The Century Chest Collection

Medicine Prophecy

(Transcribed from the original)

Lea A. Riely, M. D.
335 American National Bank Building
Oklahoma City

Our Conception of Medicine in
Two Thousand and Thirteen.

Were I the unusual individual that had the power as Abdul Hamid in interesting "Arabian Nights" and could penetrate the great abyss of time and space by the unaided eye with all the nonchalance of a glance at a daily paper, then by virtue of my prowess would such a subject as this fall to my lot. Now, since the Almighty has given me no special providence and since the developments of medicine in the past one hundred years have surpassed the most chimerical  ideas of the scientific idealist, then such a task to one of my ability is certainly a Herculean one and my shortcomings in this attempt must be very leniently and kindly dealt with.

Psychology tells us that we cannot picture in our mind's eye an object we have not seen, hence to picture the generation of people who succeed us in one hundred years is beyond my ken.

My idea is that you will all be a trifle smaller than the average man nowadays – probably five feet, six inches, as an average. The cephalic measurements will be much greater and the convolutions in the cerebral hemispheres will be deeper than ours, because of the extra time you will have pursued in higher education. Your physical being will be less vigorous to compensate for the extra development of your intellect and the fact also that your hard work will be mostly accomplished by dexterous and almost human machinery which is bound to be developed in this century of time and development. Yours will be the master mind that will pull the lever or push the button for much that is arduous manual labor at present.

This will cause strain in ocular accommodation which will occasion the presence of a double convex lenses in front of all your eyes to keep you a safe distance from the object to be seen.

The complimentary terms I have given you because of your unusual developments mean that you have to apply yourselves the harder and make two blades of grass grow where only one grows in this generation; hence the extra application and nervous tension expended will have a disastrous effect and the new psychoses and neuroses which are to develop will be legion. You will have immense sanitoriums for nervous and mental diseases whose waiting list will be even greater than that of our smaller institutions. The specialty of nervous and mental diseases will be the most comprehensive of all and the manner of treatment of these cases will be directed more toward the administration of glandular secretions, such as thyroid, parathyroid, pituitary, adrenals, splenic, etc., as well as the lecithin preparations which are given along with some nutrient fat. Syphilis, alcohol and over indulgence in animal pleasures will play a smaller etiological role than does the mental or nervous factor in mechanical and scientific applications. So the price of your assiduous labors and brilliant developments will be paid for by a great toll on your nervous integrity.

The greatest advantage you will have over us is in the change brought about by government insurance which, when that occurs, means that all physicians will become government employees with plenary powers to regulate and impose severe penalty on all acts which violate the strict sanitary laws which are then in vogue.

The individual, being a ward of the government, when sick must so conduct his business and maintain his premises as to minimize his chances of harboring any infectious or contagious diseases. The amount of water per capita in daily consumption will be sufficient to keep all cities immaculate.  Typhoid fever will be known to you only as a matter of medical history, not being described in your textbooks then but fully elucidated in the musty volumes of second hand book stores. You will read that in the time of your fathers a genuine crusade had been waged against this disease in which all the ejecta of typhoid patients was cremated or sterilized so that no other cases could develop from them.

The drinking water of cities will be fine and brought from long distances where only the purest of water is obtained. Wells and cisterns will be used only in remote districts and these will be made so as not to have any surface water contaminating them. Prophylactic vaccination for typhoid will be universal and compulsory. The housefly will have been driven away and killed, so the disease, not having any means of perpetuating itself and no ways of being carried from one to another, will soon be a thing of the past.

Col. Gorgas has shown on the Canal Zone what government control can do for the morbidity of a place and has brought a country which France thought impossible because of miasm to a morbidity less than the best regulated of American cities.

This government control of general sanitation will mean a most wonderful change in man's expectancy due to the eradication of acute infectious troubles. Infant mortality will be markedly reduced because of purer milk from purely hygienic dairies and a better idea of scientific feeding. Among the Cabinet officers will be a Secretary of Public Health with plenary powers to act on all matters of public health and have great laboratories for original research work along the line of prophylactic and curative medicine in such cases of new diseases as will be developing from time to time. The brainy, well-equipped men over the country who have original ideas and promising futures will have access to government properties and will aid in developing certain scientific principles.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago Jenner, a young Englishman, developed and expounded the fact that English dairy maids with cow-pox did not develop smallpox, while everyone else did when exposed.  It was a hard thing then to realize that such a thing then was or ever could be possible. Wright of London now comes forward with the opsonic theory, wherein the serum and white cells are able to combat the invading germs better by the injection of dead germs. Now the soldiers of the American and English armies are almost to a man vaccinated with the dead germs of the typhoid fever and the dreadful scourge of this disease has been almost eliminated.

