THE PIONEERS OF THERAPEUTIC
DR. TANNER'S FORTY DAY FASTS:
It is now about half a century since the newspapers of this country were filled with articles dealing with Dr. Henry S. Tanner and his claim that he had gone without food for forty-two days. One of my purposes in writing this chapter is to dissipate the fiction that the fasts that Dr. Tanner undertook were made in order to attract notoriety—for the mere sake of advertisement They were not. Naturally these fasts attracted attention, and such periods of abstention from food still would attract attention were they brought to public notice. But Dr. Tanner had another object in view, and it is best expressed in his own words as contained in a personal letter dated December 28, 1911.
He says: "I really believe that I am entitled to be called the father of therapeutic fasting in this country, for away back in 1877 I had given up hopes of ever regaining what might be called normal health. I was then in Minneapolis in the practice of my profession, and, after a strenuous time with a patient critically ill, I virtually collapsed. I was at such a low ebb physically and mentally at the time that I did not care whether I lived or died, and I determined that, since my drugs gave me no relief, I would starve myself to death ere I again would suffer the physical misery that had been mine for months preceding. I accordingly told Dr. Moyer, my consulting companion, that I would not again eat food until I was dead or recovered in health." It will be remembered that Dr. Tanner was a fully accredited doctor of medicine.
The facts as recorded are these. On the 15th of July, 1877, Dr. Henry S Tanner was called in consultation with Dr. A. Moyer of Minneapolis, Minnesota, to attend a critical case that detained them late into the night. The next day Dr. Tanner felt ill and did not leave his room. During the day he drank some milk, as he did on the day following. But this was the last food taken by him until August 29th following, a period of forty-two days. Both Dr. Tanner and Dr. Moyer concurred in the opinion that from the viewpoint of medical diagnostics the symptoms in the case were those of low gastric fever. During "treatment" Dr. Tanner occupied a room in the home of Dr. Moyer, and he was not at any time confined to his bed. He took during the entire forty-two days of abstinence nothing but water into his stomach, but of this he drank freely when thirsty.
At the end of ten days of fasting the symptoms of his disorder disappeared; he gained in strength, and in every way showed physical and mental improvement. Dr. Moyer, however, frequently remonstrated with Dr. Tanner for pursuing what he, Dr. Moyer, believed to be a suicidal course, but Dr. Tanner persisted, and we have in the small volume, Forty Days Without Food, a record of the full fast from Dr. Moyer's pen. The latter says, after detailing the daily experiences of his "patient" for forty days:
"The case continued until I became alarmed, and I strenuously urged Dr. Tanner to allay his gastric irritation by taking milk, which he finally consented to do. The next forenoon--that of the forty-second day of fasting--he ate a cracker and drank some lemonade, but this his stomach rejected." In the light of more recent knowledge of the therapeutics of fasting this experience was to be expected. But later on the same day Dr. Tanner went downtown, and, coming home within half an hour, said to Dr. Moyer, "Well, Doctor, I think I have finished affairs for good. I not only have taken a pint of milk, but have eaten five pears and half a good-sized watermelon. "
No records were kept either by Dr. Tanner or Dr. Moyer of the phenomena of this fast. The only data extant deal with the prompt and general relief of symptoms of distress, all of which vanished by the tenth day of fasting, and there is mention made that Dr. Tanner had no passage from the bowels from the 15th of July until the 31st of August, an interval of 47 days. To carry out a fast today in this manner would be deemed a bid for disaster, hence the record made by Dr. Tanner in this, his first essay into prolonged abstinence from food for health's sake, is thus rendered the more remarkable.
The fast in question was commenced with a view of relieving an inflammation of the stomach, and it was continued after the active symptoms had subsided in order to test the worth of scientific teachings as to the time a human being might live without food. No plan had been arranged, for, as stated, decision to fast came suddenly; neither was there any intention of bringing the matter to public attention.
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