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St Vitus' Dance
Source: Papers On Health
This proceeds from a simple irritation of the spinal
nerves, and is to be cured by soothing the spine with persistent
cooling. In mild cases this cooling is easily applied with towels wrung
out of cold water, and folded so as to lie at least four-ply thick
along the whole spine. If narcotic drugs have been largely used, and
the nervous system spoiled thereby, a severer form of the trouble comes
on, and requires a good deal of care and persistence in cooling. In all
cases the cooling of the spine must only be done when the patient is
warm in bed.
It will be of great importance, in carrying out this process, to use
olive oil in such a way, all over the body, as to help in maintaining
the general normal heat. In addition to these suggestions, it may be
well to remark that the appearances in such cases are, as a rule, worse
than the reality. For instance, the motion of the eyes and of the
tongue makes one imagine that the sufferer has lost all reason, and
even consciousness of normal character. But this is not so; the brain
may not be affected at all, and the worst feeling is that of weariness.
We have seen a patient smiling through the most distressing
contortions--that is, most distressing to the ordinary observer. It is
of great importance that any one who treats such cases should be cool
It will sometimes be impossible for one person to keep the patient in
bed and covered with the clothes so as to keep warm. If so, two must do
it. It is, however, to be remembered constantly, that the patient feels
it much more agreeable to be held within even close limits than to be
allowed to throw arms and legs, and head and body about in all
directions. This is a most invaluable truth in such cases. It will not
do to hold as with an iron grasp, so that no degree of movement is
allowed; but you may hold softly, so that no motion, such as will even
disturb the bedclothes, shall take place. This must be done so that all
the body shall be comfortably warm when the cold towel is laid along
the spine and pressed gently to the centre of the back. In
comparatively mild cases, we give an hour of this cooling process every
morning only, and the warm washing and anointing with olive oil at
bedtime; but in such cases as we sometimes meet with, where drugs have
done their mischievous work, it is necessary to cool much more
frequently. For instance, when the morning cooling has laid the
irritation, and the patient is quiet for an hour, or, perhaps, only
half-an-hour, the movement returns. The persons applying the cure are
afraid to repeat it till another morning has come. But they need not be
so. Or, they apply it for five minutes, and are afraid to continue it
longer. They may quite safely apply it as long as they can keep the
rest of the body comfortably warm. If they can keep nice, soft blankets
well round the patient, as a rule it will not be difficult to keep up
all general heat. Let us suppose that, when warm in bed and asleep, the
patient wakes up, and the diseased movement begins; it will be well
then to ply the back with the cold towel. If the movement is perfectly
still in half-an-hour, a rest may be given. If the movement soon
returns, the cold can be applied till perfect quiet is had again. This
will, perhaps, be secured in twenty minutes or so. A rest and
comfortable warming may be given again. If the movement still returns,
it may be met by the same cooling process again. If only the heat is
kept up all right, the cold towel may be used till the spinal
irritation is finally gone.
This simple mode of treatment we have found to be perfectly successful,
not only in removing every symptom of nervous irritation, but in giving
most vigorous health to patients who, to begin with, were truly
miserable-looking subjects. This may be looked for, as well as the mere
removal of the malady.
It should be noted that one outstanding feature of St. Vitus' Dance is
that the movement ceases during sleep. If this is not the case, other
treatment is called for. See Paralysis, and articles under Nerves;
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