Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Medical "School"

While trying to treat a recent ear ache at home last week (and by the way, warm hydrogen peroxide does help), I got thinking of medical remedies from days of yore, some good, some bad.

There was the old mustard plaster for deep coughs. Don't try this one at home, Folks...or anywhere else. It consisted of a paste made from mustard powder, flour, and water or egg whites, mixed together and placed on a wet piece of cotton or muslin (gauze-like fabric) then laid on the chest. The concoction itself was not put directly on the skin, as that would cause blistering. Left on too long, it could lead to actual burning o' the skin. I only remember seeing this done once...thank goodness.

More widely-used for congestion, (still use it myself sometimes) is the Vicks Tent. This is when you melt some Vicks or another mentholatum product in a pan of hot water, throw a blanket over your shoulders like a tent and inhale deeply. You will not want to keep your eyes open while doing this, but I'll have to say it does provide some relief. You can rewarm the mixture several times, as needed. I don't know how effective it was, but Mother also used to pour rubbing alcohol on a dish cloth and pin it around our necks to relieve coughing. We called them "hulk a packs" and they weren't too bad. My dad used to HATE the smell of them, so we always teased him by seeing how close we could get to him when wearing them.

Mercurochrome was a product made of mercury & bromine; merthiolate, was a product made from mercury, sodium & iodine; they came in little glass bottles with little glass dipsticks and were used interchangeably to kill little bacteria in little kid's cuts. They also stung like a bee sting from Hades, merthiolate being even more pain-inducing. Tincture of iodine is what they throw at you from gallon buckets now prior to surgery, which seems to serve the same purpose. Merthiolate would sometimes be used to swab a sore throat, or you could gargle with a mixture of very warm water with enough salt in it to make you gag. It works but has the same short effectiveness as rubbing calamine lotion on an itch. Merthiolate's only good feature was that it was a magnificent orange/fuchsia color.

My dad used to get ringworm on his knuckles from milking cows (fungus or parasite, not a worm). It made a ring-shaped rash and he doctored it by using a product called new skin. I'm not sure what it was, but it hardened around the ring and seemed to work eventually.

Penicillin didn't always come in shots or pills. The doctor sometimes prescribed penicillin lozenges which came in both red and yellow, individually wrapped like Sunburst candies. The red ones were tolerable but the yellow ones were so bad you would almost rather suffer. They were stored in the refrigerator in a dark bottle like the ones you buy yeast in now.

If we were ever at Grandma Rice's and had a tummy ache, she would snare some of her peppermint leaves and make us peppermint tea, another nasty product that seemed to work. There was a liquid vitamin elixir named Vidaylin. I remember it tasted so good, that sometimes I took an extra dose.

For a tummy ache, there was always paragoric, which went down a little better with a bit of sugar and water. My recollection is that it tasted like bitter licorice. I do remember feeling a lot better immediately afterwards. Little did we realize it was "camphorated tincture of opium" which was highly misused for years, as was laudanum in previous centuries. Laudanum had an even higher concentration of opium than paragoric (but less than morphine), however, it was mixed with alcohol to give it a bit more kick. It's a wonder anybody survived. Wait...they didn't. Even after paregoric was taken off the market for humans, you could still get it without prescription for your farm animals. Moo.

Speaking of farm animals, there was some vividly-purple disinfectant (iodine?) that the farmer slathered all over the injured section of the animal. It had a wire dipstick with foam around it, that was pulled up through the narrow neck of the bottle to keep it from being too sloppy. That stuff worked every time!

One of the dumbest old treatments was putting butter immediately on a fresh burn. There was a bright yellow burn medicine in a tube called Furacin Cream which helped, as did aloe vera, but a burn is a burn.

If a kid got the chicken pox or the measles, everybody brought their kids over to the house for a sleepover in the hopes they would all catch whatever it was and "get it over with". It's hard to believe, but that's how it was done. There was some idea that you could only get German/Red measles, the more serious type, once, but you could get the regular measles up to three times. Mumps were considered more dangerous and I don't remember sleepovers to catch those. I do remember my dad getting them once, and when he couldn't make it out to milk the cows, we all thought he might be dying.

My personal cannot-do-without item for our medicine chest is polysporin. It's safe, non-addicting and borderline-magical. If you don't have any, you might wanna get some!

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