So many people have shown a pardonable curiosity about the above named disease, and so few have a very clear idea of the thrill of pleasure it affords the patient, unless they have enjoyed it themselves, that I have decided to briefly say something in answer to the innumerable inquiries I have received.
Up to the moment I had a notion of getting some meningitis, I had never employed a physician. Since then I have been thrown in their society a great deal. Most of them were very pleasant and scholarly gentlemen, who will not soon be forgotten; but one of them doctored me first for pneumonia, then for inflammatory rheumatism, and finally, when death was contiguous, advised me that I must have change of scene and rest.
I told him that if he kept on prescribing for me, I thought I might depend on both. Change of physicians, however, saved my life. This horse doctor, a few weeks afterward, administered a subcutaneous morphine squirt in the arm of a healthy servant girl because she had the headache, and she is now with the rest of this veterinarian’s patients in a land that is fairer than this.
She lived six hours after she was prescribed for. He gave her change of scene and rest. He has quite a thriving little cemetery filled with people who have succeeded in cording up enough of his change of scene and rest to last them through all eternity. He was called once to prescribe for a man whose head had been caved in by a stone match-box, and, after treating the man for asthma and blind staggers, he prescribed rest and change of scene for him, too. The poor asthmatic is now breathing the extremely rarified air of the New Jerusalem.
Meningitis is derived from the Latin Meninges, membrane, and– itis, an affix denoting inflammation, so that, strictly speaking, meningitis is the inflammation of a membrane, and when applied to the spine, or cerebrum, is called spinal meningitis, or cerebro-spinal meningitis, etc., according to the part of the spine or brain involved in the inflammation. Meningitis is a characteristic and result of so-called spotted fever, and by many it is deemed identical with it.
When we come to consider that the spinal cord, or marrow, runs down through the long, bony shaft made by the vertebrae, and that the brain and spine, though connected, are bound up in one continuous bony wall and covered with this inflamed membrane, it is not difficult to understand that the thing is very hard to get at. If your throat gets inflamed, a doctor asks you to run your tongue out into society about a yard and a half, and he pries your mouth open with one of Rogers Brothers’ spoon handles. Then he is able to examine your throat as he would a page of the Congressional Record, and to treat it with some local application. When you have spinal meningitis, however, the doctor tackles you with bromides, ergots, ammonia, iodine, chloral hydrate, codi, bromide of ammonia, hasheesh, bismuth, valerianate of ammonia, morphine sulph., nux vomica, turpentine emulsion, vox humana, rex magnus, opium, cantharides, Dover’s powders, and other bric-a-brac. These remedies are masticated and acted upon by the salivary glands, passed down the esophagus, thrown into the society of old gastric, submitted to the peculiar motion of the stomach and thoroughly chymified, then forwarded through the pyloric orifice into the smaller intestines, where they are touched up with bile, and later on handed over through the lacteals, thoracic duct, etc., to the vast circulatory system. Here it is yanked back and forth through the heart, lungs and capillaries, and if anything is left to fork over to the disease, it has to squeeze into the long, bony, air-tight socket that holds the spinal cord. All this is done without seeing the patient’s spinal cord before or after taking. If it could be taken out, and hung over a clothes line and cleansed with benzine, and then treated with insect powder, or rolled in corn meal, or preserved in alcohol, and then put back, it would be all right; but you can’t. You pull a man’s spine out of his system and he is bound to miss it, no matter how careful you have been about it. It is difficult to keep house without the spine. You need it every time you cook a meal. If the spinal cord could be pulled by a dentist and put away in pounded ice every time it gets a hot-box, spinal meningitis would lose its stinger.
I was treated by thirteen physicians, whose names I may give in a future article. They were, as I said, men I shall long remember. One of them said very sensibly that meningitis was generally over-doctored. I told him that I agreed with him. I said that if I should have another year of meningitis and thirteen more doctors, I would have to postpone my trip to Europe, where I had hoped to go and cultivate my voice. I’ve got a perfectly lovely voice, if I would take it to Europe and have it sand-papered and varnished, and mellowed down with beer and bologna.
But I was speaking of my physicians. Some time I’m going to give their biographies and portraits, as they did those of Dr. Bliss, Dr. Barnes and others. Next year, if I can get railroad rates, I am going to hold a reunion of my physicians in Chicago. It will be a pleasant relaxation for them, and will save the lives of a large percentage of their patients.