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Character As A Therapeutic Asset

Recent interest in tuberculosis has taught us that the best possible
asset for a tuberculous patient is character. Resistive vitality in
the physical order and character in the moral order seem to be
co-ordinate factors. If a man will not give in in the fight, if he
insists on struggling on in spite of difficulties, discouragement and
an outlook that seems hopeless, then he will almost without exception
get over his tuberculosis, if there is any favorable factor in his
environment. We talk much of immunity inborn and acquired to the
disease, but it seems to go hand in hand with a certain capacity to
stand the debilitating symptoms of the disease without allowing one's
mind to become depressed or one's disposition rendered despondent by

Courage and Constancy.--The career of Dr. Trudeau to whom we owe so
much of our knowledge of tuberculosis is a striking example of the
power of character to enable even an apparently delicate organization
to withstand the ravages of the disease. This is all the more striking
because he was an advanced case when he finally reached an environment
in which he could make head against the disease. The story of his own
personal struggle for life at Saranac, in which he both learned
himself and taught others what the modern treatment of
tuberculosis should be, is one of the best therapeutic documents of
modern times. Under circumstances that were quite apt to be
discouraging to anyone of less character than he, with the bitter cold
of the Adirondacks around him and quite inadequate heating facilities,
so that even old-fashioned lamps were in requisition for heating
purposes, he yet succeeded in winning back his own way to health and
showing others how it could be done. The struggle had to be kept up
for long, it had to be renewed again and again, our greatest American
authority on tuberculosis had to learn in his own person all the
clinical details of the disease, but in the midst of it all he
succeeded in accomplishing a life work that will stand beside that of
any man of his generation and will probably mean more in the history
of American medicine than that of any of his supposedly more
distinguished colleagues in our large cities and large teaching

This is the sort of man whom tuberculosis does not take in spite of
every advantage that the disease may seem to have. Two others of our
American authorities on tuberculosis had almost the same experience.

Persistence.--Recently I have been in correspondence with a young man
who illustrates the same power quite as strikingly. He went to Florida
and soon found that the unfortunate fear of tuberculosis that has so
unwarrantably come into many minds in recent years made it extremely
difficult--indeed, almost impossible--for him to live under such
circumstances as he hoped for when he went there. In any
boarding-house he went to just as soon as there was question of his
having tuberculosis the landlady would either insist on his leaving at
once or else plead with him to take his departure, lest her other
boarders should desert her. He was coughing, he had some fever, his
disease was advancing in the midst of all this disturbance, physical
and mental, and the outlook seemed hopeless. His picture of this
selfishness of humanity, scared about nothing (for there is
practically no danger if tuberculous patients take reasonable
precautions, as even nurses in sanatoria do not acquire the disease,
though living in the midst of it), constitutes one of the most
poignant indictments of human nature in its worst aspect that I have
ever had presented to me.

Finally he made up his mind that there was nothing for him to do but
to tent out and live by himself. Fortunately he was able to do that
and just as soon as he was settled under circumstances where human
nature did not bother him, nature began to do him good. He feared that
he would die during the first month in the tent, for he was having
fever up to 102-1/2 and sometimes more every afternoon; but he laid in
a store of provisions which with the milk and eggs delivered to him
every day enabled him to stay in bed for a week, opening up the flap
of the tent in the middle of the day. Then he went out and got another
stock of provisions and stayed in bed for another week. His thoughts
were gloomy enough, he had only some old illustrated newspapers to
give him a few fresh thoughts every day, he had no one to visit him,
but he hung on and kept up his habit of rest and forced feeding in
spite of disinclination. At the end of two weeks he had no temperature
in the afternoon. At the end of the third week he made for himself a
reclining chair and sat in the sun outside of his tent wrapped in a
blanket. At the end of four weeks he had gained five pounds in weight.
From that on all was plain sailing. It was his character that
conquered his tuberculosis.

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