Things that Shorten Life

HARRISON L. BEACH From Pearson’s Magazine September 1 1909

Things that Shorten Life

HARRISON L. BEACH From Pearson’s Magazine September 1 1909

Things that Shorten Life

HARRISON L. BEACH From Pearson’s Magazine

SOME years ago, the Chicago police force boasted a lieutenant named Thomas Beck, whose skill as a detective and whose dauntless courage in the presence of danger never received full recognition from the public or from the department of which he was a member. He was slender, a consumptive, weak in body, and of limited endurance. Despite these handicaps, he never at any time hesitated to engage in combat with any man, no matter how large or powerful he might be.

“I generally hit him first,” he used to say, “and if I just hit him hard enough that's about all there is to that particular fight.”

Beck’s reasoning was but a homlier phrasing of the ancient military maxim, “A vigorous offensive is the best defensive.” B has required the world many centuries and much bitter experience to realize even a portion of this truth, but in no spheres of human endeavor has it been more generallv appreciated than in medicine and in sanitary science. It is becoming every clay more clearly understood that a disease attacked is far less dangerous and deadly than a disease attacking, and the trend of modern medical investigation is now even more toward methods or prevention than towards processes of cure. Physicians generally, and laymen occasionallv. are now aware of the fact that if they can only strike the first blow and deliver it with sufficient vigor, “that’s about all there is to that particular fight.”

What the physician and the Board of Health may do is highly important, but much of it is nullified by what the layman does in violation, and fails to do in observance of sanitary laws and hygienic good sense.

What the layman can do, if he will, toward prevention and eradication of disease is so much, so important, so far-reaching, and generally so. easy of accomplishment, that it is difficult to know where to begin to enumerate his possibilities, or having begun, to find a stopping place. The essence of the matter may, however, be comprehended in this statement :

There is no place in this world so unsightly or so unhealthv that it cannot be made as beautiful and as healthful as its residents desire it to be. That is a broad statement, and one which, in some instances, will require a very considerable expenditure of time and money to substantiate, but it cannot be disproved.

Obviously, the readiest way in which the layman can preserve the general health is to exercise prefect care in looking after his own. If this was universally done, the physical condition of any community or of any nation would within a few years reach a standard which has not been approached in our modern civilization.

The layman, however, will not take perfect care of himself for several reasons. The chief of these is that he does not know how : others are. lack of requisite strength of will and perseverance, indifference, and even

laziness, for good health to be won or maintained must be worked for.

Another heavy obstacle in the path of perfect individual health is that men do not willingly abandon their personal inclinations and desires, even though aware that their indulgence is physically harmful. W’hat they want, or what gives them pleasure, that must they have, and their health must do the best it can under the circumstances.

Foremost of all things that the layman can do for himself, for his family, for his race, for the good of the world, and for those who are to inhabit the world when he and his generation are gone, is to lead a clean moral life. His present and past neglect of this primary physical law is the blackest tragedy the modern world has known. All the wars of the last five hundred years, with their total of mental and physical agony, with their privation and hardship, with all their expenditure of blood and treasure, are insignificant compared to the suffering and financial loss caused by this one thing.

Those kindred horrors of war, famine and pestilence, are as nothing to it. When wars are finished, their dear are only dead. After years of famine and the sweep of the pestilence come other years of plenty and of health. The curse of immorality, however, lives on and on for years, blighting the lives of innocent people, and forever creating sorrow and wrecking the health of the race as it passes along. Its effects are felt long* after he who caused and transmitted them has been forgotten. As a source of moral and physical deterioration, it has no parallel in the history of the world. Wipe out this living tragedy, and then let men do in all other things much of what they will in violation of the laws of health and the physical standard of the human race must of necessity advance.

Generally speaking, what the average man, outside the medical profession, does not know concerning the physical improvement and preserva-

tion of his own body is appalling. He cannot even tell how he is constructed. Not one man in one hundred thousand knows how many bones and muscles he has. He cannot tell the fibula from the tibia, and if metatarsal or metacarpal bones are mentioned, the strong probability is that he will instinctively think of his backbone. If he is asked to locate the occiput or describe the phalanges, he is reduced to hopeless impotence.

No man understands what to do with those things of which he knows nothing, and if this is what he knows or does not know, regarding the construction of his body, how can it be expected that he will know how to care for it?

It is the absolute truth that the great majority of men do not know how to eat properly, when and when not to drink, how to breathe, or how to exercise correctly. They do not even know how to stand up.

