Source: Vegetarian and Our Fellow Creatures
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Most Recent Notorious Exhibition of Medical Fallacy”
Author(s): Vibrator [pseudonym]
Date of publication: 15 November 1901
Volume number: 6
Issue number: 2
Pagination: 37, 39, 41, 43
|Vibrator. “The Most Recent Notorious Exhibition of Medical Fallacy.” Vegetarian and Our Fellow Creatures 15 Nov. 1901 v6n2: pp. 37, 39, 41, 43.|
|William McKinley (medical care: criticism); William McKinley (medical condition); William McKinley (recovery: speculation); George M. Gould.|
|George M. Gould; Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.; George Henry Makins [misspelled below]; William McKinley; John Tyndall.|
|Click here to view a letter to the editor written in response to the editorial below.|
The Most Recent Notorious Exhibition of Medical Fallacy
It was a profoundly mournful week of tragedy
which occurred at Buffalo. But it has set a greater proportion of the people
of the whole world to reflecting on the methods pursued by the medical and surgical
men in the treatment of disease and injuries than ever before.
The belated explanation of the doctors that the president’s early death was inevitable from the beginning, deceives very few, but clearly shows what awful blunders were made. In the evident confused eagerness to explain that the autopsy showed that no blame should attach to the treatment pursued, the doctors have explained too much for their own defense; the contradictions are so pronounced as to be pathetically absurd, and are absolute condemnation of this latter-day learned ignorance and folly.
The injured president made the most gratifying and rapid improvement for nearly a week after he was shot. There was, as there still is, every indication that he would have made a perfect recovery, if the absolute fast which was so wisely begun, with simple and copious water drinking, had been continued for only a few more days. Yet it is just here lies the unfortunate circumstance—this simple procedure would have made it appear that there was nothing for the doctors to do, because in reality the President’s condition required nothing but intelligent nursing and the cleanly dressing of the wound. So the doctors, or some of them, became restive; it would never do to let the world see that one of such exalted station could recover of such a dangerous injury without some “medicine” and beef tea; these were therefore administered, and the President was even told that he might smoke! Thus were brought into operation several poisons to lower the remedial, i. e., the reconstructive, force of the body. The mercurial poison, calomel; the effete and excretory poison of an animal’s body, extracted in beef tea; and the nicotine of tobacco—these were not enough to satisfy the dozen doctors who were, directly and indirectly, in consultation; the president’s system could tolerate an even greater strain; so solid food was administered.
Think of the condition of the body at that time; a deep-seated injury; the alimentary tract perforated and requiring for its repair the concentration of all the available vitality of the nervous system, which, already, had been so much diminished by the great shock and injury. All the other organs were receiving, therefore, the minimum of essential nerve control. In this critical situation the stomach was not able to digest any kind of food; it was inevitable that such would only remain and ferment—putrify [sic], decay, and produce additional extremely virulent poisons. These quickly became dissolved and passed into the circulating blood. The poisons thus produced in the stomach and those also administered soon did their deadly work; a change soon occurred and the untimely end rapidly came!
It will thus be seen that the usual medical routine of treatment in all cases was well exemplified by the physicians and surgeons who attended the president; but there is, in this noted exhibition of their methods, an unusually well exposed array of the facts illustrating the prevailing stupidity of the drug-giving fraternity. This makes this famous case a commentary which greatly favors an easy, intelligent, understanding of the causes and effects of medical drug-giving and feeding. Generally the varying proceedures [sic] of medical attendants are secluded from public view and criticism; even the patient and his immediate friends are usually kept in ignorance; the prescription for medicine is written in unintelligible medical hieroglyphics, which only members of the profession and the drug clerk are able to decipher; so that the erratic, irrational, unintelligent, and ever changing selection and administration of poisons is generally unknown even within the patient’s own household. But in the case of the President, the surgeons were early so sure of his reserve of vital strength and resistance that they frankly made known to the world the tactics they adopted, feeling sure that, whatever they might be, he would rally and recover.
Proof of this assertion is seen in the candid, jubilant, confident editorials of medical journals which went to press just the day before the bad symptoms first developed. There is no medical journal more representative of the medical men of to-day than “American  Medicine”; it is edited by Dr. G. M. Gould, for whom I feel a large degree of admiration, for he is intellectually much ahead of the great mass of his profession. His editorial dated September 14th, the very day on which the President died, said of Mr. McKinley’s condition:
“Medical men will watch with traned [sic] eye the rise and fall of the pulse and temperature, for those changes in the condition of the patient which indicate the triumph or failure (!) of our present day methods of abdominal surgery. The nation may be assured that the care of its chief executive is in the hands of surgeons of skill and ability, and may be confident that all that surgical art has attained and surgical science has acquired, is known and utilized by them. Frequently it has happened that an obscure citizen has received better treatment than a patient of exalted position. * * * but such was not the case with McKinley.” Gould adds: “President McKinley’s injury seems to be one offering exceptionally favorable prospects of recovery. The location of the wound in the stomach, where peristaltic movement is comparatively limited, and less likely to spread infection which would produce peritonitis; the lack of injury to the large vessels[;] the occurrence of the injury while in good health and while the stomach was nearly empty, and the assurance of the best possible nursing, give every reason for hope of rapid recovery. Even under the unfavorable circumstances of the battle field [sic], Makin’s recent (book) ‘Surgical Experiences in South Africa,’ lead him to offer a comparatively favorable prognosis in cases of wounds of the stomach. With the best surgical skill and all the advantages of a well-equipped modern hospital, the prospects should still be brighter.”
