Sources: Papers On Health

The Black Hole of Calcutta is an object lesson of how necessary

to life is the renewal of the air supply. Few people, however, reflect

that a deficient supply of fresh air may affect the health, though far

short of what will cause death. Many hospitable people will invite so

many friends to their houses that the amount of air each can get is

less than 1-20th of what the law insists shall be provided for the

prisoners in our gaols. Superabundant provision is made for the wants

of the stomachs of these guests, but none at all for the more important

organ--the lungs. The headaches and lack of appetite next morning are

attributed to the supper instead of the repeatedly breathed air, for

each guest gives off almost 20 cubic feet of used-up air per hour. No

one would ask their guests to wash with water others had used; how many

offer them air which has been made foul by previous use? Everyone knows

that in our lungs oxygen is removed from the air inhaled, and its place

taken by carbonic acid gas. Besides this deoxydizing, the air becomes

loaded with organic matter which is easily detected by the olfactory

organs of those who have just come in, and so are in a position to

promptly compare the air inside with what they have been breathing. The

exhilaration produced by deep breathing of pure air is well known.

What, therefore, prevents everyone enjoying it at all times? Simply the

fear of "cold"--an unfortunate name for that low form of fever properly

called catarrh, and a name which is largely responsible for this

mistaken idea. "Colds" are now known to be infectious, being often

caught in close ill-ventilated places of public assembly. Most people

suppose that it is the change from the heat to the cold outside that

gives them "cold," whereas the "cold" has been contracted inside. There

is no lack of evidence that wide open windows day and night, summer and

winter, so strengthen and invigorate that colds are rarely taken, and

when taken, generally in a mild form. This also applies to influenza.

If delicate consumptives can stand, without any gradual breaking-in to

it, unlimited fresh air, and can lie by day and night in open sheds, no

one need dread at once to adopt the open-window system. Although few

will believe it, until they try it, a wide open window does not produce

a draught as does one slightly opened, and it is safer and pleasanter

to go in for abundant fresh air than to try what might be called a

moderate course. Many think that with an open window the heat of the

fire is practically wasted. They do not know that the radiant heat of

the fire will warm the person it falls on even though the temperature

of the room is very low. The Canadian hunter before his fire is

comfortably warm, though the air around him may be a long way below

zero. Extra clothing may be worn if any chilliness is felt. While the

body is warm cold air has an invigorating effect on the lungs. Indeed,

the body soon gets accustomed to the colder air, and those who practise

keeping open windows winter and summer find that they do not require

heavier clothing than those who sit with windows shut. A slight or even

considerable feeling of coldness, when due to cold air and not to

ill-health, will not harm.

This is no new idea. Dr. Henry McCormac, of Belfast, father of the

eminent surgeon, Sir William McCormac, wrote forty years ago:--"The

mainly unreasoning dread of night air, so termed, is a great impediment

to free ventilation by night. And yet day and night air is the same

virtually, does not differ appreciably. The air by night, whether damp

or dry, is equally pure, equally salubrious with the air by day, and

calls not less solicitously for ceaseless admission into our dwellings.

Air, ere it reaches the lungs, is always damp. Quite dry air is

irrespirable. It needs no peculiar or unusual habitude in order to

respire what is termed night air. Exposure to contact with the day air

equally prepares us for exposure to the contact with the night air. We

can multiply our coverings by night with even greater ease than we can

by day, and with the most perfect certainty of producing and obtaining

warmth. Good heavens! How is it that people are so wildly mistaken as

if the great wise Deity, as he does by every exquisite and perfect

adaption, did not intend that we should make use of the purest,

sweetest air day and night always? The prospective results of breathing

purest air by night are so infinitely desirable, the immediate

enjoyment is so great that it only needs a trial to be approved of and

adopted for ever.... Reasonable precautions--that is to say, adequate

night coverings--being resorted to, no colour of risk to the lungs,

even of the most delicate, can possibly ensue. For, it is stagnant air,

air pre-breathed only, and not pure unprerespired air that makes lungs

delicate. Although air, warmth, food, and cleanliness be cardinal

conditions and essential to life, still the most important of all

health factors is air--air pure and undefiled alike by day and by

night.... The constant uneasy dread of taking cold, which haunts the

minds of patients and their friends, is doubtless the one great reason

why fresh air is thrust aside. And yet cold will not be caught, were it

in Nova Zembla itself, by night, if only the sleeper's body be

adequately covered.... The pulses or puffs of air that comes in

ceaselessly, winter and summer, through open windows by night inspire

just as if one slept in the open air, a sort of ecstasy. Gush follows

gush, full of delightfulness, replacing the used-up air and purifying

the blood. It has oftimes been said to me, 'I open the windows the

moment I get out of bed;' to this I have uniformly replied, 'the moment

to open the window is before you get into bed, not when you get out of

it.' You cannot otherwise with entire certainty secure the benefit of

an ever ceaselessly renewed night air so all essential to the blood's

renewal and the maintenance of health.... With abundant night coverings

there is no shadow of risk. There is none of rheumatism, none of

bronchitis, in short no risk whatever. The only, the real risk, which

we incur, is that of closing our sleeping chamber windows, of debarring

ourselves of pure air during our repose."