Making the violent assumption that the average man has an embryotic notion of these things, he so rarely puts it into practice that the net result is exactly as though he knew nothing. It must be remembered that it is not what the man may know about advancing the physical standard of the human race, but what he does toward that end, that counts. What the average citizen achieves in this direction is both pitiful and pathetic. It is even less than the sum total of his knowledge, insignificant as that total is.

Every day in every city in this country, which is large enough to boast a street-car line or a railroad suburban service, may be seen the spectacle of men hurling themselves through the air for half a square or more, with all the grace and speed of an aged, over-fed duck, in their effort to overtake a fleeting trolley car or to catch a departing train. They make this spasmodic exertion in cheerful ignorance of the fact that they are bringing a sudden and severe strain upon a heart that has not for years been asked to beat faster than

ordinary, unless indeed, it has palpitated in response to indigestion. A quick, sharp run of several hundred feet, is in reality a dangerous performance for any man not in good physical condition. All men, at least all men under forty-five years of age, should be able to pick up their feet, and run as the wicked flee, when pursuing a car; but not one man in twenty-five thousand makes anything but a tearful spectacle of himself as he runs, or presents anything but an apoplectic exhibition at the close of a dash of two hundred feet.

Any man of sense knows he could not demand a proportionate effort from a horse without danger of injuring it for life; yet he will do such things to himself without a thought. A man who values himself at $25,000 worth of life insurance will take these sudden, swift runs immediately after eating, when he would not dream of allowing a horse worth $200 to attempt the same thing. He would not call upon the horse for severe effort until it had been properly conditioned by careful training.

And when it comes to eating—the bare thought of what men do to themselves is enough to cause a marble statue of Hygeia to groan aloud. Hastily disposing of their breakfasts, and rushing to their offices, they work until the luncheon hour, and then in many instances tear out to a restaurant, toss down a mass of boiled cabbage, weighting it with a slab of beef the size of a door-mat, rush back to work, and then wonder why they do not feel bright and clever. If they patronize the eat-quick lunch-counters, their abuse of themselves is only intensified. The lunch-counter has but one hygienic advantage over the restaurant—the man who goes there eats less than lie who patronizes the more pretentions place—but in other respects, due, in the greater part, to men’s senseless hurry, it acts as a foe to digestive tranquility and is a menace to health and comfort.

This catalogue of man’s inhumanity to himself might be prolonged in-

definitely. It could easily be proven that men do not breathe properly because they inhale too quickly and superficially. They gasp with the upper portion of their lungs when they should completely fill them at every breath. It is a curious fact that bodily vigor in the animal world is in an inverse ratio to the number of breaths taken. An elephant will inhale about six times per minute while a mouse breathes one hundred and twenty times in the same period.

Men know about as much of hygienic drinking as they do of eating, and they practice sanitary sense in this direction even less than at the dinner table.

Whether alcohol is a food or a stimulant, is a matter which has been debated by keener intellects and more technical expert knowledge than is involved in the preparation of this article—and the question is still undetermined. No matter whether it is a food or a stimulant, the question for the layman to answer to himself is. "Does it benefit or injure me?”—and if he replies honestly and with full appreciation of all it involves, he will tell himself that it is a good thing to let alone.

No trainer of athletes will allow a man under his care to put alcohol into himself. He regards it, in fact, as equivalent to so much poison, and it is desperately poor logic to sav that what is harmful to a man in approximately perfect condition can, on the whole, he beneficial to a man of interior health. This is no argument in favor of prohibition, but it is safe to say, bearing in mind that no tule of physical culture applies impartially* to all men. that any stimulant constantly taken will in time detract from the highest bodily welfare. No man in perfect health has need of a stimulant, and the man whose physical power is below par requires it still less, unless his condition is serious. A stimulus that lodges in the ntellect is worth any number of stimulants that get home to a man through his stomach.

In one sense, it sounds ridiculous to say that men do not know enough to stand up properly ; but any instructor in physical culture will assert this as a fact. Probably the best example of perfect pose in the standing man with which Americans are familiar is a West Point cadet at “Attention.” From his ear to his heel is one straight line, and from the arch of his chest to the line of his waist is a gentle concavity, lie stands with, to use the military expression, “the body thrown forward on the hips.” And his weight rests more on the balls of his feet than upon his heels. Now, look at any group of civilians anywhere in this country, and notice how they stand. To use an expression somewhat inelegant, they “slouch.” Ask one of them to throw his body “forward on the hips,” and he will poke it outward from the waistline, protruding still more an abdomen already too well advertised. Men habitually rest their weight in standing upon their backbones, when they should hold themselves erect by their muscles. It is inside the truth to say that not one man in fifty thousand stands correctly.

