Sickness, colds and injuries…and no doctor available
By Lily Kongslien
Special to the Star Journal
Back in the early days, country families did not have the luxury of a clinic or hospital nearby as we have today, and sickness and injuries had to be taken care of within the home, if possible. Parents today are able to get their children to the doctor whenever necessary for his or her proper care and have medicine prescribed for the ailment.
Colds and sore throats were common, most youngsters having several colds per winter interspersed with bouts of sore throats and coughs. A bad cold meant we would be rubbed with Mentholatum; this was put on our chests and tucked up into our nostrils, and it usually did the trick! A sore throat was a serious matter, for this condition could last over a period of weeks if not treated. And the treatment would consist of gargling with a solution of water and salt, and wrapping our throats with woolen scarves, which itched a lot. If that didn’t help the soreness we would gargle again and again – in later years we did have Listerine, which was a good cure for sore throat problems. Colds in both summer and winter were common probably due in part to the unheated bedrooms in our house and getting wet in the spring when the snow was melting, and we were not careful as we walked or skied to and from school. Sitting a day in school with wet or damp feet didn’t help either. Cough drops were used a lot for colds and throat troubles.
Both my brother and I had measles one year during Christmas vacation. I was about six and had just started school and was so happy that I did not have to miss any days of school’s fun and learning. We had to stay in a darkened room with shades pulled. About my only recollection of my measles episode was trouble with my eyes. When I woke up in the morning I couldn’t get my eyes to open, and my mother had to bathe them with a boric acid solution. I didn’t have either chicken pox or mumps until I was an adult. We were not ill a lot, and I credit this to a good wholesome diet and lots of fresh air and exercise.
One summer when I was around 8 years of age, I got terribly ill, but it was my own fault. It was just after the 4th of July, and as we were finishing eating the remainder of our holiday watermelon, I was a bit greedy and ate too far into the rind. I was so sick for a week, and I remember my mother carrying me out to a lawn chair in the front lawn to lie in the sun and “get my strength back,” as my mother prescribed, so I could get well and enjoy the rest of my summer vacation.
Some illnesses were caught at school, such as “pink eye” and lice. The pink eye (conjunctivitis) was treated by a solution of boric acid at home, and staying away from the kids who came to school with infected eyes. Lice were transmitted from one to another at school. Usually this was taken care of at home as the occasion arose, but one time everyone in the school had lice and the county nurse came to the school and gave each family some medicine to bring home and use. I can remember it had the consistency of brown sand; mother put this on our scalps and then with a fine-tooth comb she combed our hair over a white towel. The nits (eggs) were combed out along with the brown medicine.
Accidents do happen, and we had our share of cuts, bruises, sprains and bites of all kinds. I was glad when mercurochrome came along and replaced the stinging iodine in the medicine cabinet. Home remedies were used for rashes, bites and for healing of cuts and bruises. When I was almost ten years old I had my first experience of passing out. I was playing tag with my brother; he had caught me, but I was stalling as he had a grip on my jacket sleeve, then I made a lunge, got away, and was going to run around the house when my dog, Billy, got into the game and I stumbled over him and hit my head soundly on the concrete steps. I didn’t remember anything after that until I came to, sitting in my bed with a bloody towel under my head and my mother at my bedside. I had to sit up through the night in case I had a concussion, but I had no serious effects from the fall and the bump.
I had mumps and chicken pox when I was 18 and mumps again when my two children had just gotten over them and were back in school. Other than those few instances, and during childhood, I have been fortunate.
I believe our parents had a lot of common sense concerning illnesses and accidents when I was growing up, but then we did not have access to the many specialists and medications that we do today. We must give thanks for the wonderful medical facilities we are able to use, when we need them.