Atkinson lectured on ‘Scurvy’ last night. He spoke clearly and slowly, but the disease is anything but precise. He gave a little summary of its history afloat and the remedies long in use in the Navy.
He described the symptoms with some detail. Mental depression, debility, syncope, petechiae, livid patches, spongy gums, lesions, swellings, and so on to things that are worse. He passed to some of the theories held and remedies tried in accordance with them. Ralph came nearest the truth in discovering decrease of chlorine and alkalinity of urine. Sir Almroth Wright has hit the truth, he thinks, in finding increased acidity of blood – acid intoxication – by methods only possible in recent years.
This acid condition is due to two salts, sodium hydrogen carbonate and sodium hydrogen phosphate; these cause the symptoms observed and infiltration of fat in organs, leading to feebleness of heart action. The method of securing and testing serum of patient was described (titration, a colorimetric method of measuring the percentage of substances in solution), and the test by litmus paper of normal or super-normal solution. In this test the ordinary healthy man shows normal 30 to 50: the scurvy patient normal 90.
Lactate of sodium increases alkalinity of blood, but only within narrow limits, and is the only chemical remedy suggested.
So far for diagnosis, but it does not bring us much closer to the cause, preventives, or remedies. Practically we are much as we were before, but the lecturer proceeded to deal with the practical side.
In brief, he holds the first cause to be tainted food, but secondary or contributory causes may be even more potent in developing the disease. Damp, cold, over-exertion, bad air, bad light, in fact any condition exceptional to normal healthy existence. Remedies are merely to change these conditions for the better. Dietetically, fresh vegetables are the best curatives – the lecturer was doubtful of fresh meat, but admitted its possibility in polar climate; lime juice only useful if regularly taken. He discussed lightly the relative values of vegetable stuffs, doubtful of those containing abundance of phosphates such as lentils. He touched theory again in continuing the cause of acidity to bacterial action – and the possibility of infection in epidemic form. Wilson is evidently slow to accept the ‘acid intoxication’ theory; his attitude is rather ‘non proven.’ His remarks were extremely sound and practical as usual. He proved the value of fresh meat in polar regions.
Scurvy seems very far away from us this time, yet after our Discovery experience, one feels that no trouble can be too great or no precaution too small to be adopted to keep it at bay. Therefore such an evening as last was well spent.
It is certain we shall not have the disease here, but one cannot foresee equally certain avoidance in the southern journey to come. All one can do is to take every possible precaution.
Ran over to Tent Island this afternoon and climbed to the top – I have not been there since 1903. Was struck with great amount of loose sand; it seemed to get smaller in grain from S. to N. Fine view from top of island: one specially notices the gap left by the breaking up of the Glacier Tongue.
The distance to the top of the island and back is between 7 and 8 statute miles, and the run in this weather is fine healthy exercise. Standing on the island to-day with a glorious view of mountains, islands, and glaciers, I thought how very different must be the outlook of the Norwegians. A dreary white plain of Barrier behind and an uninviting stretch of sea ice in front. With no landmarks, nothing to guide if the light fails, it is probable that they venture but a very short distance from their hut.
The prospects of such a situation do not smile on us.
The weather remains fine – this is the sixth day without wind.