Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
In the best grades of society it is not now considered a sign of refinement to be "delicate." When our grandmothers, and even our mothers, were girls, robust health was esteemed almost a vulgarity. Now, the woman who is pale and "delicate" is not an interesting invalid, but sometimes an absolute bore. There are exceptions to this rule of pride in indelicate health,--notably among the lower classes. These people having neglected and set at defiance all hygienic rules, feel that a mark of special distinction is set upon them by their diseases. In fact, they "enjoy poor health," and take all occasions to discourse to the willing or disgusted listener upon their "symptoms," "disorders," their "nerves," and "Complaints." The final word should be spelt with a huge C, so important a place does it occupy in their estimation. The three D's which should be rigidly excluded from polite conversation--Domestics, Dress and Diseases--form the staple of their conversation. And the greatest of these is Diseases.
A farmer's daughter, whose rosy cheeks and plump figure elicited from me a gratulatory comment upon her robust appearance, indignantly informed me that she was "by no means strong, and had been doctorin' off and on for a year past for the malaria."
"Do you eat and sleep tolerably well?"
"Oh, yes," with the plaintive whine peculiar to the would-be invalid. "I sleep dreadful heavy. I take a nap each day for a couple of hours. And I must have a pound of beefsteak or mutton-chops for dinner. The fever makes me that hungry! You see it devours all that I eat, and the strength of the food goes to that."
Had any one pointed out to the deluded girl the folly of her theory, and explained that the fever patient becomes almost crazed from the restlessness that will not allow him to sleep, and that he loathes the very thought of food with a disgust that makes the daintiest dishes prepared by loving hands as gritty cinders between his teeth, she would have smiled patronizing superiority, and explained at length that her complaint was a peculiar one,--no common, everyday illness.
With this class, stomach disorders and their attendant sufferings, such as giddiness, shortness of breath and pain in the side, are always attributed to cardiac irregularity. There may be a lack of appetite and dull or acute pain following eating, and the fetid breath arising from a disordered condition of the stomach; but they resent the notion that their "heart disease" is dyspepsia, and would, in all probability, discharge the physician who recommended pepsin and judicious diet.
Perhaps the most discouraging feature of this class of persons is that they are ignorant and obstinate in this ignorance. The opinion of all the medical fraternity in the country would, in the farmer's daughter's estimation, be unworthy of consideration compared with the advice or suggestion advanced by one of her own kind. The practitioner among the unlearned has fearful odds to contend with in trying to bring an ignorant patient under his regimen. One word from sister, cousin or aunt, and the invalid will cast aside the physician's remedies, and take quarts of some patent medicine.
If you should question your laundress or cook, or your farmer's wife, you would be appalled to discover what peculiar notions she has of her physical make-up. It would be interesting and astounding to allow one of these people to draw a chart of her interior machinery, as she supposes it to be. It would bear as little resemblance to the reality as did the charts of the ancients who antedated Tycho Brahe, Pythagoras, and Copernicus, to the celestial charts of the nineteenth century. One would note especially the prominence given to certain organs. The stomach is almost, if not entirely, ignored. It is a matter for speculation why this valuable factor of the human system should be regarded with some disfavor by the ignorant. They joyfully admit the existence of the heart, brain and kidneys, and even the liver, and discourse with zestful unction on their own peculiar and special diseases of these organs; but suggest not to them that the stomach is out of sorts. This is not, in their estimation, a romantic Complaint. Their specialty is Nerves. To hear the frequency with which they attribute to these all uncomfortable sensations, one would imagine that the victims were made by a special pattern, like the tongue, of ends of nerves, all super-sensitive. The Nerves are a mysterious portion of their being, to whose account everything is laid, from extreme irritability and vexation, to nausea and rheumatism. "My nerves are that sensitive!" is a universal complaint.
