• 88°
Hartselle Enquirer

The medicine cabinet  

By A. Ray Lee


Recently on a temperate spring afternoon, I was able to ease outside again after two weeks of being housebound following ten days in the hospital and rehab. As the sun warmed my face I looked out across the land where cotton had grown in the decades of the forties and fifties when I was a child and thought of the advances in medical treatment since those days when much of north Alabama was populated by farm families.

Hospitals were limited and were mainly found in major cities. In our area, Dr. Howell and Dr. Block, dedicated country doctors, did their best to meet the medical needs of the people by having an office and small clinics while doing much of their “doctoring” doing house calls.

Childhood diseases were expected and the general treatment was a few days in bed and temporary relief from daily chores. The only preventive vaccination available was for smallpox. The health department made an annual circle through the county stopping briefly at selected sites where people gathered to have the arms of their children pricked and a drop of vaccine placed on the irritated skin. I remember being taken to one of these in a mule-drawn wagon. In a few days, a blister appeared on my arm which eventually turned into a scab and left a permanent scar when it fell off.

We had a medicine cabinet high above the dishes in the kitchen out of the reach of little hands. But having partaken of some of the remedies found there I cannot imagine wanting to try them on my own. The general feeling was if it did not taste awful it would not be effective.

That was especially true of Black Draught, a vile-tasting concoction used each spring as a cleansing agent to flush out accumulated impurities from the entire digestive system. If it failed in its mission there was Castor Oil to complete the job.

Other less harsh elixirs and compounds included Watkins products peddled door to door by an agent. These included various salves, balms, and creams used for blisters and other skin discomforts including burns.

A bottle of Iodine with a glass stemmed dispenser brought the burning liquid to minor cuts and scratches which had broken the skin. More serious cuts and gashes on occasions were cleansed by coal oil and wrapped in a cotton rag to keep them clean until they scabbed over.

To treat congestive and cold discomforts Vicks Vapor Rub was applied to the chest and covered with a cloth directing the vapors upward to be breathed in. For deep and lasting coughs this might be repeated for several days. Mineral salts were dissolved in a foot tub of warm water to soak tired and sore feet.

There were other items there, but missing were all the over-the-counter pain relievers found in most homes today. Aches and pains were to be expected and were for the most pain accepted as a part of life. However, there was a bottle of Paregoric that could be used for intense and long-lasting pain.

Other remedies have been long forgotten as they have been replaced by science through the years. The days of the country doctor plying his trade abetted by fervent prayers of those standing by are but a memory in the minds of the few of us left who lived through them.

Thanks to advanced medical knowledge and techniques and the prayers of believers like you the number of my days has been lengthened. Modern medicine in the hands of compassionate healthcare workers combined with fervent prayers is a winning combination!

“Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. The fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:13, 16