Studies in the Osteopathic Sciences
Basic Principles: Volume 1
Louisa Burns, M.S., D.O., D.Sc.O.

Reasons for Meddling of Nurses.
            In the presence of suffering, it is a basic principle in human nature to desire urgently to do something to relieve the pain.  This desire is based upon the physiology of the neurons of the basal ganglia.  The incoming impulse which affects the basal ganglia in any way,--that is, which arouses any feelings or emotions,--at once seeks expression.  It is the function of these collections of nerve cells to coordinate immediately the movements concerned in emotional reactions; so, when the feelings are aroused by anything, the tendency is toward immediate expression.  Now, when some member of the family is sick, the others, being grieved and sorry for the suffering, are placed in a condition of a certain temptation.  They urgently desire to do something of advantage to the sick person, but even stronger than this most admirable endeavor is the unrecognized longing to do something to satisfy one’s own feelings.

            This desire is manifest, all unconsciously to themselves, in those who, in spite of their own evident lack of ability, insist upon nursing sick people themselves. Other fond relatives awaken the sick person ”just to see if he is still able to know me.”  At root, this impulse toward helpfulness is one of the most praise-worthy of traits.  It is praise-worthy because it makes for the persistence of the altruistic spirit, which secures the finest development of the race.

            If the spirit of service, thus exemplified, fail in its endeavor, then it becomes rather a hindrance to progress in any proper sense.  The poorly advised and fussy efforts of those who, not being guided by any more rational considerations than feelings, persist in satisfying themselves by performing unwelcome services and meddling with the natural progress of the disease toward recovery, are responsible for many long and weary days of hindered convalescence, and only too often for a shortened life.  Doctors of every school recognize this mental condition of the patient’s friends, and many are the placebos which are prescribed to the patient more for the sake of the officious friends than for the sake of the sufferer.

            The whole tendency of the medical instruction given non-professional people in the past has been toward the maintenance of dense and hopeless ignorance concerning every function of the human frame.  Partly because of this ignorance, with its related half-superstitious trust in the doctor because of his M. D., not because of his knowledge, partly because of a sort of undying faith in the ultimate total depravity of disease in all of its manifestations, and mostly because of this innate and irrational endeavor to do something, no matter what, the habit of meddlesomeness has become very firmly fixed in everybody’s ideas of propriety in the sick room.  It is a foolish notion, but it cannot be at once eradicated from the minds of ignorant people, at any rate.  The final elimination of the old priest idea in relation to the doctor’s knowledge and powers, the education of the people until they are ready to believe that the laws of the universe are not set aside within their own bodies, and the wider recognition of the fundamental truths of biology and physiology will prepare the way for a rational habit of dealing with the sick,--a habit of considering no other factor than the good of the patient.


Irrational Therapeutics Are Harmful.

            Therapeutic measures which are based upon the necessity for satisfying the desires of the patient and his friends that “all that can be done is being done” can never be truly rational.  Such methods as are not absolutely indicated are harmful.

            Irrational therapeutic measures injure the patient in three ways:--even if they be harmless in themselves they prevent the determination of the methods indicated, they are the occasion of considerable disturbance to the patient, who perhaps needs rest and quiet, and, more frequently, they are themselves a source of further malfunction.


The Harm of “Harmless Remedies.”

            Osteopaths find great difficulty, sometimes, in dealing with the kind and officious friends who have something “so simple, it could not possibly do any harm.”  It is needless to say that there is no power efficient for good which is not capable of harm if unwisely employed.

            If one considers thoughtfully the therapeutic methods which are now discarded, and thinks of the number of lives which were shortened through bleeding, the over-feeding of typhoid patients, the denial of drink to the feverish, and all the list of the absurdities which are now left behind as barbarisms, he should find the lesson which is so often disregarded, that one should be rather sure that his measures are those adapted to the very condition of the very patient before he engages in any marked interference with the progress of the body itself in its efforts to accommodate itself to the conditions.

            By far the larger number of cases which come to the osteopath present symptoms which are only in part due to the original cause of the malfunction; often the most severe and dangerous of his symptoms are the effects of the therapeutic methods which have been unwisely employed.  A few cases, which probably duplicate others in the knowledge of most observant persons, may be cited in illustration of these points.


Examples of Irrational Methods.

            The patient, always well, with an unfailing appetite and a habit of eating heartily three times every day, goes into a business which is rather confining.  He keeps on eating as usual.  One day he is more weary than usual, or he is worried about something.  He eats some unusual dish, or perhaps more heartily than he is accustomed.  He does not sleep very well, and suffers from nausea and headache.  There is some diarrhoea.  He uses the ordinary “harmless” remedies for the diarrhoea.  It stops suddenly.  He eats rather heartily, from habit, though he is not hungry.  He becomes feverish during the day, and takes some more “harmless” medicine, -- purgatives, this time.  He feels better, the next day, and eats enough to make up the time he did not lose while he felt poorly.  He finds himself in need of purgative medicines very often, thereafter.  The enema is suggested as being a “harmless” method of dealing with such troubles.  He uses enemata and  rectal dilators until the rectum has lost its normal tone.  In the meantime, he has consulted all his friends, because he “does not like doctors.”

            In accordance with their advice, he tries a fast, tries full feeding, tries smoking, quits smoking for a week or two, takes all sorts of patent medicines, and finally goes to a doctor.  Here he repeats, in slightly different manner, the history already given.  He goes to other doctors, some of them rational, but he expects hasty cure, so loses confidence in a short time.  His original indisposition was a very simple affair; if he had remained quiet for a little time, with no food, during the time of his nausea, perhaps there would have been no trouble afterwards.  But the therapeutics were his undoing.

            In case of accident, a slight wound is often irritated by the use of antiseptics of too great strength, and it is daubed with lotions or salves of reputed “healing” power, until the marvel is that healing ever does occur.  Among ignorant people, salves are not infrequently kept in open jars, or perhaps with loosely fitting lids from month to month, and these are opened freely in the presence of any sort of infection.  It seems almost impossible to persuade people that there is no such thing in all nature as a “healing power” in anything except the tissue which has been injured, and its neighboring fluids and tissues, and that the “healing power” of the injured tissue itself surpasses all that has been ascribed to any external application.


Education Eliminates Irrational Therapeutics.

            It is the province of the doctors of this new time to begin to educate the people along the lines of common sense in their dealings with themselves.  The process must be very slow, for the teaching of ages is not lightly set aside.  The old type of doctor still maintains an attitude of pretension to something more than ordinary powers.  It is perhaps more than half unconsciously maintained, as the result of the effect upon himself of the medical traditions.  There are persons who honestly doubt the wisdom of giving a broader knowledge of physiological matters to non-professional people, because of the unwise instruction which has been given in times past.  Education must proceed slowly, for many reasons.  Sensible, intelligent people may be shown the reason for the methods of treatment described.  They wrong their patients who give unrelated facts of pathology and disease symptoms, in their unattractive aspects, to people who know nothing of the wonderful and beautiful relations of health.

            The reason for the simpler phenomena of everyday experience, the reason for the instruction which is given in hygienic matters, the reason for cleanliness in the care of wounds, and, above all, the fact that health and sanity and power in life are not the result of mere whimsical chance, but that these things are the inevitable result of the normal body, well treated, and in its proper place in the midst of things, these things all people should know.

            If these things might be understood by non-professional people, there would be less of carelessness among doctors, less of meddlesome fussiness among the friends of a patient, and the periods of convalescence would be quiet, restful, pleasant times of daily renewing strength.