Having glanced briefly at what the layman in general knows about himself, and what he does to and for himself, and having seen that he does not eat, drink, or exercise properly, it is painfully evident that he is in vital need of instruction as to what is important for his physical well-being. If he will absorb this insruction and then live according to what he has absorbed, much will have been done for the community at large, because the health of no people can be better or worse than the average health of its individual members.

Turning now to the broader question of how the layman can aid the community by preventing disease, the possibilities seem even larger than before. There are so many things that it is almost impossible to enumerate them in an article of this size. Possibly, the entire proposition can be best summed up in the Golden Rule

of Municipal Health, formulated by Secretary Edward R. Pritchard, of the Chicago Department of Health— “A man should be willing to do as much to protect the families of others, as he wishes other families to do to protect his family.”

Tt sounds easy—it is easv, but the vigor which most men exhibit in combating and circumventing the simplest and most fundamental rules of the Board of Health in our large cities would do wonders for the public weal if exerted in the contrary direction.

Tt is stating the simplest and most self-evident proposition to say that it is the duty of every man to aid in stamping out contagious disease. It is equally superfluous to assert that every inch of progress in this direction lengthens the average term of life. Yet men, sensible men, sensible at least on other propositions, constantly make all possible efforts to evade compliance with the laws devised for the control and supervision of contagion, when a member of their own family is involved.

For instance, if a man of this type, and he is an extremely numerous type, sees some day, tacked upon a neighbor’s door, a colored card informing all readers that scarlet fever or diphtheria is in that house, he commends the advertisement as a wise and prudent proceeding, and praises the Department of Health for its energy and zeal. However, bring that scarlet fever or that diphtheria into his own home, nail that colored card on his own door, and then see what he does. Fifty times out of one hundred he will hasten to the Health Department and ask that the card be removed. Strangest of all, he almost invariably makes the request on the ground that he is “intelligent.” That is what he claims to be—“intelligent.” The trend of his argument is :

“It is all well enough to put such a card on Brown's door, but it is u t needed with us. We are intelligent— we know what to do—we will see that the contagion is not spread.”

What such a man would say of a

railroad company that failed to erect signs at crossings, or neglected to put red lights on the rear of trains, would probably be unfit for publication—yet here he objects and often does it loudly, persistently, and at much length, to warning possible visitors of the danger that may meet them at his door and slay them after they have departed.

This is no fancy sketch, no flight of the imagination. Any health commissioner in any large city in the United States can give countless instances of this kind, and the greater part of them are furnished by people who might naturally be supposed to know better.

There is nothing in fact more important for the layman to do in conserving the health of his communitv, than to make it his business to see that any contagious disease, either in his own family, or in that of one of his neighbors, is promptly reported to the health department. Under existing laws, the physicians relieve the householder of responsibility in this direction, whether he desires it or not. If, however, the layman acquires the habit of reporting contagion whenever and wherever he finds it, a long step toward eradication of disease will have been taken.

Beyond aiding the Department of Health by giving it work to do. let the layman see that he assists it by giving it money with which to properly care for the work he thrusts upon it. The lack of equipment, and the miserable facilities afforded the boards of health in many cities in the Lhiited States, is a standing outrage. Many men are of the opinion that a board of health has fulfilled its mission when it has lifted a dead horse from the street, tacked a colored card on a neighbor's door, or carted away from a vacant lot the corpse of a cat which died in the long ago. These things, to the average taxpayer, show vigilance on ike part of the board, and vet thev comprehend, important as they are. ouiv the i moments of the work. Tt is vitally important that a board of

health should be able to study and apply the most advanced methods for the prevention and eradication of disease. To accomplish this, its officials must be able to study the causes of epidemics, and, if possible, devise their cure. They must be able to instruct the ignorant, and to combat the “intelligent.-’ To do these things requires money and no small amount of it. Any city can be made a health resort if its inhabitants so determine, and to be known as such is a tremendously valuable a.ct to any place, and one fine ¡s unrnably worth moie ; ; ia i' it costs.

1 f the layman has properly cared for himself and has morally and financially held up the hands of the Board of Health, he has done much; but there is still more that he can accomplish. For example, let him see that stagnant water is not allowed to remain on his premises to serve as a breeding-place for mosquitoes, which, it is well known, are frequent carriers of disease germs. If the water cannot be drained away, the surface may be sprayed with kerosene, which will “do the business” for the mosquito.

It has been clearly established that the fly is also a conveyor of contagion. and if energetic attention is given to the questions of preventing its propagation and accomplishing its destruction. the health of the community will have escaped a serious handicap.

