St Vitus' Dance

Sources: 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

and kind.

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;

Spine, etc.