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 tu
erculosis, 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.