Tuesday, October 07, 2014

1840-1903: Open air treatment for consumption x

Figure 1 -1899, National Jewish Hospital, TB patients treated with sunlight (4)
Around the turn of the 20th century tuberculosis was a common ailment, and a leading cause of death.  Yet it also lead to a general feeling of gloom among the populace, especially considering little was known about it and there was no cure.  Yet if you had it there was hope, thanks to places like sanatoriums and hospitals like National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives in Denver Colorado.  

In the 1840s Hermann Brehmer (1826-1889) was diagnosed with the condition and he told his doctor he might benefit from the open air of the Himalayas.  He also decided there might be benefits from isolating tuberculosis patients from the rest of the community, so he created hydrotherapy institution in Gorbesdorf, which is a village in Silesia, Germany. 

At first he had trouble convincing the medical community he was on the right track, but ultimately he became so successful that various sanatoriums opened in mountainous areas all over Europe and the United States.  One famous one in the United States was built in Denver, Colorado in 1899 by the Jewish Community. 

Many of the Jewish Community who were struck with tuberculosis were flocking to the Denver area because of it's fresh, dry, mountainous air.  Yet many of these victims were without enough money to be able to afford food or housing.

This was brought to the attention of Frances Wishbart Jacobs who worked hard to raise money to build shelter for these destitute victims of consumption.  She was able to find support from members of the Jewish Community and then to generate enough money to build an institution.  (1)

National Jewish Hospital 1892
In 1892 Jacobs died, and a year later the building was finished.  Yet the country was also mired in a recessions that year prompted by the silver crisis, and this resulted in a lack of funds to open the facility.  The building laid empty until Rabbi William S. Friedman took up a project to complete and open the institution.  (2)

The doors to the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives opened in 1899 with the motto: "None may enter who can pay -- none can pay who enter." (1)  While it was originally built by the Jewish Community, anyone was allowed to enter who needed help.  (2)

One of the original therapies for tuberculosis patients in Denver was to receive heliotherapy, which was sunlight therapy (See figure 1).  It was believed that sunlight would help them "combat the disease."  (3)  This type of therapy, along with open air therapy altogether, was supported by Thomas Beddoes (1803-49), who performed many tests on respiratory patients, and Herrmann Brehmer (1826-89), who, as noted, opened the first sanitorium.  (3, page 37)

Figure 4 -- Open air therapy for TB patient at his home (3, page 38)
Studies were also done that showed TB patients recover faster in the winter than summer months.  In fact, "Dr. Otto Walther says he not infrequently had an inch of snow on his blankets.  At some localities tents are the only shelter, but whether the patients are housed in cottages or in tents, the free access of air must be absolute and uninterrupted. Drafts are not feared. At night the windows, which should constitute at least one side of the room or ward, are kept open; in some places the sashes are removed altogether; the sides of the tents are rolled up, except in the severest storms. In very cold weather the head and hands may be protected with woolen cap and gloves, and at all times the patients are well provided with blankets. In summer the beds or reclining chairs are moved into the open or into covered porches during the day; for the winter most places are provided with glass porches or sun parlors; where the patients spend their days in bed or reclining in steamer chair." (3, page 38)

(5, page 44)
The benefits of open air therapy as reported were: (3, page 39)
  • Reduction of the fever
  • Improvement of the appetite,
  • Induction of sleep
As noted, "Cough and night-sweats disappear in a short time, and, as a logical consequence, the medicinal treatment is reduced to a minimum. Antipyretic drugs are never used and expectorants are rarely required. Suralimentation (the belief that consumption could be cured by forcing them to eat) is practised in many places, especially in the German resorts, where it is pushed to an almost incredible degree; even bed patients with considerable pyrexia are placed on a full diet of meat and vegetables. Trudeau and Flick * content themselves with giving their patients three full meals a day, allowing them to drink milk between meals if they have a desire for it; when, however, there is anorexia, the patient is given raw eggs beaten up with milk every two or three hours." (3, page 39)

While open air treatment was utilized "judiciously" and based on "individual cases," the therapy could also be recommended for home use as well. (See figure 4) Patients may also benefit from treatment in tents, walks or rides in the open air.  (3, page 39)

Another type of therapy was pulmonary gymnastics, or exercise.  While this was debated as an effective therapy, it was often recommended at the various sanatoriums.

In 1895 a German by the name of Wilhelm Konrad von Roentgen discovered the x-ray that allowed doctors to see the disease in its early as well as it's late stages.  This marked the first time that the disease could be diagnosed in its early stages instead of having to wait to see the late signs.  It also allowed doctors to see the tubercles in those who had survived the disease.  It showed both active and inactive tuberculosis.

  1. Gurock, Jeffrey S., ed., "American Jewish History," 1998, New York, vol. 3, part 3, pages 1095-6
  2. "The History of National Jewish," NationalJewish.org, http://www.nationaljewish.org/about/whynjh/history/
  3. Tissier, Pneumotherapy
  4. Photo compliments of National Jewish Health, Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151140094301092&set=a.140185801091.110191.41885201091&type=1&theater, accessed on 10/20/12
  5. Picture from the Journal of the Outdoor Life," National Tuberculosis Association, Volume XI, January, 1914, 10 cents an issue or $1.00 a year

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