. Under other conditions, absence of desire for food is considered abnormal. But is it? Desire or lack of desire for food depends upon conditions. There is naturally and normally a lack of desire for food when no food is required by the body and there is naturally and normally an absence of appetite when there is lack of ability to digest food. Secretion has been suspended and digestion is not possible. The power to digest is lacking and an absence of all desire for food under such circumstances is normal and natural. Nature resorts to this as a means of conserving the energy ordinarily expended in digestion and assimilation. Appetite is cut off if one receives a severe wound or is in deep grief or sorrow. It is a conservative measure. It is in no sense an enemy of life. It should not be combatted or subdued. Appetite will return as soon as normal secretion is re-established and this will occur as soon as the work of "disease" has been accomplished and recuperation has taken place.
Every function that can be safely reduced is reduced, some are completely suspended. Sometimes strong, vigorous men become "suddenly" ill and collapse while at their work. Was the sudden collapse due to sudden loss of power or sudden withdrawal of power? I am convinced it was withdrawal of power and that this is a wise provision, designed to conserve the energy that is ordinarily and regularly expended through the voluntary channels, in order that it may be used to meet more urgent needs. These are conservative measures without which life would soon end under certain circumstances.
By this enforced mental, physical and physiological rest the body is enabled to employ the energy regularly expended in mental, physical and physiological work in its work of elimination, repair and cure. All the energy that is saved from one class of work may be employed in carrying on another class of work.
In proportion to the need to conserve energy, are the various functions of the body suspended and guarded with Just enough vitality to maintain their continuity and preserve them in a state of resuscitability. With the suspension of the nutritive functions and the muscles of voluntary motion at rest, there is little action in the system generally, and consequently little wear and tear, so that the cost of maintenance is almost nothing. Perfect economy is everywhere exercised in the appropriation and use of the vital energies, and the whole process is conducted under perfect law which nicely and minutely adapts the means to the end.
Nature never wantonly turns aside from her habitual course of action to throw her complex machinery into disorder and give it suicidal motion and tendency. There is always an imperative necessity for her actions and her operations. The work of preserving life devolves upon the vital economy and this economy does not require to be reminded of its duties. Nature does not withdraw power from an organ to destroy life, but to save it. She gives us the strongest possible guarantee that all available power will be put in requisition, and expended most economically in her work of cure and reparation. Her action can never be wrong.
During the course of his debate with Trall, Jennings said: "The function of the nutritive apparatus, which in a sound state of the system requires large outlays of power to work it in all its parts, is suspended; forces are withdrawn from the mental machinery, and its operations, which ordinarily, are quite exhaustive, cease; the muscles of voluntary motion are at rest; and all parts of the body, whose constant motion in some measure, is not immediately essential to life, are left with only a bare sufficiency of the life-preserving principle to keep them in a salvable state, ready for resuscitation on the replenishment of the vital force."
The tendency of all the movements: of life, in "disease", is to save life as far as that may be in danger and especially to avert threatened injury to any particular organ. The first object nature aims at in her work is to shut down all unecessary waste-gates for the needless expenditure of power, in order that those organs that must accomplish the greater part of the work of cure may have power with which to do their work. There is no man living who is wise enough to determine just which functions should be diminished and which accelerated. The organism is itself the best judge in the matter. In other words, just as the organism alone can safely manage its functions in health, so it alone can safely manage its affairs in disease.
If there is not power enough in reserve to carry on the restorative operations and, at the same time, continue all the functions of life in their full vigor, the Law of Limitation enforces such curtailments as the exigencies of the case call for, and the power withheld from one organ is supplied to another to accomplish a more urgent and more necessary work. What power the body possesses is used, under the direction of eternal and immutable law, to the best possible advantage, just where it is needed and the curtailment of function is carried just as far as, but no further than, the emergency demands,