It is difficult for the average mind to grasp the reason why the stomach, man's best friend and worst enemy, should be made of no account, and repudiated with such indignant resentment. Surely the giddiness occasioned by a tendency of blood to the head is no more romantic than the dizziness induced by gaseous fermentation of matter in the stomach. The digestive organs should and do receive vast consideration from the medical profession. How often do we hear it said of some man lying at the point of death that as long as his digestive functions are duly performed there is hope; and how often, after the crisis is past, do we learn from the jubilant doctor that the patient's stomach was his salvation! "If that had failed, nothing could have saved him."
Let me recommend, as the pre-eminent duty of the sensible reader, care of the stomach and the alimentary apparatus. By care I do not mean dosing. With too many people the science of hygiene is confined in their imagination and practice to remedial measures. Of the weightier matters of precaution they reck nothing. Once in so often they "take a course of physic." This is done not so much because it is needed, as on principle, and because they have somewhere heard that it is a good thing to do. So, although all the digestive functions may be performing their part in a perfectly proper and regular manner, they must be weakened and irritated by draughts which do more harm than good.
Old proverbs are often the truest, and this may be affirmed of the adage that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Do not, if by care you can prevent it, allow your stomach to become disordered; but if, in spite of care, it is irritated, soothe instead of punishing it. Manage it as you sometimes control a fretful child,--by letting it severely alone. A few hours' fasting is an excellent remedy, and may continue until a feeling of faintness warns you that nature needs your assistance. Then eat slowly a little light food, such as milk-toast or very hot beef-tea. Quiet and diet work more wonders than quarts of medicine.
If your digestive organs are susceptible to disorder, be reasonably careful about what you eat, even though you consider yourself quite well. What a stomach has once done in the line of misbehavior, a stomach may do again. If a pitcher has in it a tiny flaw, it may crack when filled with boiling liquid. If you know of some article of food which disagrees with you, let it alone. If you are inclined to dyspepsia, eschew hot breads, pastry, fried or greasy food, nuts and many sweets. Avoid becoming dependent upon any medicine to ward off indigestion, if by care in your diet you can accomplish the same purpose. Many dyspeptics take an inordinate amount of bicarbonate of soda, an excellent corrective to acidity of the stomach when partaken of occasionally, and in small portions. In some cases, large and frequent doses have produced a cancerous condition of the coating of the stomach, which has resulted in death. It sounds ridiculous to speak of dependence upon soda-mint and pepsin tablets degenerating into an incurable habit, but there are some people to whom they are as necessary after each meal as were snuff and quids of tobacco to the old people seventy years ago.
Nature has provided a wonderful system of drains for carrying away the effete matter of the body. The effect caused by the neglect of these is akin to that produced by the choking of the waste-pipes in a house. If they become stopped, you send in haste for a plumber, that he may correct the trouble before it causes illness. If this state of affairs is allowed to continue in the human body, the system takes up the poison which slowly but surely does its work.
Next to the special organs designed for this plan of sewerage, the skin takes the most active part in disposing of impurities in the blood. The tiny pores are so many little doors through which the mischief may pass harmlessly away. But these pores must be kept open, and the only way to accomplish this end is by the free use of soap and warm water. This is such a homely remedy that it is sometimes sneered at and often overlooked. Certain portions of the body, such as the face and hands, are frequently washed, while other parts which are covered by the clothing are neglected. The entire body, especially in the creases where perspiration accumulates, should be sponged once a day, if one perspires freely. While sponging is excellent, a plunge bath should be frequently indulged in, as it opens the pores and thoroughly cleanses the entire surface.
Another desideratum is exercise, regular and abundant. Housework and walking are all that a woman needs, although she may find great pleasure as well as benefit from horseback riding, rowing and tennis. But let her not allow herself to tax her strength to the point of over-weariness. The amount of sleep needed by a woman is a mooted point, but unless she is what slangy boys term "constitutionally tired," she should sleep enough at night to ensure her against drowsiness in the daytime. For the elderly and feeble, an occasional nap after the noonday meal, especially during the warm weather, will prove most refreshing.
Try to bear in mind that you are not the only one concerned in your health. Higginson, in speaking of the duty of girls to observe all hygienic laws, tells us that, "unless our girls are healthy, the country is not safe. The fate of institutions may hang on the precise temperament which our next president shall have inherited from his mother."