Mr. Plumbum lives in a poor but respectable neighborhood. He is a painter by trade and all through his early life has been a hard worker. Later, he became a perfect wreck mentally and physically. he is so emaciated that his skin is wrinkled, shriveled, drawn over the bones and he is so sensitive to open air, that he goes around, even in summer time, well wrapped up; but he never perspires.
Mr. Plumbum is discouraged, but that is not surprising, for he has a wife that is pretty sure to have a hysterical attack whenever he needs her help and sympathy the most. The neighbors are all sorry for him and often come to his assistance, but they have no use for such a deceitful woman as Mrs. Plumbum. Mrs. Plumbum often pretends she is sick, even pretends she is unconscious if anyone is around to see it. Although they have no sympathy with such nonsense, the neighbors are very kind to Mr. Plumbum.
Mrs. Arsenicum, Mrs. Ignatia and Mrs. Carlsbad are very fond of rye bread and in neighborly kindness, often carry some of their baking in for Mr. Plumbum, but Mrs. Arsenicum always seems so anxious and restless all the time she is there and Mrs. Ignatia is so evidently trying to suppress her sobs while she remains, that he is suspicious of both and is so sure that they are trying to poison him through the agency of rye bread that as much as he wanted it, he is afraid to eat it. Mr. Plumbum often has the notion that every one about him is a murderer and wants to assassinate him. He makes an exception in Mrs. Carlsbad. She is a very talkative woman and very sympathetic, and she is always quite ready to weep over his woes. He dislikes conversation, for he is often quite unable to find the proper word while talking, but Mr. Carlsbad good naturedly makes it unnecessary for him to say much. She thinks she can understand how hard it is for him to talk for she experiences the same difficulty when trying to express herself in writing and she often forgets names. Mr. Plumbum will eat Mrs. Carlsbad’s rye bread and wishes she would bring him some cakes and fried food but she is not especially fond of cakes and fried food herself, so the thought never comes into her mind and his thoughts come so slowly that she is gone before he has time to ask her.
Mr. Plumbum is very slow in every way, even the functions of his body are slow. He is slow to comprehend a thought and slow to respond after he has comprehended it. It is enough to send Mrs. Plumbum into a hysterical spasm of some kind, just to be obliged to wait for him. She sometimes sticks a pin into him just to see if she can’t make him move a little faster, but it does not good, he is just as slow to feel the pin as he was to comprehend the thought.
One day, Mrs. Plumbum sat down to the piano and tried to make him cheerful with music, but she found that she couldn’t lift her fingers fast enough to play. She became discouraged and melancholic, thought she had sinned away her day of grace. While Mrs. Plumbum was feeling so dejected, Mrs. Curare, who is usually considered a forgetful, stupid, lazy woman, hurried in to sympathize with her, for she, too, knew just what it was to have her fingers and wrists give out at the piano when she was trying to make him cheerful.
Mrs. Plumbum really should have the sympathy of the neighbours instead of their scorn, for she has a great disappointment and care in her children. Most of her children that lived to be born are epileptics or idiots! The neighbors say this condition is due to drugs taken by Mrs. Plumbum for the purpose of producing an abortion, but in this they are mistaken.
Mr. Plumbum wasn’t always the wreck that he is, neither did this condition come upon him suddenly. When he was slowly drifting to this condition, he used to have the colic quite frequently. The pain was most excruciating; he felt as though the abdomen was being drawn in toward the back. During these attacks, Mrs. Plumbum would usually become hysterical, then the neighbors would come to his assistance. Mrs. Colocynth would be pretty sure to come running with a cup of hot coffee and Mr. Nux vomica with a hot water bottle. Mr. Nux vomica seeing the hot coffee would scold Mrs. Colocynth for bringing it because hot coffee made colic worse. When she saw Mr. Plumbum bending backward with the pain, Mrs. Colocynth would say “Double up Mr. Plumbum”, and Mr. Nux vomica would say “Yes, double up and put this hot water bottle against your abdomen”. Mr. Plumbum knew that colic was sometimes ameliorated by bending forward so he would obediently double up and put the hot water bottle upon the abdomen. Sometimes bending backward would ameliorate Mr. Plumbum’s colic then he would stretch back again. The heat of the hot water bottle made him feel a little better, but as the hot waterbottle wasn’t heavy enough to give him relief, he cast it aside for the rubbing that Mrs. Colocynth suggested. About this time Mrs. Magnesia phosphorica would come in and express her opinion that the hot drinks, hot applications and bending double were alright in a case of colic, but there was one thing more that would relieve the pain and that was hard pressure; so she gave Mr. Plumbum the hot coffee, applied the hot water bottle and called for Webster’s Unabridged Dictionaries and the family Bible that she might place them on the hot water bottle for pressure.
