FIFTY REASONS, FOR BEING A HOMOEOPATH By J. Compton Burnett M.D.
A NUMBER of years ago, on a dull, dreary afternoon, which I had partly occupied at B-Hospital with writing death certificates, I suddenly rose and felt something come over me for the fiftieth time at that period. I hardly knew what, but it grew essentially out of my unsatisfactory clinical results. I had been an enthusiastic student of medicine originally, but an arrantly sceptic professor quite knocked the bottom out of all my faith in physic, while overmuch hospital work and responsibilities, grave beyond my age and experience, had squeezed a good deal of the enthusiasm out of me. After pacing up and down the surgery, I threw myself back into my chair and dreamily thought myself back to the green fields and the early bird’s nesting and fishing days of my childhood. Just then a corpse was carried by the surgery window, and I turned to the old dispenser and enquired in a petulant tone. “Tim, who’s that dead now?” “Little Georgie, Sir.”
Now little Georgie was a waif who belonged to nobody, and we had liked him and had kept him about in odd beds, as one might keep a pet animal. Everybody liked little Georgie; the most hardened old pauper would do him a good turn, and no one was ever more truly regretted than he.
It all came about in this way: One day I wanted a bed for an acute case, and I ordered little Georgie out of his bed in a warm, snug corner to another that was in front of a cold window; he went to it, caught cold, had pleurisy, and Tim’s reply gives the result.
Said I to myself : If I could only have stopped the initial fever that followed the chill by the window, Georgie had probably lived. But three medical men besides myself had treated Georgie- all in unison-and all hospital men; still pleurisy followed the febricula, dropsy followed the pleurisy, and poor little Georgie died. Old Tim was a hardened man and I never saw him show any feeling or sentiment of any kind, or regret anybody’s-death, but I verily believe he was very near dropping just one wee tear over Georgie’s memory, for I noticed that his attention was needlessly and unwantedly fixed on the surface of the bottles he was washing. Be that as it may, Georgie was no more, and I FELT SURE THAT HE NEED NOT HAVE DIED, and this consciousness nearly pressed me down into the earth.
That evening a medical friend from the Royal Infirmary turned up to dinner with me, and I told him of my trouble and of my half determination to go to America and turn farmer: at least I should be able to lead a wholesome natural life.
He persuaded me to study Homoeopathy first, and refute it, or, if apparently true, to try it in the hospital.
After many doubts and fears-very much as if I were contemplating a crime-I procured Hughes’s Pharmacodynamics and Therapeutics, which my friend said were a good introduction to Homoeopathy.
I mastered their main points in a week or two, and came from a consideration of these to the conclusion either that Homoeopathy was a very grand thing indeed, or this Dr. Hughes must be a very big… No, the word is unparliamentary. You don’t like the word-? Well, I do, it expresses my meaning to a T; on such an important subject there is for me no middle way. It must be either good clear God’s truth, or black lying. A fool the man could not possibly be, since it would be quite impossible for a fool to write the books.
And as he seemed to speak so eloquently from a noble soul, it lifted me right out of the slough of despond-for a little while, but then came a reaction : had I not often tried vaunted specifics and plans of treatment, and been direfully disappointed? So my old scepsis took possession of me. “What,” said I, “can such things be?” No, impossible. I had been nurtured in the schools, and had there been taught by good men and true that Homoeopathy was therapeutic Nihilism. NO, I could not be a homoeopath; I would try the thing at the bedside, prove it to be a lying sham, and expose it to an admiring profession!
I was full of febricula on account of Georgie’s fate, so studied the say of the homoeopaths thereon, and found that they claimed to cut short simple fever with Aconite. Ah, thought, I if that be true, Aconite would have saved little Georgie if given in time at the very onset.
Well, feverish colds and chills were common enough just then, and I had, moreover, a ward where children thus taken ill were put till their diseases had declared themselves, and then they were drafted off to the various wards, for that purpose provided, with pneumonia, pleurisy, rheumatism, gastritis, measles, as the case might be.
