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A hundred years ago: Short-lived Doctors

A medical contemporary recently drew attention to the fact that doctors are a short-lived class of the community. The exigencies of his calling often make it impossible for him to practise the hygienic doctrines which he preaches.

A medical contemporary recently drew attention to the fact that doctors are a short-lived class of the community. The exigencies of his calling often make it impossible for him to practise the hygienic doctrines which he preaches.

A medical contemporary recently drew attention to the fact that doctors are a short-lived class of the community. Lay-men were naturally surprised. Their view presumably is that the days of doctors should be longer in the land than those of other people because they know better than their patients what to ‘take' when they feel indisposed or are in the way of infection.

Longevity, however, depends far more upon the manner of a man's life than upon the drugs which he swallows; and it is the doctor's misfortune that the exigencies of his calling often make it impossible for him to practise the hygienic doctrines which he preaches. Obsta principiis is one sound maxim on which it is specially hard for him to act. He cannot afford to lay up and nurse himself for trivial ailments, but must often be out attending to his patients in spite of a general feeling of malaise. His night's rest may often be broken though he knows that seven hours sleep is ideal. He may have to take his meals irregularly, though he is well aware of the virtue of regular habits, or to rush out to an urgent case in the middle of his dinner, though he is always warning his patients that that way lies indigestion.

Moreover – if he is a general practitioner – those long holidays which he is fond of proclaiming to be essential are very seldom for him. All these disadvantages count for more in the long run than his acquaintance with the quickest means of relieving a headache or soothing a catarrh; and the sum of the whole matter seems to be that the doctor, who made his own health his chief concern, would have to retire from practice in order to attend to it.

Eugenics Education Society

There are those who hold that the Eugenics Education Society sometimes protests too much, and is too prone to propose restrictions on the liberty of the subject which cannot be advantageously enforced in an imperfect world. It has, however, unquestionably rendered a useful service by its vigorous pronouncement on the dispute between the Government and the London County Council, which has led to the refusal of the latter body to administer the Inebriates Act. In so far as the quarrel concerns the allocation of financial liability, there are, no doubt, two sides to the question at issue.

What is clear to the plain man, and specially clear to the student of Eugenics, is that the quarrel ought to be quickly composed in order that the larger interests of the community may not suffer. The real value of the Inebriates Act is not that it simplifies the task of the police and the magistrates in dealing with incorrigibles of the "Jane Cakebread" order, or that it cures degenerates of their alcoholic craving. The police are quite capable of dealing with the problem in the shape in which it presents itself to them by their own rough rule-of-thumb, and the cases compulsorily detained in public Inebriate Homes are more often than not incurable. The case of the irreclaimable Janes Cakebread, in short, has to be recognised as more typical than that of "Spring Onions", her reformed brother in excess. The application of the Act did at least, however, keep such women as Jane Cakebread off the streets. To suspend the Act is to send them back to the streets, and to the opportunity of becoming mothers.

The suggestion has been made that their habits of indulgence render them incapable of maternity; but that view is not borne out by the facts. Statistics show that 365 women convicted as criminal inebriates and consigned to reformatories in 1905-1906 were the mothers of 2,200 children – 2,200 children of whom it may almost be said that they are predestined, if they grow up, to become criminal inebriates in their turn. The detention of such mothers, actual or potential, would assuredly do more to make England sober than the closing of any number of public-houses, for it would tap the supply of drunkards at its source.

The astounding thing is that neither the Home Secretary nor the London County Council seem to have given a moment's thought to this aspect of the question. Both of them appear to look at the matter solely from the points of view of public expenditure and public order. The strongly-worded resolution passed by the Society at its annual meeting is now, however, before them; and we trust that it will stimulate them to more profitable reflection.

X-Rays and their Dangers

The grave, but only partially explored, dangers attending experimentation with X-rays have been further exemplified by cases occurring both in England and America during the past month. Medical and scientific knowledge have often to be purchased at the price of such perils, faced sometimes knowingly and sometimes inadvertently.

Sir James Simpson's numerous experiments with chloroform furnish one case in point; and there are plenty of instances of experimental inoculations. The case against the mosquito, for instance, as the chief, if not the sole, agent in the dissemination of malaria was made complete by voluntary submission to the experimental bites, first of the culex and then of the anopheles variety. In the case of the rays, of course, the danger was not known to exist until the symptoms of the first case of X-ray dermatitis were manifested and even then it was supposed that the danger could be nullified by the adoption of precautions since shown to be inadequate. The complaint is very insidious and very painful; and all honour is due to those who persevere with their work with X-rays in spite of the certain risk and the uncertain efficacy of the safeguards.

Possibly some experiments have been conducted with unnecessary rashness. That is always apt to be the case when students are eager or in a hurry. More care is taken now. Doctors engaged in the work of radiography should now protect themselves efficiently by using material opaque to the rays, and also employ specially constructed screens. It may be too soon to say that the protection thus secured is absolutely infallible; but there is good reason to hope that it may prove to be so, and that the use of a discovery so valuable alike in medicine and surgery may, in the future, be safe to the radiographer, as well as beneficial to the patient.

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