ONE of the writers own kinsmen, a medical man, was still evening a very large income, perhaps sixty or seventy per cent of the most he ever earned, at the age of ninety-two, when he was the thinnest, the lightest, most active, the happiest, and the most beloved of any physician in the city in which he was born and raised. He had been given every possible position of honour within its gift, as well as having been President of the Medical Association of half a continent.
The number of years which have elapsed is not a reliable indication of the age, because one man may be old at forty-five while another may be young at sixty. The real test of age is the condition of the blood-vessels, and now the saying is generally accepted that every one is just as old as his arteries. When certain poisons are absorbed from the intestines the lining membrane of the arteries becomes inflamed and this is followed by a hardening of the arteries, partly due to a deposit of lime salts in their walls.
They lose their elasticity and become breakable, and it becomes increasingly difficult for the heart to pump the blood into the extremities. If extra pressure is put on the pumping apparatus the tubes will burst, and if this happens to a tiny artery in the brain there follows an apoplectic stroke.
Sir Henry Thompson laid great stress on the point that most people who died early were large consumers of meat and other food and small manufacturers of energy. In other words, they ate a great deal and worked very little. I have noticed this over and over again; those who reached a great age were thin and active; the number of stout people who pass sixty is comparatively small.
Many people have lived to be ninety because they had none of these poisonous materials in their blood, which not only injure the tubules of the kidneys, but also the walls of the arteries, setting up an inflammation in them which at first thickens and then hardens them. The loss of elasticity resulting therefrom leads to disease of the heart because it has to pump the blood into hardened arteries instead of soft elastic ones.
This causes increased blood pressure equal to 200 millimeters of mercury instead of 130 millimeters, causing the heart to hypertrophy in some cases, or to dilate in others, in which latter case the valves no longer meet between the beats and then there is regurgitation of blood due to leaky valves.
By drinking plenty of water and eating very little meat and walking a great deal, which makes you take long breaths and breathe in a lot of oxygen, all this injurious acid is burned up and washed out, so that your arteries remain elastic as in youth and there is no increased blood pressure and no diseased heart, and so they remain boys at sixty and even to ninety.
It is easier for a poor man to reach a hundred than it is for a rich man. Rich men very often become like the wheels of a watch,, they must go round in the company of the other wheels. Rich men are so restricted that it is difficult to avoid doing the things which they ought not to do. For instance, they have to entertain; to do so they have to keep a good cook who is a culinary artist.
If they eat what she cooks they will die or lose their health; if they dont eat what she cooks she will be angry and leave them; in which case they may save their health, but they will surely lose their friends. Of the two evils they choose the lesser: they eat her cooking, keep their friends, and lose their lives. Some one has said: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to keep his health.”.
I know of no happier nor useful nor more honourable way to spend from sixty to ninety, or even longer, than to be sitting in ones consulting-room for six or eight hours a day telling people how to preserve their health. Doctors are not infallible and now and then they may make a mistake in going to him for advice. The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it and the best proof that a doctor knows the laws of health is the fact that he is alive and well at ninety.
I know of no happier death than that of the doctor still in harness at ninety dying in his chair just after saying good-bye to his last patient.
When it comes to the question of tobacco I can speak with some thing like certainty. During the War I was in charge of an officers hospital and also had an opportunity of examining many men with alleged heart disease; at other times I have examined great numbers of men who were drawing large pensions for disorderly action of the heart, and I can truly say that thousands of men were invalided out of the army as the result of excessive abuse of tobacco.
When I was a young doctor at the London hospital the doctor in charge of the outdoor eye department told me to go into the dark room and examine the eyes of four patients who were stone blind. I examined the retinas with the ophthalmoscope very carefully, but could find nothing abnormal and went back to him with this report, saying that I was at a loss to understand why they were blind. He said they were cases of tobacco amaurosis and that so far the disease was only a functional paralysis of the optic nerve.