I had some of Fleming’s Tincture of Aconite in my surgery, and of this I put a few drops into a large bottle of water and gave it to the nurse of said children’s ward, with instructions to administer of it to all the cases on the one side of the ward as soon as they were brought in. Those on the other side were not to have the Aconitic solution, but were to be treated in the authorized orthodox way, as was theretofore customary. At my next morning visit I found nearly all the youngsters on the Aconite side feverless, and mostly at play in their beds. But one had the measles, and had to be sent to the proper ward. I found Aconite did not cure measles. The others remained a day or two, and were then returned whence they had originally come.
Those on the non-Aconite orthodox side were worse, or about the same and had to be sent into hospital mostly with localized inflammations, or catarrhs, measles, etc.
And so it went on day after day, day after day: those that got Aconite were generally convalescent in twenty-four or forty- eight hours, except in the comparatively seldom cases where the seemingly simple chill was the prodromal stage of a specific disease such as measles, scarlatina, rheumatic fever: those were barely influenced by the Aconite. But the great bulk of the cases were all genuine chills, and the Aconite cured the greater part right off, though the little folks were usually pale, and had perspired, as I subsequently learned, needlessly much.
I had told the nurse nothing about the contents of my big bottle, but she soon baptized it “Dr.Burnett’s Fever Bottle.”
For a little while I was simply dumbfounded, and I spent much of my nights studying Homoeopathy : I had no time during the day.
One day I was unable to go my usual rounds through the wards: in fact, I think I was absent two days-from Saturday till Tuesday-and on entering the said children’s ward the next time in the early morning, the nurse seemed rather quiet, and informed me, with a certain-forced dutifulness that all the cases might, she thought, be dismissed.
“Indeed,” said I, “how’s that?
“Well, doctor, as you did not come round on Sunday and yesterday, I gave your fever medicine to them all; and indeed, I had not the heart to see you go on with your cruel experiments any longer: you are like all the young doctors that come here-you are only trying experiments!”
I merely said “Very well, nurse; give the medicine in future to all that come in.” This was done till I left the place, and the result of this Aconite medication for chills and febricula was usually rapid defervescence, followed by convalescence. But when the stomach was much involved, I at times found the Aconite useless, useless vomiting occurred, and so in such cases I administered a mild emetic, whereupon defervescence at once set in, and, though a homoeopath now for a good many years, I still think a mild emetic the right treatment when the stomach is laden and cannot unburden itself by natural vomit.
But still this is only by the way : I enter into all these preliminary, incidental and concomitant circumstances merely to put you on the same ground whereon I myself stand; they are not essential, for they only lead to this : Aconitum in febricula was, and is, my first reason for being a homoeopath.
Have you as good a reason for being a “regular”?
Ah! my good fellow, I thought you would say that you also use Aconite for fever, and that therefore it is not necessarily Homoeopathy. But do you not know of a certain French gentleman who spoke prose all all life without knowing it?
A man that gives Aconite for febricula is a homoeopath malgre lui. But to my second reason.
When I was a lad I had pleurisy of the left side, and, with the help of a village apothecary, and half-a-hogshead of mixture, nearly died, though not quite. From that time on I had a dull, uneasy sensation in my side, about which I consulted many eminent physicians in various parts of Europe, but no one could help me. All agreed that it was an old adhesive something between the visceral and costal layers of the pleura, but no one of my many- eminent advisers could it. And yet my faith in them was big enough to remove mountains. So faith as a remedy did not good.
When orthodox medicine proved unhelpful, I went to the hydropaths (they were called “Quacks” then!) and had it hot, and cold, and long; but they also did me no good. Packs cold, and the reverse; cold compresses worn for months together; sleeping in wet sheets; no end of sweating-Turkish and Russian-all left my old pleuritic trouble in status quo ante.
The grape cure; the bread-and-wine cure, did no better. Nor did diet and change help me.
However, when I was studying what the peculiar people called homoeopaths have to say about their Bryonia alba, and its affinity for serous membranes, I what?-abused them and called them quacks? No!-I bought some Bryonia alba, and took it as they recommended, and in a fortnight my side was well, and has never troubled me since!
There, friend, that is my second reason for being a homoeopath, and when I cease to be grateful to dear old Hahnemann for his Bryonia, may my old pleural trouble return to remind me of the truth of his teaching.
