The Case of a Patient


December 3rd, 1861


by Phineas Parkhurst Quimby


I will give you a case of a patient, to show how hard it is to cure or to correct an opinion or disease. The case was a gentleman, who was laboring under a disease called by his physician, a German doctor, "dropsy in the abdominal cave and in the subcutaneous cellular tissue." Now to the man, this was all Greek, so he requested the doctor to reduce it to writing, so that on his return home, he might show it to his physician. At the same time, his physician doctored him for the asthma, and the medicines that he gave seemed, at first, to have some effect; but after he returned home, his family physician was called, and after seeing the description of his case by the German, he explained his case and gave him to understand it was the dropsy.

Now the patient became nervous. His ankles and feet began to swell, and his sleep departed from him. This bloated him up, so that he was not able to lie down, for the pressure across his lungs was so great that he would spring up in the most frightful manner, looking as red as a cherry. The doctor, all this time, was using all his skill to convince his wife and mother that his chest was filling with water. So when he would be in this dreadful agony, his mother would ask the doctor, "Can't you give him something to relieve his distress in the chest?" The doctor would reply, "We can't do anything, till we get the water away," impressing on the mother and wife that he was filling up with water. So here he was. He could not lie down, for fear of suffering with the water; for the doctor had made the wife and mother believe it was water.

Now this was the state of the case, when I was called. To cure the patient was to change his mind. Now with all this amount of evidence, for me to step in and show that he had been deceived and that the phenomenon was the result of his deception or belief was not an easy task. But I undertook it, and in the first place, I convinced him that the doctor was wrong about his legs, for I reduced the sore one-half, the first visit. This gave me a little chance over him, but he was so nervous, and his belief of water in the chest had such an effect on his mind that he would spring up every time he would lose himself.

Now I had all the prejudices of the doctor's opinions to contend with. His wife and mother were like a vane, to be operated on by every groan and expression that would drop from his lips. Their fears would keep him nervous, and they would watch him to see if he bloated any more, and to be sure, they would ask him if he did not think his legs were more swollen. This, of course, would make him nervous. So he would fuss all night, and in the morning they would begin with their complaints by saying, “He has had a very restless night, and don't you think, doctor, his legs and bowels are more swollen? See how purple he looks in the face,” and then say, “Can't there be something that he can take to get rid of this nervousness?” Then the patient would say, “I am so nervous, I shall go crazy. Is there nothing that will take this nervousness away,” etc.

Now every day this took place, and I had to sit and hear all this and know that it was the very thing that was making him nervous. So I would sometimes say, “If you want to take medicine, why did you send for me?” Then his wife would say, “I don't want him to take medicine, for everything he takes makes him worse.” Then his mother would say, “Don't you think that soaking his feet would be good? Some say it is very good for dropsy.” This is the scene of a sick room, and it is what I have to go through, more or less, with every patient. Now I had to account for all these feelings, and ten times as many more. I had to tell the effects that would follow his getting well, and when they would come along, he would forget that I had told him. So I would have to explain every change that came along, showing him that I had explained it all before.

I will now give you the changes as they took place. I have described his appearance, when I first called. I will now give my argument, to convince him that the doctors were wrong. His trouble was in breathing. He believed he was filling up with water, so that if he went to sleep, he would suffocate. Now to convince him that it was not water in the chest, I had to produce an action in the bowels, and I reasoned with him till he would drop asleep; and while I would sit by him, he would sleep. But as soon as I would leave, he would spring up on his feet and exclaim, “I shall suffocate!” Now this I knew was nervousness and not water, so I sat and would...


— December 3, 1861.

P. P. Quimby

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