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Some Medical Aspects of the
Pan American Exposition: Infant Incubators.

Buffalo Medical Journal 57(1):55-56, August 1901

 

A few steps from the Emergency Hospital is a building which somewhat resembles this institution in appearance. It is the building of the "Infant Incubators," which a "barker," in high hat and frock coat terms "the only scientific attraction on the Midway." The Qbata Company, which controls this concession, appears to be coining money, for, strange as it may seem, this attraction is one of the most popular on the Midway. Its patrons are not only those who have a professional interest in the subject, but also a large proportion of the curious, particularly those of the feminine persuasion. As the "barker" says, "there is nothing improper in the exhibit," but his statement that there is "a whole houseful of infants" must be taken with the usual Midway grain of salt. Inside, the visitor is ushered into a large room, with impermeable walls and floor, railed off around the walls. There are about a dozen of the Qbata incubators, something more than half of which are usually occupied by small mites of humanity prematurely introduced into the world. The incubator consists of a nickel frame with glass sides, making a box about two feet square, to which access is had by a door in front. The infant neatly bundled up, lies on a small mattress supported on springs so delicate that the whole frame gently oscillates with every movement, even the breathing of the child.

The temperature in the incubator is regulated by a thermostat, which maintains a constant temperature of about 26° C., the necessary warmth being supplied from water pipes running from a small tank heated by an oil lamp. Ventilation of the incubators is secured by small aspirating fans, the incoming air being rendered sterile by filtration through cotton. Wet nurses provide nature's food for the sustenance of the infants, the latter being removed from the incubators and fed every two hours, weighed, and the cleanly condition of their linen verified. This is done in a small nursery, adjoining the incubator room, which is fitted up with bath tubs, baby baskets, and the like, in a way to satisfy aseptic ideas and delight the esthetic. A chart on each incubator shows the age, sex, weight, temperature and period of gestation of each child. One small morsel of humanity on exhibition was stated to have weighed 2 lbs., 4 oz. on entrance and to have gained 5 oz. in about a fortnight's sojourn in the incubator. The period of gestation of nearly all the infants is stated as about seven months. The appearance of some of the infants would appear to justify this statement, although it would require a slight elasticity of the professional imagination to believe this with regard to others. The supply of infants is recruited from Buffalo and vicinity, they being cared for gratuitously by the Qbata Company. I was informed that a premature arrival in a family prominent in Buffalo society and a small pappoose from the Indian Congress were admitted on the same day.

The Qbata Company claims that 85 per cent. of viable infants may be saved by their incubators. The question naturally presents itself as to whether this is worthwhile; whether the race as a whole does not suffer from the preservation of these weaklings to perpetuate their kind. Medical science is a little illogical in respect to the results obtained, and in its efforts to preserve the individual it forgets to consider the effects of such action upon the race as a whole. Every stock raiser appreciates the necessity of healthful environment, abundant food and fresh air in maintaining a breed of animals in a state of high physical development; and sanitary science insists upon the necessity of these conditions for the physical uplifting of the human race. The stock raise, however, breeds only from the most sound, healthy and perfect animals, and thus secures a physical conformation and constitution upon which the conditions of environment can act most advantageously. Medical science, on the other hand, does not hesitate to undo the advantages gained by the hygienic rules it has promulgated, by preserving the weakling, the deformed, and the tuberculous, and placing these defectives -- who would otherwise surely have perished in an active struggle for existence -- in a condition to transmit their deficiencies, deformities and vices to generations as yet unborn. Certainly, in regard to the physical standard of the human race, the medical profession is in the position of tearing down with one hand while it builds up with the other.

On the whole, the exhibit of infant incubators furnishes much food for reflection and is well worth the cost of admission. The concession is well cared for and everything about it is kept neat, clean and attractive, and elicits the commendation of visitors in this respect. I suspect that the general opinion in regard to the infants themselves is fairly well expressed by the Englishman whom I overheard remark as he emerged from the incubator room, "Only fancy commencing life as a Midway exhibit, don't you know!"

 


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