What you and the world in general may think of it I care not one straw: I speak well of the bridge that carried me over.
For my part, I make but one demand of medicine, and one only, viz. that it shall cure! The pathy that will cure is the pathy for me. For of your fairest pathy I can but say-
What care I how fair she be,
If she be not fair to me?
You can have what opinion you like of my old pleuritis affection : I had the wretched thing till I took Bryonia, and I have never had it since. Myself, I am sweetly content with my second reason for being a homoeopath. I never said the remedy was first used by the homoeopaths; that is not of the essence of my proposition.
Since going over into the homoeopathic camp, I have often had to treat pleurisy : that you will not find it difficult to believe. Aconite and Bryonia are the big-guns of the homoeopaths for pleurisy, but I will remark, as the outcome of my own experience, that it is only in what I would call.
that they really hit the mark. Let me relate such a case to you as my third reason for being a homoeopath.
Some years since I was suddenly summoned to the suburban house of a city merchant, who had caught a chill two evenings before on returning from a political meeting. When I arrived, an exquisite case of pleurisy, pleuritis rheumatica, presented itself.
The gentleman’s wife informed me that she was much exercised in her mind, as many friends had strongly urged her not to have Homoeopathy in such a serious case. All very well, said they, perhaps, for women and children, but she surely was not going to risk her dear husband’s life in the hands of a homoeopathic practitioner? No, she would have Dr. X., who lived near by. But though, as a rule, L’homme propose et la femme dispose, in this case if was the other way about. The husband flatly refused any other than homoeopathic treatment, and hence my presence. He was in a raging and much pain, and merely moaned, “Doctor, give me relief from this pain, and procure me some sleep.”
I gave Aconite and Bryonia-strong.
Next day he was already a little round the corner, and not in much pain, unless he incautiously turned. “Doctor,” said he, “my friend Mr.-in-road over yonder, has, I am told, something of the same thing as I have, only more in the shoulder, and he has sent to me to beg me to give you up, and have his medical man, who liver near by, and who is considered a very clever man-what am I to say?” I replied, “Tell him from me that I shall have you well in your city office in a few days at work, and that on your way home from the city you may call, and you will still find HIM ill, and then you can tell him your experience, and compare notes!”
And so it happened, in a few days-I do not remember the exact number-my patient went to his city office, did a small amount of work, and on returning home called on or sent to his said friend, who was still in great pain, and remained so for some time.
Your note would infer that I was not dealing in my last letter with a case of true pleurisy.
Given a man who had pleurisy himself twice: who laboured twelve weeks in bed therewith; who went about all his student life with a painful sequel of pleurisy; who read all he could find in literature on pleurisy; who listened to lectures by Skoda on pleurisy for weeks together with personal interest; who saw scores of cases of pleurisy while walking the hospitals; who was, as it happened, examined at his “final” on pleurisy; and who, in his own subsequent practice, has treated very many cases of pleurisy-I am that man!.
Well, now I must give you my fourth reason for being a homoeopath. The gentleman referred to in my last letter (my patient’s friend), after he got over his acute sufferings went to a specialist for gout, but was still so stiffened in his shoulder and side that he was not able to do his office duty, and after remaining faithfully under his own doctor for a further period and still not getting well, finally-What? Came to me! And what next? Bryonia alba, Chelidonium majus, and Sulphur, cured him in a few weeks.
It seems to me that Aconite and Bryonia alone, if well studied and rightly used, would covert the whole world to Homoeopathy, at least I see no escape for any honest unprejudiced man.
But prejudice is well-nigh almighty. As Bolingbroke says, “It may sound oddly, but it is true, in many cases, that if men had learned less, their way to knowledge would be shorter and easier. It is, indeed, shorter and easier to proceed from ignorance to knowledge than from error. They who are in the last must unlearn before they can learn to any good purpose; and the first part of this double task is not in many respects the least difficult, for which reason it is seldom undertaken.”
Did you understand anything about Homoeopathy I would explain to you why I gave the Bryonia, why it was followed by Chelidonium, and why Sulphur had to be interposed; as you are, however, ignorant, you must take it empirically.