It is not difficult to kill a fly. and the majority of people can. after more or less thought, arrive at a tolerablv effective method. Anv plan is good if faithfully followed. The average citizen, however, is generally too deeply interested in other things than in giving himself an exercise gallop around his premises for the purpose of making war on flies. As a task it is tiresome, and as a sport it lacks variety and excitement. Xo person is likely to long continue at the work of destroying flies if constant personal exercise is required. It is best, therefore, to emplov one of those semi-automatic methods which pro-

duce results without excessive expenditure of physical force. The wellknown fly-paper is one of these ; tilling shallow dishes with a seven per cent, solution of bichromate ot potash sweetened with sugar is another. A'hat will kill a mosquito v i'l generally dispose of a fly. and spraying garbage boxes with kerosene is a most effective method of making war.

It is entirely possible that many people will think that the hygienic importance of killing flies is over-estimated. Let them remember, however, that eleven years ago the Lrnited States went to war with one of the great nations of the earth, and that all the American blood spilled by the soldiers of Spain was insignificant compared to the ravages made upon the nation’s manhood by flies. Eightyseven per cent, of the total deaths in that war was caused by typhoid, and in all, or nearly all. of these cases, the contagion was carried by the fly. We could crush the Spanish fleets in Manila Bay and off Santiago, we could storm the hills of San Juan and the town of El Caney, but we were powerless to defend our soldiers against the fly.

The crusade against the house fly has lately been given particular impetus in Berkeley, California, the seat of the University of California. Professor W. B. Hernes, of that institution, has shown that out of several hundred tests not one fiv was found whose feet and mouth did not contain germs of disease. He has produced large cultures of bacteria by allowing flies, caught in various parts of the city, to walk in sterilized gelatine. The result of his experiments was a decided surprise to the people of Berkeley, and the black flag, as to flies, was instantly hoisted. If such conditions prevail in a town so comparatively clean as Berkeley, it is fair to assume that they are far more serious in the more congested centres of population.

The subject of ventilation is so vast, its bearings upon the physical welfare of the individual and of the

race as a whole so varied and manifold, and there is so much that can be done with it publicly and in private, that a series of books—large fat books —might be written upon it alone.

For a man to go to the mouth of a sewer for his drinking water is a most unpleasant suggestion, and yet few people stop to think that they may infect themselves just as surely by breathing vitiated air as by swallowing contaminated water. Every day and every night thousands of people deliberately poison themselves by living and sleeping in tightly closed apartments in which the air has been robbed of all its life-giving properties. The widespread and constantly growing practice of sleeping out of doors, or with the windows opened wide, has already done wonders in improving health in individual cases and is certan to work still greater benefits hereafter. It not only is one of the best pi eventatives of disease on earth, but it is the cheapest of them all.

The benefits of fresh air in the working and sleeping rooms are too well known to call for further mention in an article of this kind, and yet there is an amazingly large number of really intelligent people who know nothing, or care nothing, for what it can and will do for them, if they will only give it a chance.

A direct case in point in one of the most widely known contributors to the leading magazines of this country. A man of keen intellect, and mentally well organized save on the subject of “drafts,” he lives in mortal terror of being struck by a current of air. The instant he feels the slightest motion in the atmosphere while inside his working room he conjures up a picture of his administrators parcelling out his estate. He will, when preparing an important article, lock himself in a small room, and if the weather is cool, open wide the valve of the steam radiator, turn loose with a fast-burning and strong-smelling pipe—and then wonder why he “can’t work more than two hours without getting a headache.” The reason is

easy to see with the eye and still easier to appreciate with the olfactory nerve; hut this man, neat almost to daintiness in his personal habits, calmly poisons himself, lowers the quality and lessens the amount of his work, and shortens his life because of his abnormal fear of moving air which could do him nothing but good.

He, and people like upon him, do not know, or they ignore the fact, that they rob the air of its oxygen, which is all that keeps them alive. As it decreases, their vigor of mind and body must of necessity decline.

Into this matter of ventilation comes the further question of procuring a bountiful supply of fresh air for all buildings that hold large numbers of people, such as theatres, assembly halls and churches. The last are often worse than either of the two first named. It is seldom that they are opened and thoroughly flushed with air, and still more rarely is sunshine allowed to enter them. It is no exaggeration to say that there are many churches in this country into which the sun has never shone since their windows were placed. It has, apparently, been the moving thought in the construction and material management of too many churches, that if the grace of God is made to overflow the soul of man, there is no need for God’s good air to reach his lungs, or for God’s bright sunshine to rest upon him.

