Want of Sunlight as a Promoter of Consumption.
It is hard to prove the direct agency of a want of sunlight in the production of consumption. Reasoning from analogy, however, we might infer that, as plants grow up thin and white and unhealthy when deprived of light, so, under similar circumstances, the human being would suffer. But we see the evil influence on man caused by absence of the sun’s rays, in the pallid and emaciated forms of many of the children of the poor, particularly of those living where the direct sunlight cannot enter. It is true that want of proper food, & c. must usually have their own specific effects conjoined with this. Nevertheless; to any one who has experienced the genial glow coming from the sun on an early spring day, little will be needed to prove its strengthening power. All modern science tends to make the sun the centre of force and of life to vegetables and to man. The ancients knew better than we, for they had their solaria on the house-roofs, where they could enjoy in quiet their sun-baths. We, on the contrary, often place our sick on the north side of the house, where the sun never enters; or, perchance, if we have them in a southern room, we close all the blinds and curtains of its windows for the sake of our Brussels carpets, thereby unconsciously demonstrating that we think more of our finery than of the health of our households. We believe firmly that to the influence of pure air and direct sunlight we owe a vast deal of our common every-day health. Hence, in the treatment of our patients, we always seek to unite these advantages. We have been told by some consumptives that one of the best prescriptions we have made has been their removal from a north room to the sunny south chamber. As we write, two cases come to mind, strikingly illustrative of the sun’s benign influence. We had been attending, at an orphan asylum, a girl about twelve years old, who had been long ill of severe typhoid fever. She was wholly prostrated in mind and body, and emaciated to the last degree. It was plain that she was falling into that depressed condition of all the powers of life that so often precedes consumption: Day after day we visited her, but all recuperative power seemed lost. Half dead and alive, the little creature neither spoke nor moved, and ate only on compulsion. One day, on our way to visit her, we felt that elastic thrill which the warm rays of the sun impart in the early cool weather of spring. We involuntarily leaped along, and were instantly struck with the fact that “virtue had gone out of us” when we left behind us the sunlight and warmth of the street and entered that northern chamber, the dormitory of the poor orphan. That inspiriting influence the invalid had never experienced in the slightest degree during the whole of her sickness, as, owing to its peculiar situation, not a ray of direct sunlight had ever entered the chamber. We were shocked, and for the first time considered the depth of her loss, and our own remissness in regard to her. The air of the room had been pure, the ceilings of the infirmary were lofty, the attendants had been faithful and sagacious. Nothing seemed lacking, in fact, to restore health. Yet it did not come. On the contrary, there seemed a constant downward tendency. “A sun-bath in the warm rays of this delicious spring day is what this girl needs,” we instantly said to the sister superior. This lady gladly consented to the change, and placed the little patient in another room having a southern aspect, and consequently filled with sunlight. The invalid immediately recognized the change, and asked, in her weak way, to have the curtains raised, so as to let in the full blaze of the light. So on she wanted to sit up, and directed that the easy-chair, in which she was propped, should be so placed as to allow her whole body below her face to be exposed to the direct rays of the sun. It was the natural tendency of disease, seeking for all life-renovating influences. And we have never met with so marked or so rapid improvement as immediately began in the body and mind of the girl. Appetite and strength increased daily, and with them burst forth again all the joyousness of the child’s heart.
Another analogous case, which, although we do not demonstrate by it the influence of the sun alone, we cannot forbear to name, because by such examples we impress perhaps on the minds of our readers the real principles underlying the whole question. A lady aged about thirty, resident in the northern part, of New England, consulted us for undoubted tubercular disease of the lungs. Her house was well situated, and on the side towards the south was a small piazza resting on stone steps, which was raised two or three feet above the ground. The winter was approaching and rules were to be given. Having full faith in these divine influences of pure air and sunlight, we directed that she should sit out on this piazza every day during the winter, unless it were too stormy. It was so arranged as to shut out the cool air on three sides, and to admit the full blaze of sunlight in front. Here, according to our directions, she used to sit wrapped in furs, reading or writing for several hours each day during the following winter, and with most excellent results. She was directed frequently to make deep inspirations, in order to fill the lungs with pure air. She was never chilled, because the sun’s rays and her warm clothing prevented it. She never “took cold” there. On the contrary, the balmy influences exerted upon her by her daily sun and air bath were so grateful; her breathing became so much easier after each of them, that, whenever a storm came, and prevented the resort to the piazza, the invalid suffered in consequence thereof. Whether these remarks will prove to our readers that want of sunlight may be reckoned among the causes of consumption may well be doubted, but we trust that, at least, they will convince some sceptics that sunlight has a potent influence in raising the human body from various weaknesses that sometimes are the precursors of fatal phthisis.