Mr. Nux vomica was so sure that hot coffee would make the colic worse that he became angry and would have nothing more to do with the case. He rushed out of the house banging chairs and slamming doors on his way, and at the office that morning it wasn’t safe to ask him an unnecessary question or make the least noise! Mr. Colocynth was inclined to be angry because Mr. Nux vomica made such a fuss about her coffee but she remembered such that if she permitted herself to become angry, she too, would have the colic, so she controlled herself and went for the family Bible and Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary as Mrs. Magnesia phosphorica had suggested and piled them on the hot water bottle and Mr. Plumbum felt a little better but the pain was still severe when haughty Mrs. Platina walked in to direct the treatment. It was too much of a mental effort for Mrs. Magnesia phosphorica to oppose the arrogant Mrs. Platina so she walked off and left the patient to Mrs. Platina and Mrs. Colocynth indignantly followed. Freed from the interference of the others, Mrs. Platina lost no time in curing the patient in her own way.
Mr. Plumbum is much emaciated, but this was not a sudden emaciation. He had a way of growing thin peculiar to himself and took plenty of time to do it. First he had neuralgias and they were exceedingly painful: burning, shooting pains, then the part would wither. Muscles would become paralyzed and then wither. In the meantime he emaciated all-over until now the skin seems drawn over the bones. It is no wonder he is numb and stiff and partly paralyzed. Mr. Plumbum had had a variety of pains sometimes they were simple picking, sometimes they were tearing, crushing, mingled with violent darts, sometimes it was as though the bones were being broken, or as if the bones were being scraped. They would remit, then begin again. They were sometimes superficial and sometimes deep- seated and quite impartial as to location, attacking skin, muscles, bones and nerves and would often wander from one place to another. Motion and coldness were usually signals for the attacks to begin and though motion made his pains worse, he would frequently change his position inspite of it.
Mrs. Plumbum broods and becomes melancholic over Mr. Plumbum’s slowness, wishes he would hurry, says when he goes out on an errand, it seems as though he would never return. Poor Mr. Plumbum, if he does exert himself in the open air and hurry all the way home, his head, mental and emotional symptoms, are all much worse. His head becomes hot, hands and feet become cold as ice and his face so pale that he resembles a dead man in looks, indeed the boys of the neighborhood call him the walking corpse.
He doesn’t dare to go to the theater or a political meeting or to church for he often faints when in a large company. Then everybody is sure he is dead, but Mr. Ammonium carb, who is usually present, understands the situation and revives him.
Mr. Plumbum has suffered from constipation almost all his life. It began after spasms when he was a child, then his mother physiced him and he went from bad to worse, stools were little hard balls sometimes ash gray, but mostly always dark colored, black or green. With the constipation, he had spasms of rectum, constriction and retraction of anus, with excruciating pain and with it all was an exceedingly painful drawing from navel back to the spine. When Mr. Plumbum wasn’t constipated, he was pretty sure to have diarrhoea and he suffered as much with his diarrhoea as with his constipation. With the diarrhoea, he had most violent colic, spasms of abdominal muscles, long lasting tenesmus and spasms and drawing up of the anus. The stools were watery, offensive, involuntary, profuse, bloody, slimy, yellow or dark, and with it all, violent vomiting.
Mr. Alumina sympathizes with Mr. Plumbum in his attacks of constipation for he too has the difficult, hard, knotty stools. He also has the constriction of the rectum and tenesmus and he also has the colic.
Mrs. Platina also has much sympathy with Mr. Plumbum in these attacks. She thought she knew just what that colic and obstinate constipation were. She had shooting pains, in the rectum before stool which she thought quite equal to Mr. Plumbum’s painful retraction of anus. Even the stupid Mrs. Opium sympathized with Mr. Plumbum in his bowel trouble.
The Plumbum children have terrible convulsions. Most children will have one convulsion and be quite satisfied with the commotion that the one causes. Not so with Mr. Plumbum’s children; they will have four or five paroxysms a day! They utter frightful shrieks and bite their tongues during the paroxysms and will remain unconscious sometimes an hour after the paroxysm is over. Sometimes they utter deep moans towards the end of the convulsions and sometimes the convulsions alternate with pains in the limbs, stomach or bowels. The limbs of one of the children were paralyzed after an attack of convulsions and one of the children was injured at birth, the occiput was too much depressed and lock- jaw followed.
Mrs. Opium is very sorry for the plumbums. She thinks she understands all about convulsions for her own children have both tonic and clonic spasms. The children of Mrs. Opium lose consciousness during convulsions; their pupils become contracted; their breathing is heavy, spasmodic.
Sometimes there is sobbing and rattling with deadly paleness of face and body. They were often caused by fright and often come during sleep. They go into the spasm with a scream and fall into a long lasting deep sleep as soon as the convulsion is over. Mrs. Opium is too stupid to see that there is any difference between the convulsions of the Plumbums and her own children, and if she could see a difference, she wouldn’t admit it.
Mr. Plumbum has suffered much and now he is old before his years, emaciated, paralyzed. His is a history of going from bad to worse and it will continue in the same direction as long as he remains in the world.