The Good old days: The agent of fear

Fear, the exact opposite of faith, is one of those depressing agents which always act unfavourably in cases of confirmed disease.

Sudden fear has sometimes acted beneficially, and paralytics have been known to recover the use of their limbs under a paroxysm of terror; generally, however, its operation is the reverse.

In children, the influence of fear, either in jest or earnest, is most sedulously to be avoided. Above all things, care should be taken that circumstances in which children may be placed accidentally, or individuals with whom they may necessarily have to come in contact, are not made sources of terror. Threats of ‘what the doctor will do’ so terrify a child that, when visited in illness, fright quickens the pulse, the tongue will not be shown, and the sounds of the chest are so obscured by sobs that it is impossible to arrive at an accurate judgment of the case.

Nightmare, if of frequent occurrence, may depend on disease connected with the heart or circulation, but more usually it is the result of causes much more easily removable, such as indulgence in heavy suppers or excess of food generally.

Disturbed sleep in children is very common, taking either the form of moaning or restlessness, with grating of the teeth, or talking; of awaking suddenly, frightened and screaming; or of getting out of bed, when it becomes somnambulism.

The excitability of the nervous system in children renders them liable to be thus affected by even slight disorders of the bowels. In such cases, therefore, it is always right to clear out the canal by means of a smart purge.

If the affection does not seem to depend on disorder of the bowels so much as upon general excitability, everything in the way of mental excitement must be avoided.

Adapted from ‘A Dictionary of Domestic Medicine and Household Surgery’, by Spencer Thomson MD LRCS and J C Steele MD, published in 1882 by Charles Griffin and Company, London

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