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Behind Closed Doors
Good for What Ails You
Paula Watkins
Publish Date: October 10, 2007   |  Tags:   Opinion

In the world of everyday healthcare, the question "What constitutes healthy living?" is often followed by another question, "What cures can make me healthy again?" We know, for example, that people died younger in the days before antibiotics; that's a given. But remember how our mothers and grandmothers healed their ailing family members, especially us kids, back when you didn't show up at the doctor's for every little complaint, back when there weren't sunny pharmaceutical commercials on TV? Recently I asked around.

  • Headache. Oh, please. As kids, we didn't get headaches. We gave them. But if we were convincing enough, my grandmother would give us Anacin. My mom would dissolve a baby aspirin - now there's an obsolete remedy - in a teaspoon of Coca-Cola.
  • Upset stomach. If it wasn't Alka-Seltzer or Pepto-Bismol, it was a carbonated soft drink. Unfortunately, a few moms and grandmoms just thought you needed some good ol' castor oil or an Ex-Lax. That was the answer to every stomachache: "Go to the bathroom."
  • Runny nose. Simple. Vicks VapoRub up the nose, then secure a steady supply of Kleenex. Toilet paper worked OK, too. If you were a little older, you may have carried around a "hanky," but I sure didn't. That was just gross.
  • Coughing. Vicks on the chest with a hot towel on top. Then fumigate the room with a vaporizer. Personally, I liked the taste of Super Anahist Cough Syrup. Honey and lemon was good, too. It's even better now, because I add a smidge of Crown Royal. (Don't give me that look; I said "a smidge.")
  • Skinned knees and elbows. First they said, "I told you not to run." Then they poured hydrogen peroxide on the scrape and watched it boil. After that, if you couldn't get away fast enough, they'd apply the iodine, Merthiolate or Mercurochrome (which, incidentally, the FDA no longer recognizes as safe or effective) on the skinless sore while you were screaming, "Blow on it! Blow on it!"
  • Dog bite. Same as "Skinned knees and elbows," except the adults said, "I told you to leave that dog alone."
  • Black eyes. No treatment to speak of, really. That was something you were proud of. Plus, a steak was way too expensive to put on a kid's boo-boo.
  • Earache. A drop or two of warm oil in the ear, or lay with your ear on a hot water bottle. (That's when I got to listen to the transistor radio with earphones.)
  • Chicken pox. Quaker Oatmeal bath or calamine lotion ' and don't scratch!
  • Pulled muscle. "Get out there and work it out," they said. "We'll put some Ben-Gay on it before you go to bed."
  • Insomnia. "Get up earlier and work harder. Then you'll be tired enough to get to sleep on time."

Thinking back on these sorts of remedies, it's a wonder we lived so long. It's a wonder they lived so long. Somehow Grandma and Mom knew best, and we all managed to grow up pretty close to normal. I guess we occasionally inflicted "a case of nerves" on our elders, but the remedy for that was close at hand. I seem to remember it had something to do with our backsides.

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