Self-medicating, a necessity of the past


Evelyn Richardson - Here and There



Treatment of ailments was pretty cut-and-dried when I was a child. We selected the most reasonable remedy from the medicine cabinet, applied it and hoped for the best. The doctor was called only after our own efforts had not brought healing.

Rubbing alcohol was front and center. We dabbed it on insect bites, itchy poison ivy and minor cuts and scrapes even if it did burn like fire. Grownups’ attempted consolation was that the pain was a sign that the alcohol was killing germs.

If an injury required a bandage, Cloverine salve was spread on the spot so the soft rag torn from an old bed sheet would not stick to the skin. Band-Aids were not around and adhesive tape had not been perfected; it began to curl and come loose almost by the time you got it on. Finger injuries were protected with a stall my mother sewed from a stronger section of the old sheet. Strips were attached and tied around the wrist to keep the stall on.

Deep colds were treated by pouring camphorated oil on a square of flannel the size of our chest and pinning it to the inside front of our pajama top. The smell penetrated our nose and throat and the big safety pins were uncomfortable to lie on, but after all, suffering was part of the cure.

The most repulsive treatment that I had to endure was castor oil. As soon as I got big enough to carry my own weight in an argument, I refused to take it. I was warned of all the dire consequences that might happen, but I was willing to take the risk. After I saw that I could win, I never swallowed another drop.

For a long time, in my mind I could still taste the stuff and felt nauseated when I read the word or the subject was discussed. I was grown and married before I could tolerate orange juice because that had been the attempted cover-up for my doses of castor oil.

Aspirin was standard for a headache. We soaked a wad of cotton in oil of clove and pressed it to the gum or cavity to ease a toothache.

Indigestion was counteracted by drinking a glass of water into which a spoonful of baking soda had been dissolved.

Sore backs and aching joints were rubbed with liniment bought from “the Watkins man” or another door-to-door salesman. Whether or not the liniment helped, we thought it did because its trademark pungent odor took your mind off the hurting for a little while.

We weren’t eager to try concoctions of roots and herbs, though strongly recommended by the friend or neighbor who created the recipe.

If what we did failed to work, we usually just lived with the problem until we wore it out.

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Evelyn Richardson

Here and There

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