Among the comments which have appeared in the medical journals upon the recent order of Surgeon-General Hammond striking Calomel and Tartar emetic from the Army Medical Supply Table, few have been so noteworthy as the following from the American Medical Times, July 4th, 1863.
“The order appeared not only expedient but judicious, and, under the circumstances, necessary. It could not, justly, be construed as an attempt to control the practice of the discreet surgeon, but simply prevented an existing abuse. The diseases among soldiers for which mercurials are specifics may be treated as efficiently as formerly, for the army surgeon still has among his medical stores several forms of Mercury which will accomplish his purpose equally well. CALOMEL HAS THE DISADVANTAGE OF BEING USED SO FREQUENTLY IN SIMPLE DISEASES As A COMMON REMEDY, that constitutional effects occur, often unexpectedly to the physician, especially in debilitated patients. By removing this agent, therefore, and still leaving other mercurial preparations as well adapted to specific purposes, but less liable to be used, except when the practitioner is desirous of producing specific results, less harm must obviously attend the use of mercurials. Such, we do not doubt, will be the effect of this order. No evil can result to the sick soldier from the absence of Calomel from the list of remedies, however much he may need mercurialization, when such preparations as blue pill, bichloride and Iodide of Mercury, etc., remain. But, IN PRESCRIBING THESE LATTER REMEDIES THE PRACTITIONER GENERALLY HAS A VERY DEFINITE IDEA OF THE OBJECT HE WISHES TO ATTAIN, WHICH IS NOT ALWAYS THE CASE IN THE USE OF CALOMEL.”
From these remarks it appears that, in the judgment of the American Medical Times, a peremptory order forbidding the use of Calomel was “necessary” in order to “prevent an existing abuse;” that this abuse consisted in the “frequent administration of Calomel as a common remedy in simple diseases and without any very definite idea of the object” desired to be attained; that the deplorable results of this abuse consisted in the occurrence of “the constitutional effects” of Mercury “often unexpectedly to the physician.” Furthermore, that the great desideratum is to have only such mercurials permitted to be employed as would be “less likely to be used except when the practitioner is desirous of producing specific results” and that this desideratum is attained by the order of the Surgeon-General.
Now, Homoeopathists have objected against the Therapeutic Science of the Old School that, being without a law; of cure for the guidance of the prescriber, it leaves him to a, routine mode of giving medicines according to an unmethodised experience. They have affirmed that the actual practice of the Old School consists in giving drugs from general notions of their action on diseases assumed to exist, but without any perception of a relation between the specific effects of the drugs and the phenomena of the disease. The American Medical Times admits the truth of these charges, by uttering the language we have quoted. It admits that physicians use Calomel as a “common remedy” (whatever that may be), without any “very definite idea of the object they wish to attain,” without definitely desiring to produce “specific results.”
Homoeopathists have never ceased to urge upon physicians these most important truths — that remedies should never be used except with a very “definite and distinct idea of the object to be attained;” that when used, it should always be with the purpose and expectation of “producing specific results;” that these “specific results” instead of occurring “unexpectedly to the physician” should always be expected, intended and desired by him. For, if the remedies have been rightly selected, these “specific results” consist of the “constitutional effects” of the remedy upon the disease of the patient; and the result of this occurrence of the “constitutional effects” of the remedy is by no means to be deplored even “in debilitated patients”. — for it is the annihilation of disease, the restoration of health. The American Medical Times clearly admits the force of these truths and the importance of their recognition. We are happy to find it so fully in accord with Homoeopathists as regards both the evil and the reform.
But our friends are much mistaken if they suppose that the exclusion of Calomel from the Supply Table will work this desired reform. Physicians, in the main, prescribe about as well as the therapeutic systems to which they adhere will allow. If Calomel has, hitherto, been given in a hap-hazard, a###less way, it is because the Therapeutics of the Old School have furnished no formula, by means of which prescriptions could be made with exactness. If Calomel be now denied to physicians, this denial will not furnish them the means of prescribing with more accuracy and less injury than before. Some other remedy, some other Mercurial. perhaps, will be exalted to the place of Calomel as the “common remedy” too frequently used in simple diseases.
The fault lies in the therapeutic science of the physician and not in the Supply Table. The science can never be reformed by changes in the Supply Table — by withholding an old favorite drug and allowing others, as yet more novel. It is a well settled principle that a vicious method can never be rectified by any change of instruments.
There is an old proverb “set a beggar on horseback and he will ride to the devil.” Would a change in the beggar's medium of progression necessarily result in a change in his destination? Would he not just as certainly ride to the devil, if his horse (Calomel) should be taken away and he should be set on the back of an ass, or of an elephant (or any other mercurial remedy)? D.
|The American Homoeopathic Review Vol. 04 No. 03, 1863, pages 97-100
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