This line of treatment will be more in vogue in your day than ours and the children of your time will have prophylactic doses of the bacteria of scarlet fever, tuberculosis, syphilis, measles and pertussis, as the children of our day are vaccinated against variola.

When you have succeeded in giving prophylactic or immunizing doses to people for tuberculosis and syphilis and can show results to any degree of certainty then you will have compulsory vaccinations for these diseases and a most wonderful decrease in mortality and most everyone will live to the psalmist's allotted three score years and ten. Your eleemosynary and penal institutions will be decimated. This saving of your public moneys can be then diverted to development of scientific principles in behalf of the state's welfare.

Your most brilliant avenue of work will come from the better understanding of serums developed from lower animals and injected into human beings for most of your ills, and will be your chief source of therapeutics. This will supplant the many mixtures now set forth by the National Formulary and give results quickly in supposedly self-limited and long drawn out complaints. The question of anaphylaxis will be known well so that these sudden and unpleasant reactions will be of the very rarest occurrence.

Along with the work on serums will be the understanding of the workings of different strains of live and dead bacteria, as well as their filtrates. These will be used more in the prophylaxis than in treatment, except for chronic inflammatory troubles. The results obtained from vaccines will be even more brilliant than from serum and the possibilities are greater..

Cancer and all malignant growths will have been found to result from microbic origin and then it will be a matter of possibly some serum to relieve inroads on healthy tissue and restore these to normal condition, relieving old age of many of its horrors.

Were I to sleep on hundred years and on awakening seek out some large hospital (for in those days the hospital will be the place for all sick people) in which to attend a surgical clinic, I would find the methods changed some little as to technique. The operator would show cases of brain surgery and his operative findings would prove what masters of diagnostic skill they had attained. The inner recesses of the brain could be invaded with impunity and with accuracy. After having been shown several cases of brain surgery we would then be shown some cases of heart or lung surgery where stenosed valves were cut and their proper functions obtained. Fibrous adhesions and atelectatic lungs would be deftly handled so as to restore their normal function. The transplanting of various glandular organs from lower animals would wind up the clinic. The surgeon would tell us that since the more scientific study of medicine from research work wonderful inroads had been made on all branches of surgery and that all acute inflammatory conditions were not operable cases because of the vaccine and serum treatments then in vogue. Appendicitis would not then be known, because in the evolutionary process the appendix will have disappeared.

On going to the obstetrical wards, I would find that all women were confined in these large hospitals and that Caesarian section was performed much more frequently than forceps deliveries, with almost an absence of infant mortality, while the mother's life was not jeopardized at all.

The method of obtunding the sensibilities was mostly by local measures with either nitrous Oxide or some similar gas to begin with.

In this Utopian dream of a century later I am sure the practice of medicine will be at a very high standard, that quacks and charlatans will be unknown and everyone's work will bear the scrutiny of the limelight. Every physician must be a graduate of the state schools where the various phases of practice are studied. Mental medicine will be one of the specialties and massage will be properly carried on by those trained in such art. Electricity will be used for diagnostic and therapeutic measures. X-Ray will have simplified diagnosis so as to be a constant accompaniment of every diagnostician in his work.

Skin reactions and agglutinations will still further make our work more accurate and medicine will veritably be a science, and every disease will have accurate laboratory findings which will be more accurate than our Wasserman reactions of this age and day.

The physician will have charge of a certain number of people whose duty it is to keep them well, as well as to cure their infirmities. The number of specialists will not be any more, if as many as now. The man who commands the biggest attention will be the Bacteriologist. The nicest phase of your system of medicine will be that you are paid by the state and will not have to have the many trials and vexations with which the physician of today is bothered in collecting his bills.

We hope that our ideal both as to physician and people will be realized and that they will have risen by this century of research until nothing could be impossible for them to accomplish and may my ashes rest in peace among such a cultured people where peace and prosperity, friendship and love universally abounds.

Lea A. Riely A.M. M.D.
Oklahoma City

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