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(False Rabies and Fear of Drinking Water)

In the mid to late 1890’s, the forerunner of our printed magazines were monthly newspapers. One such newsmagazine was “The North American Review”. In Volume 151, No. 405, published in August, 1890, pages 167-172 were devoted to an article by A. Hammond, M. D., Surgeon-General, United States Army (Retired).

“There,” he stated, “are very few persons who are not more or less under the influence of ‘suggestion.’ They seem to be endowed with comparatively low powers of original action, and to be moved to an extent scarcely normal by the facts and circumstances that surround them.”

“A woman, for instance, overwhelmed with misfortune and weary of life, commits suicide by swallowing paris green [a toxic crystalline salt of copper and arsenic], and straightway we read in the daily press of other women who have had no previous knowledge of the poisonous effects of paris green, taking their lives in like manner.”

The more unusual the story, the more probability there is that some persons will adopt it.

Doctor Hammond continues, “Several years ago, a man confined in the Tombs Prison, in the city of New York, killed himself by cutting his femoral artery. Within a few days several persons destroyed themselves by cutting the femoral artery”.

Another case stated by the doctor was, “A man who, thinking he was being bled to death while his eyes were bandaged, and a stream of warm water … flowing over his arm, actually died within the normal period with symptoms that would have ensued had he really died from hemorrhage.”

“A professor of anatomy, while making a post-mortem examination of a man who had cut his throat and who had died after several days of great suffering, said to his servant, who was assisting him, ‘Hans, whenever you have a mind to cut your throat, don’t do it in so blundering a way as did this fellow, here is the place to cut,’ pointing to the region of the carotid artery. Up to this time Hans had been a happy and well-disposed man, with apparently no thought of suicide. Yet that night he went home and cut his throat.”

There seems to be, in fact, no limit to the Power of Suggestion with some persons. Objectives can be made to assume any form that the suggestor (sic) pleases.

Doctor Hammond states a case within his own experiences. “Thus, a lady who is a wonderfully sensitive subject to this influence came under my professional charge for some slight derangement of her nervous system. If I told her that a book was a watch, it became, so far as she was concerned, an actual watch. If I put a piece of ice in her hand and told her it was boiling water, she shrieked with pain and declared that I scalded her. If, while the sun was shining, I told her that the rain was coming down in torrents, she at once began to lament her sad plight in being so far from home without an umbrella and would beg me to call a carriage for her. Every one of her senses could be imposed upon in like manner; and I have frequently controlled the action of her heart, making its pulsations slower or more rapid in accordance with the spoken suggestion. There is no doubt that, if I had put a little flour in her mouth, at the same time telling her that it was strychnine and describing the symptoms of death by strychnine, she would have died with all the phenomena of poisoning with that powerful substance; or that, if I had pointed an unloaded pistol at her head and had cried “Bang!” she would fall dead to the floor. All this sounds very much like hypnotism, but this lady was not in that state.”

Surgeon General Hammond then moves on to talk about the Power of Suggestion as it applies to the title of his article in “The North American Review”; False Hydrophobia (False Rabies and Fear of Drinking Water).

“That such a disease as [rabies], with such strongly marked characteristics, should, under the action of the principle of suggestion, be simulated by hysterical or other nervous persons, is not a matter for surprise. Every year, as the summer approaches, the newspapers contain accounts of cases of so-called hydrophobia which, to the practiced judgment of the physician, seem to be entirely due to the imagination of the sufferer. It is clearly important that such a disorder should be prevented, for not only does great distress ensue, but even death itself has not unfrequently been the consequence. As several instances of the kind have come under my personal observation, I may perhaps be allowed to speak with some authority on the subject.”

“It may be said, in the very beginning of our consideration of the subject, that the victim of false [rabies] can only have those symptoms of which he has knowledge. Unfortunately, the real disease has received so much notice from newspapers and other popular publications that a tolerably correct knowledge of its phenomena has been acquired by the laity. Hence, we find that the picture ordinarily presented by the unconscious simulator is, at least to cursory observation, not unlike the real affection. There are, however, great differences, which the educated physician will not fail to detect, and which will enable him to do what has never been yet done with real [rabies]; cure the patient. Hydrophobia never originate in the human subject at least, except by [a bite injecting saliva] from a rabid animal, and death always occurs in four or five days after the development of the disease .”

The doctor then relates several cases, similarly dependent to the power of suggestion as those above, where people have thought they had rabies (and acted as if they had rabies). Several cases went months beyond the period when the patient would have normally died, yet they and the animals that bit them continued to live. Most of these false cases of rabies were due to another individual casually – or jokingly — suggesting that the bitten person appears a little different since being bitten.

Here is where I depart from the good doctor.

I do not depart from him on the power of suggestion but rather on the symptoms being politically idealistic as opposed to being medical. Allow me to clarify. We citizens of the USA appear to be leaning far left or far right. We argue on Twitter and Facebook about what is correct, what is incorrect, or who is despicable and who is virtuous. We appear to have divided our country into two separate nations.

For this I blame the media – and — ourselves. We listen to the networks or channels that bolster our own views. Ditto for the ‘social media’ and print media. And as The Bard once said, “Therein, lays the rub.” Each side, liberal or conservative, now has ammunition, ready at hand, to attack the other side. But is this ammunition powerful enough to convince the other side? I think not. Most of this ammunition is only the Power of Suggestion and since the other side is not open to your suggestions then nothing occurs other than the possibility of destroying a good friendship.

Those who were once good friends are now “do-gooders” or “socialists willing to destroy their own country.” On the other side are old friends who are now “racists” and “homophobes.” What has happened since the beginning of a new millennia?

In my opinion it is the media who feeds us only what we want to hear. There are the reporters who mime what other reporters of the same ilk have stated as news. It typically is opinion and innuendo. I speak of both sides; liberal and conservative. I do not have to name names. You know who the reporters, broadcasters, channels, pundits and social media contributors are. Each of us listen or read the “news” as reported by our own favorite personalities.

I have nothing more to say and only hope that I have planted a seed that says, “Let’s apply a little more critical thinking.” Let’s not be overcome by “The Power of Suggestion” that cause False Idealism.

However, allow us to have a “Fear of Drinking the Kool-Aid” that we are offered on an hourly basis.