With all due respect, I’ll take the disposable needle

Country Roads

Medicine has come a long way since I was a kid and they used hypodermic needles over and over. If you were the poor soul who got a shot with a blunt needle it felt like the doctor or nurse was driving a 40-penny nail into your arm (or other even more tender portion of the anatomy.)

Back in the ’50s we didn’t visit the doctor as often as we do now. To a great extent, our mother was our health care provider and she had some pretty good cures.

Chest colds were treated with Vicks VapoRub™. Dad smeared a glob of Vicks on our chests and rubbed it in with his big calloused hand until the friction of the rub created more heat than the menthol could cool. It’s a wonder any of us Huisman boys ever grew hair on our chests!

My maternal grandmother, Oma Gelder, was a master of home remedies. She successfully raised a dozen kids without the benefit of an urgent care clinic and her medicine kit included a little booze.

When my baby sister cried all night from what the older folks called “colic,” Oma gave my mother one of her home remedies ̶ a small bottle of whiskey. Oma told Mom to add a bit of honey and a few drops of whiskey to a baby bottle with a small amount of warm water. Feed it to my sister, Oma said, and she would sleep all night.

I was 14 at the time and was amazed at how well it worked. Baby sister took on a pink glow and slept through the night, giving our mother much needed slumber.

Mom stored the bottle of whiskey in the refrigerator. Using one of Oma’s other therapies, when one of us kids had a toothache Mom dipped a cotton swab into the whiskey and applied it to the tooth and gum line. It eliminated the pain of the toothache in short order.

I’m not sure if Mom ever noticed that the whiskey level in the bottle went down disproportionately to the number of toothaches in the family. She would not have been shocked to learn that some of her sons enjoyed self-medicating.

Oma also gave our mother a bottle of peppermint schnapps which she stored in a kitchen cupboard to use in the event of a cough or a sore throat.

I wasn’t too crazy about the toothache medicine but the cough medicine was really good… I mean effective.

Years ago my paternal grandfather, Opa Huisman, told me that as a young man he cut his arm while working for his brother-in-law on the farm. His brother-in-law immediately went to the barnyard and came back some fresh cow manure which he spread on Opa’s wound. Opa said the cut healed quickly.

I asked my mother if she was familiar with that remedy. Indeed she was. When one of her siblings stepped on a nail, she said, her father directed them to the barnyard with instructions to step into a fresh cow pie.

I can’t explain the healing powers of cow poop but they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That principle apparently applies here.

Thank heavens the fresh manure treatment was obsolete by the time I was a kid. When one of the six Huisman children had a burn or a cut, the injury was usually treated with a glob of Watkins Petro Carbo Salve. Around our house it was better known a Watkins Cow Teat Salve. We country boys, I recall, had a difficult time pronouncing “teat” correctly.

There is also a bread and milk remedy for cuts. My mother told of the time one of her brothers seriously cut his toe with a hoe. My grandmother dipped bread in milk and then bandaged the soggy bread to the cut to draw out the infection.

Tea leaves also have medicinal power. Mom said her mother used tea leaves to treat styes. Oma placed steeped tea leaves in a small cloth bag and then held the bag to the eye with a scarf or towel at bedtime. The next morning the stye was gone.

While I fully appreciate the advances I have seen in medical care over the decades, I’m sure there is validity to many of the old home cures. However, if I step on a nail I’ll opt for a tetanus shot with a disposable needle.


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