The Poor Child Died!
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1859
My baby, nine months old, had some fever, and seemed very unwell. One neighbor said: "You'd better send for the doctor."
Another suggested that it had, no doubt, eaten something that disagreed with it, and that a little medicinal wine would enable it to throw it off; another advised a few grains of mercury, and another a dose of rhubarb. But I said:
"No. I'll wait a little while, and see if it won't get better."
"You should give him medicine in time. Many a person dies from not taking medicine in time;" said a lady who expressed more than usual concern for the well-being of my baby. She had a very sick child herself.
"Many more die," I replied, "from taking medicine too soon. I believe that one half of the diseases in the world are produced by medicines, and that the other half are often made worse by their injudicious administration."
"You'd better send for the doctor," urged the lady.
"No. I'll wait until the morning, and then, if he's no better, or should be worse, I'll call in our physician. Children often appear very sick one hour, and are comparatively well again in the next."
"It's a great risk," said the lady, gravely. "A very great risk. I called in the doctor the moment my dear little Eddy began to droop about. And it's well I did. He's near death's door as it is; and without medical aid I would certainly have lost him before this. He's only been sick a week, and you know yourself how low he is reduced. Where do you think he would have been without medicine? The disease has taken a terrible hold of him. Why, the doctor has bled him twice; and his little chest is raw all over from a medical blister we applied to it. He has been cupped and leeched. We have had mustard plasters upon his arms and the calves of his legs. I don't know how many grains of mercury he has taken; and it has salivated him dreadfully. Oh! such a sore mouth! Poor child! He suffers dreadfully. Besides, he has taken some kind of powder almost every hour. They are dreadfully nauseous; and we have to hold him, every time, and pour them down his throat. Oh, dear! It makes my heart sick. Now, with all this, the disease still hangs on almost as bad as ever. Suppose we hadn't sent for the doctor at first? Can't you see what would have been the consequence? It is very wrong to put off calling in a physician upon the first symptoms of a disease."
"Pardon me, Mrs. Lee, for saying so," was my reply, "but I cannot help thinking that, if you had not called the doctor, your child would have been quite well today."
Mrs. Lee — that was the lady's name — uttered an exclamation of surprise and disapproval of my remark.
"But, cannot you see, yourself; that it is not the disease that has reduced your child so low. The bleeding, blistering, cupping, leeching, and mercury administrations — would have done all this, had your child been perfectly well when it went into the doctor's hands."
"But the disease would have killed him inevitably. If it requires all this to break it, don't you see that it must have taken a most fatal hold on the poor child's system."
"No, Mrs. Lee, I cannot see any such thing," was my reply. "The medicine probably fixed the disease, which would, if left alone, have retired of itself. What does the doctor say ails the child?"
"He does not seem to know. There seems to be a complication of diseases."
"Produced by the treatment he has received, no doubt. If there had been scarlet fever, or small pox, or croup, active and energetic treatment would, probably, have been required, and the doctor would have known what he was about in administering his remedies. But, in a slight indisposition, like that from which your child suffered, it is, in my opinion, always better to give no medicine for a time. Drugs thrown into the tender system of a child, will always produce disease of some kind, more or less severe; and where slight disorders already exist, they are apt to give them a dangerous hold upon the body, or, uniting with them, cause a most serious, and, at times, fatal illness."
But Mrs. Lee shook her head. She thought the doctors knew best. They had great confidence in their family physician. He had doctored them through many dangerous attacks, and had always brought them through safely. As to the new-fangled notions about giving little or no medicine, she had no confidence in them. Medicine was necessary at times, and she always gave her children medicine at least two, or three times a year, whether they were sick or well. Prevention, in her eyes, was better than cure. And where there was actual sickness, she was in favor of vigorous treatment. One good dose of medicine would do more good than a hundred little ones; with much more to the same effect.
On the next morning, my dear baby, who was just as sick for a few hours as Mrs. Lee's child was at first — was as well as ever.
Not long after breakfast, I was sent for by Mrs. Lee. Her poor child was much worse. The servant said that she was sure it was dying. I changed my dress hurriedly, and went over to the house of my neighbor.
Shall I describe the painful object that met my sight? It was three days since I had seen the little sufferer; but, oh! how it had changed in that brief time. Its face was sunken, its eyes far back in their sockets, and its forehead marked with lines of suffering. The whole of its chest was raw from the blister, and its mouth, lying open, showed, with painful distinctness, the dreadful injury wrought by the mercury thrown, with such a liberal hand, into its delicate system. All the life seemed to have withdrawn itself from the skin; for the vital forces, in the center of its body, were acting but feebly.
The doctor came in while I was there. He said but little. It was plain that he was entirely at fault, and that he saw no hope of a favorable issue. All his, "active treatment" had tended to break down the child, rather than cure the disease from which it at first suffered. There was a great deal of heat about the child's head, and he said something about having it shaved for application of a blister.
"Wouldn't ice do better, doctor?" I felt constrained to suggest. He turned upon me quickly and seemed annoyed.
"No, madam!" he replied with dignity.
I said no more, for I felt how vain my words would be. The blister, however, was not ordered; but, in its stead, mustard plasters were directed to be placed over the feet and legs to the knees, and a solution of iodine, or iron, I don't now remember which, prescribed, to be given every half hour.
I went home, some time after the doctor left, feeling sick at heart. "They are murdering that child!" I could not help saying to myself. My own dear babe I found full of health and life; and I hugged it to my bosom with a feeling of thankfulness.
Before the day closed, Mrs. Lee's poor child died. Was it a cause of wonder?