I leave you to study the wider therapeutic bearings of Aconite in common feverishness and as a preventive of inflammatory localizings, and also the specific elective affinity of the white Bryonia for the serous membranes. as exemplified in my own case, as well as in the other tow; I did not promise you didactic lectures on the various points I bring forward, but only my Fifty Reasons. So now for my fifth: it is this-Homoeopathy lifts me at one stroke from the dependent position of a groping journeyman healer of disease to the proud position of a master of the healing art. Let me exemplify by quoting almost in full a case I once published, under this heading :- ON THE USE OF CHLORAL HYDRATE IN LETHARGIC SOMNOLENCY
Those who have watched old chloral-eaters may have noticed that they slowly get lethargic, somnolent, and listless. Towards the end of the chapter of chronic chloralism there is a condition of fatty degeneration of a slow, lazy type, and the very mode of death seems peculiar. I have seen a case where the subject of chronic chloralism lay for days a-dying; she was for several days so that it was very difficult to determine whether she was dead or not.
Occasionally one comes across a remarkable case of somnolence, and then the narcotics are to be thought of by the therapeutist.
I will shortly relate two such cases from my own practice.
No.I. A lady about forty-five years of age, stout, fresh- looking and the mother of a family, was the subject of remark of her friends, on account of her lethargy and sleepiness. Her weakness was such that even crossing the street was almost impossible; the weakness was peculiarly lethargic, a kind of listless heaviness. She was almost constantly asleep; she would get up in the morning after a good night’s rest and, even while dressing, she seemed compelled to sit down, and no sooner seated but she would fall asleep. This state of things went on for weeks and months, and her allopathic adviser did his best in vain. After she came under my care I tried first Arnica and then Opium, with but indifferent success, when all at once I bethought me of the great similarity of the case before me to that of a confirmed old chloral-eater of my clientele.
Chloral in a low dilution cured my patient, and she again became brisk, active and wide awake.
No. 2. An elderly lady came under my care on April 21st, 1881, for lethargy, languor, and somnolence.
R Trit. 2x Chloral hydrat., 6 grains in water every three hours. May 7th. Under this date I find these notes in my case book : “Feels a different creature; vastly improved; less lethargic, and decidedly less languid.”
She then got the third decimal trituration in lieu of the second, and only two doses a day, and then needed no further treatment, as she subsequently informed me when calling with her husband.
Now you can see what I mean : I had before me cases that would not readily fit into any nosological cadre, and yet I was enabled to treat the case en maitre. This is therapeutic independence which I love, and affords, as I submit, a very sound reason indeed for being a homoeopath.
Had I not so many more reasons to give I should very much like to dilate on this transcendental advantage of Homoeopathy: its law is a guide in the darkest disease; of this more in my next.
What I mean in my fifth reason requires to be insisted upon a little more, that you may perceive my meaning the more clearly. I said Homoeopathy raises one from the dependent position of a journeyman therapeutist to that of a master.
E.g.-Some years since, as you may perhaps know, a drug called Cundurango came up in your school as a cure for cancer, much as Chian turpentine did subsequently and, like it, had its little day, and then passed out of sight.
Cundurango, thought I, will certainly only cure one variety of cancer, not all. How are we to know which? The clinical records of Cundurango showed that it really has genuine curative power over some cases of cancer, particularly of the stomach. Hahnemann taught that the true way to define the curative sphere of a drug is to give it to healthy people, to see what it would do to them.
I procured some of the Cundurango bark, made an infusion, and drank quantities of it. You will find my report on the subject in Allen’s Encyclopaedia of Pure Materia Medica. Well, I found that it causes (inter alia) cracks in the angles of the mouth.
Subsequently I had to treat a case of cancer of the left breast in a middle-aged woman, but patient had also a deep crack in the angle of her mouth on the left side, with thick indurated edges, probably of an epitheliomatous nature. I think you would have agreed with the diagnosis had you seen the case. I therefore reasoned thus: We know empirically that Cundurango can cure some cases of cancer; I now know from the direct experiment on myself that it causes the angles of the mouth to crack; the homoeopaths maintain that likes cures likes, ergo, Cundurango ought to be the curative agent in this case.