Yes! surely this was what was to be expected and what should have resulted; but the superstitious folly of giving calomel, beef tea, solid food, etc., changed all this most sadly. Quite prophetically, on the same editorial page, he adds:
“Everywhere there has been rejoicing as favorable progress has been announced. Situations can readily be imagined in which the entire fate of the nation may rest in the hands of the members of the profession which has for its mission” [so it endeavors to make the world suppose], “the saving and prolongation of life and the alleviation of suffering.” But just the very opposite of Dr. Gould’s anxious hope will follow this conspicuously sad episode. He continues, “Perhaps out of this universal grief, because of the acknowledged skill of the operators,” and because of the  “experimentation that has within the past twenty years so advanced abdominal surgery as to render, not only possible, but probable, the saving of the President’s life,” perhaps, he says, “the profession may at last receive popular aid in its efforts to perfect the science and art of medicine, instead of being hampered by popular opposition to each successive step from those who will reap the benefit (?) of every advance.”
But let Dr. Gould first prove any benefit and advance, due to the idea of curing the ills of the body by means of poisons and surgery. He certainly cannot claim such men as Prof. Tyndall, who have done infinitely more for the elucidation of the facts of germ life, and atmospheric conditions, than any strictly medical men. The investigators who increase our sanitary, hygienic and biologic knowledge are not the practicing doctors, but they are the Huxleys, Darwins, Leidys, Virchows, and often men who have abandoned the practice of medicine. Even Dr. Gould admits that the improvements in the results of surgical operations are due to the simple application of extreme cleanliness, for which the medical world is so fond of using the Greek word “antiseptics,” and which, as he says, has made recovery such a certainty that, “were it not an every day occurrence, it would be considered miraculous.” Yet is [sic] is a sad commentary on the present stage of the appreciation shown for hygienic knowledge that most physicians and surgeons have less regard for the importance of extreme cleanliness or antisepsis, than many of the enlightened people outside of their fraternity; because these will not tolerate the practice of making a septic condition in their system by putting into it calomel, quinine the ptomaines of flesh, boiled into beef tea and other poisons! The profession is never likely to receive that popular aid in the science and art of medicine, which Dr. Gould laments, because the profession does not denounce the  utter fallacy of putting poisons of any kind into the human body, as Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes did, and many other great and independent minds who have abandoned the profession’s death-dealing traditions and superstitions. And there is another reason why popular aid is not likely to be given to this profession, and that is because of its overweening fondness for the use of the knife, instead of resorting to the well-known and simple purifying hygienic measures.
It is becoming the prevailing belief of the intelligent portion of the public all the world over that, with the least provocation of pain, any organ that can be removed, without probably causing death, the majority of the profession are ever ready to recommend shall be cut away. For pain in the stomach, instead of advising a wholesome dietary, or the rational fast, appendicitis is whispered and soon an operation is urged. If a lady complains to her “doctor” of “a bearing-down feeling,” instead of suitable sexual habits being taught, or strengthening exercises, movements, or bathing or repose, a “major” or “minor” operation is asserted to be indispensable and the poor woman is in danger of sacrificing the possibility of subsequent motherhood, as thousands of young women have done before her.
It is very true that the profession contains some men of noble instincts and training and some with great scientific knowledge. But it does seem sadly rare that these important attributes are united in the same individual medical man! Such a combination, however, is quite indispensable to enable any doctor to faithfully and scientifically serve his community, his country, humanity, as he should do. If a few such men, within the profession, dared to raise their voices to remove the ignorance that curses civilization, such a transformation in the health, happiness and ethics would result as all the developments of mechanical and electrical science in the last century has not secured. Consider carefully the influence of two plain facts of everyday life; the average man smokes one ounce of tobacco daily, so say our official statisticians. “Annually his family, which means in the main himself, consumes seven and one-half gallons of spirits and wine, and not less than seventy-five gallons of beer.” If this is startling, what would be the statement of the cost of his other drugs—medicines? I have not figures available to answer; but there is nothing more sad, pitiable, in all human life than the knowledge that the poor and sick are spending their money year after year in the “drug store,” with the credulous idea that the poisons they buy are “medicines” to help them get back their health! It is proverbial that doctors do not take their own medicine; and it is equally true of the druggists, also, for I have known many of them both. Thus, by their actions as well as by their words (when talking confidentially to their few favored ones) they expose their knowledge of the injury, deception, which the ignorant are allowed to suffer at their hands. If the profession was imbued with the sincerity, disinterestedness, magnanimity, which its members so monotonously claim, they would in a single year convince the laity of the folly and the injury of drug-taking. They would, in one brief year, rid the world of the drug delusion and make all intelligent people understand that the only remedy for sickness, whether from injury or wrong living, is the very same means which will prevent disease—and that is personal and public hygiene—that condition of cleanliness which is next to Godliness. Clean streets, clean gutters and sewers, clean houses and yards and clean bodies; pure food and water; pure air night and day; suitable exercise and the constant avoidance of poisons, from whatever source and of whatever name, whether called medicines, tonics or stimulants.
Members of the profession so actuated would possess such self-respect and hold high principle in such high esteem that they would cease to live parasitic lives, supporting their glory, display, and luxury by the hard-earned and greatly needed earnings of the poor, the ignorant, the suffering; but they would employ themselves in truly productive vocations instead.