Certain features of our sanitarium work have doubtless presented problems since their early establishment. Recent experiences relating to the prohibition of smoking in our sanitariums, and the demand by nonresident physicians that caffeine beverages and meat be served their patients, give occasion for reviewing the instruction given sanitarium administrators on these points.
Since smoking has become prevalent among women, the problems relative to its control in our institutions have materially increased. So far as I have been able to learn, smoking in our sanitarium and hospital rooms has been prohibited all through the years. But periodically, and particularly in recent years, there has arisen more or less of a demand for liberalizing this established rule. Physicians on the attending courtesy staff of our hospitals, and occasionally members of the resident staff, have requested that certain of their patients addicted to the use of tobacco be exempted and be allowed to smoke in their private rooms during their stay in our institutions.
In some instances, doctors have refused to send patients to our hospitals because of the regulations regarding smoking. United action on the part of local surgeons, that has virtually amounted to a boycott, has arisen in a few instances. Such action means much to an institution already struggling financially to keep going, and the desire to secure such patronage is naturally very strong. The question is sometimes asked, "Are we not too narrow and fixed in our views, and do the changes in public sentiment and practice not warrant changes in sanitarium policy on this point?"
A large proportion of sanitarium patients are ambulatory, and those who feel that they must smoke can seek a secluded spot removed from the buildings, where they may indulge. But the problem becomes acute when it is necessary to confine a confirmed smoker to his bed at the time of a surgical operation. The argument is offered that an individual habituated to the use of tobacco should not be required suddenly to discontinue its use. It often happens that a patient who has been smoking for years is to be hospitalized for only a few days, and he has no desire whatever to change the habit of a lifetime. Further, it may be held by the attending physician that the abrupt withdrawal of tobacco will not be best for his patient, but will have an unfavorable effect upon the nervous system. However, a study of the scientific literature on the subject leaves one unconvinced that this reasoning is sound. Rather, it is fallacious.
Nicotine does affect the nervous system, as it acts chiefly as a depressant. It is through this action that the use of tobacco may appear to relieve nervous tension, and give a sense of comfort, and it is common for individuals addicted to the use of tobacco to become nervous and irritable for a short time when they are deprived of it. These symptoms, however, can be satisfactorily controlled by sedative measures, and it is surprising and gratifying how quickly the smoking habit and taste for tobacco disappear under the sanitarium regimen of proper diet and hydrotherapy. And the patient is encouraged over his noticeable state of improved well-being.
In view of the recognized evil physiological effects of tobacco upon the nervous, circulatory, gastrointestinal, and other systems, and of the fact that the nature of our work is reformatory and educational, it would appear that our institutions are justified in their stand on the use of tobacco, and indeed can only properly discharge their responsibility by maintaining a standard of total abstinence. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon us clearly to teach our patients the facts relating to the serious effects of tobacco upon the human system.
This subject is closely related to the matter of serving tea, coffee, and meat in our institutions. In sanitariums that have many patients attended by nonresident staff members, especially non-Seventh-day Adventist physicians, this problem is frequently troublesome. It is only by consistent adherence to principle, by eternal vigilance, and by tactful, patient efforts to present the sanitarium objectives to such physicians, that we can secure their support and cooperation. When the attitude of the resident staff of our sanitariums is a kindly one, and when their policy and practice are ethical, a large percentage of the physicians located near our institutions will usually be cooperative in respect to our principles.
We feel that in open staff or semiopen staff institutions, definite efforts should be put forth to secure the active support and patronage of physicians eligible to do work in our sanitariums. The plan of inviting all local physicians to the institution for an occasional luncheon or dinner, at which there is disseminated information concerning our purposes, objectives, and plans for improved service and added equipment, and requests are made for their cooperation in regard to our principles, has yielded very gratifying results, Merely sending a letter in which are stated the prohibitions, with the expectation of hearty cooperation, commonly proves very unsatisfactory and may arouse antagonism.
Let us not lose sight of the fact that the success of our sanitariums depends primarily upon the special blessing of God. And we are counseled that this blessing can rest upon these institutions only as they maintain high standards.
The Lord years ago gave me special light in regard to the establishment of a health institution where the sick could be treated on altogether different lines from those followed in any other institution in our world. It was to be founded and conducted upon Bible principles, as the Lord's instrumentality, and it was to be in His hands one of the most effective agencies for giving light to the world. It was God's purpose that it should stand forth with scientific ability, with moral and spiritual power, and as a faithful sentinel of reform in all its bearings. All who should act a part in it were to be reformers, having respect to its principles, and heeding the light of health reform shining upon us as a people."—"Testimonies," Vol. VI, p. 223.
In matters of principle, it is to be kept in mind that any compromise is serious. A compromise made in order to secure the patronage of physicians or patients who are not in harmony with denominational principles, is fraught with great danger. The adoption of such a policy can never bring financial success to our institutions, but must ultimately end in disaster.
H. M. W.