They would all four regain their sight perfectly, he said, as he was giving them large doses of counter poison, namely, strychnine. I did not remain there long enough to see the cure, but they were improving. Many times during the last six years when I saw the great number of blind men returning from the various parts, and when I have looked at the enormous profits and dividends of the tobacco companies and the thousands of millions of cigarettes they were able to send to the soldiers, I naturally remembered Dr. Stephen McKenzies word at the London hospital.
That was many years ago, but during all these years I have been trying to save men who were falling into ill health and poverty through excessive smoking. The saddest of all these cases were a few doctors who had to give up large practices owing to blindness, so that they would have been reduced to the greatest straits had it not been for their noble were wives who turned their homes into boarding-houses and had to work early and late while their stupid husbands sat all day smoking themselves blind.
I have talked with many blinded men who had never been wounded nor even had shell shock, who when asked how did they account for their blindness replied just the hardships of the War. They were all excessive smokers.
During the War many officers who came under my care while I was Major in charge of the Officers Hospital at Aldershot, implored me to cure them of excessive smoking. As smoking is in many cases a habit which only asks to give the mouth something to do I have found the best way to distract the patients attention away from smoking is to get him to acquire a counter habit of chewing something: either chewing gum or liquorice root.
The latter is cheap, wholesome and even nourishing. It comes in little bundles of dry sticks. By keeping a few pieces about an inch long in each pocket of each suit one only has to start chewing a piece whenever he has the desire to smoke. The chewing of this liquorice root actually favours digestion, for it produces a great flow of alkaline saliva which converts starch into sugar.
Sleep is the reward for physical exertion, and unless the man from sixty to ninety gets as much physical exercise as the man of thirty he cannot reasonably expect as many hours of sleep. Nor is there any need to worry on that account. How much physical exertion do you get? Many of the men and women who have consulted me for this distressing trouble were getting little or no physical exertion at all. Sleep comes automatically when muscular exercise has burned up so many ounces of fuel.
The blood becomes saturated with more waste material than the lungs and kidneys can get rid of. The the nervous system automatically becomes overpowered and we fall asleep for the sole and only purpose of stopping combustion until the waste products have had time to be eliminated. As soon as this is done we wake up. Now show me a little boy who is running about incessantly from daylight to dark, and I will promise you that he has no insomnia; on the contrary he sleeps for ten hours without a break.
And then show me a rich merchant who passes his whole day from 9 a.m. till 9 p.m. in a luxurious chair or seat either in his motor-car or in the railway carriage, or at his club, or in his own home, or at the theatre, day after day, and year after year, and I will show you a man who must be very thankful if he gets five or six hours sleep a night.
One of my assistants, a very able and successful practitioner, lost his life from losing his stomach rather than lose a few patients. He had a very large practice in an industrial district and every day when he came home to dinner at one oclock he found one or two people waiting to fetch him right off to see someone who had been ill for several weeks, but had delayed calling the doctor. He asked them if they would kindly wait until he had swallowed some food but they said they could not wait, but would get another doctor if he could not come at once.
His dinner was put away for him, but when he returned there were twenty or thirty angry people who had been waiting an hour or more and wanted to get away, so he had a cup of strong tea to buck him up and went on till four oclock, when urgent calls had come in which had to be attended to; and besides his appetite juice, and gastric juice, and bile, which had been all ready at one, were gone and he was no longer hungry.
When he got back at 6.30 three other men were waiting for him to come at once and the same thing happened again. More strong tea but no food, his first meal since a light and hurried breakfast being his warmed-up dinner at ten oclock which he should have eaten at once.
I remonstrated with him several times and did my best to save him. He was making the income of a Prime Minister and could not bear to give it up. And so, in due course, and with a sad heart I went to his funeral because he was my friend.
The last time I went to remonstrate with him and he mentioned how much he was earning I told him to kneel down and pray that he might earn several thousands less.