It should be of some comfort to the clergyman who occasionally sees members of his congregation asleep during the sermon to know that they are made drowsy and heavy-witted more by the tainted air they breathe than by the lack of excitement in his discourse. It is not always that the minister is the sleep-producer in the church.

Aside from its benefits to humanity in general, good ventilation is a distinct and valuable asset for any employer of labor. It has been abundantly proven that in shops and stores where fresh air is circulated, more work is accomplished per head than in

establishments where conditions are bad. Viewed entirely from the standpoint of economy, anything that lessens the vitality of employes does not pay; and whatever increases their health adds to their working capacity. This has been so abundantly demonstrated that it seems strange that in many large commercial houses and manufacturing plants, fresh air is at a premium, and the quarters are so often overcrowded.

When the United States Government buys a horse for its cavalry service, it purchases that animal with the dual intention of getting as much work out of him, and of keeping him efficient as long as possible. It pays no attention whatever to the disposition of the animal, provided it is not an out-and-out man-killer. All it requires is that the horse shall be in good health. All things else are subordinated to tnat. If builders of factories and employers of labor would, leaving all other considerations aside, apply this rule to their business, and to their employes, it would be far better for the physical welfare of the human race than are the conditions which now so generally prevail.

One great preventative of disease is humidity, and an equally energetic promoter of disease is the absence of humidity. In all sanitary science there is no subject more important nor one more neglected than this. The lack of proper humidity causes catarrh, colds, and other diseases of the mucous membrane, and it is absent in comparatively large degree in the majorité of modern homes.

If a man were requested to take up his residence in one of the most arid regions of the earth, where plants will not grow and where animal life barelv exists, he would, in all probability, rebel in the most frantic manner. It" he were asked to take his wife and children to such a climate and keep them there, he would refuse in the most peremptory fashion. It", on the other hand, he announced that he was about to seek a nice, comfortable desert and live there for the remainder

of his days just because he admired the climate, he would be regarded as a madman. It is true, however, that in many buildings heated to an average temperature of seventy-two degrees, the humidity averages twentyeight per cent., and in the dryest and most forbidding regions of the earth, the humidity averages thirty per cent. Such a region men will shun, and declare it to be uninhabitable, yet in thousands of overheated apartments and houses throughout the country they create a climate that is even worse and more injurious to health.

The average humidity out of doors is seventy per cent., and is it to be wondered at that the sharp and violent change experienced by the person who steps from a humidity of twenty-eight per cent, to one of seventy per cent, is productive of injury to, and prone to cause disease in, the membranes of the upper air-passages ? Some years ago in Chicago, there was an alarming increase in cases of pneumonia, and after exhaustive investigation, the cause was traced directly to the overheated apartment with its absence of humidity.

If a room is not sufficiently warm for a healthy person at sixty-eight degrees, it is because the humidity and not the heat is too low. Water should be evaporated to make the room comfortable, and there is no need of burning additional coal. If proper attention is given to maintaining the humidity, about twelve and one-half per cent, of the present cost of heating modern apartments and houses can be saved.

Neither heat nor cold, moderate nor extreme, has ever, so far as is known, created a specific disease. It is only when separated from the degree of humidity that should accompany them that they become in any way effec-

tive as destroyers of human life through recognized disease.

Other simple things the layman can do tending directly to prevent disease and promote the public health are:

Promptly removing from his premises, or burning, all decaying material of every description.

Keeping covered all receptacles for garbage and freqeuntly cleaning or sprinkling them with lime.

Watching the sewage system closely, seeing that it is kept in good order, does not leak, and is not exposed to ilies.

Keeping all food carefully screened. This applies with especial force to grocers, butchers and all other sellers of edibles.

The layman may also, if he be the iceman, be certain of the purity of his ice. There is frequently great laxity in this direction. Ice companies every year in different parts of the country will pack and sell anything in the form of congealed moisture that is six inches thick and fairly clear to the eye.

There is almost no end to what the layman can do for the preservation of health. In his hands, in fact, lies the physical advancement of the civilized world. The Spartans once revealed what can be done in this direction. and it could be carried through again, if the layman only wills it, and will work to that end. There is no hope that in this age of commercialism he will emulate the Spartan, but despite his gastronomical follies, his hygienic faults, and his occasional sanitary crimes, he is acquiring knowledge and moving, with much deliberation it is true, but still moving in the right direction. He devotes more time and thought at present to physical improvement than ever before, and it is only fair to assume that his progress in the future will be more rapid and greater than it has been heretofore.