A few words upon bedsteads and bedding; and principally as regards patients who are entirely, or almost entirely, confined to bed.
Feverishness is generally supposed to be a symptom of fever—in nine cases out of ten it is a symptom of bedding.* The patient has had re-introduced into the body the emanations from himself which day after day and week after week saturate his unaired bedding. How can it be otherwise? Look at the ordinary bed in which a patient lies.
If I were looking out for an example in order to show what not to do, I should take the specimen of an ordinary bed in a private house: a wooden bedstead, two or even three mattresses piled up to above the height of a table; a vallance attached to the frame—nothing but a miracle could ever thoroughly dry or air such a bed and bedding. The patient must inevitably alternate between cold damp after his bed is made, and warm damp before, both saturated with organic matter,* and this from the time the mattresses are put under him till the time they are picked to pieces, if this is ever done.
If you consider that an adult in health exhales by the lungs and skin in the twenty-four hours three pints at least of moisture, loaded with organic matter ready to enter into putrefaction; that in sickness the quantity is often greatly increased, the quality is always more noxious—just ask yourself next where does all this moisture go to? Chiefly into the bedding, because it cannot go anywhere else. And it stays there; because, except perhaps a weekly change of sheets, scarcely any other airing is attempted. A nurse will be careful to fidgetiness about airing the clean sheets from clean damp, but airing the dirty sheets from noxious damp will never even occur to her. Besides this, the most dangerous effluvia we know of are from the excreta of the sick—these are placed, at least temporarily, where they must throw their effluvia into the under side of the bed, and the space under the bed is never aired; it cannot be, with our arrangements. Must not such a bed be always saturated, and be always the means of re-introducing into the system of the unfortunate patient who lies in it, that excrementitious matter to eliminate which from the body nature had expressly appointed the disease?
My heart always sinks within me when I hear the good house-wife, of every class, say, “I assure you the bed has been well slept in,” and I can only hope it is not true. What? is the bed already saturated with somebody else’s damp before my patient comes to exhale into it his own damp? Has it not had a single chance to be aired? No, not one. “It has been slept in every night.”