One day during my boy Tyler’s early teenage years, he got a good dose of hillbilly healthcare, what some folks call folk medicine. A small box arrived in the mail for him from Aunt Addlepate. Inside was a bar of Ivory soap, an jar of Noxema, a washrag, a bottle of Calamine Lotion and a bottle of Witch Hazel Lotion. And a nice card, where Aunt Addlepate welcomed him to the teens and listed instructions on how to use the stuff in the box to combat acne.
Folk medicine remedies die hard, but really, is the modern and much-ballyhooed-on-TV “Proactive Lotion” any better than Aunt Addlepate’s cures? The teenagers tell me it’s pretty worthless, but it comes with a heap of pseudo-scientific drivel and slick advertising. Then again, so did the medical hucksterisms of the late 1800s and early 1900s like the “Supreme Electric Belt” to make you “a man once more;” “Kickapoo Indian Sagwa Blood, Liver and Stomach Renovator;” “Howe’s Concentrated Syrup for the Blood, Liver, Skin & Heart;” “Upham’s Fresh Meat Cure for Consumption;” and “Jayne’s Expectorant” for “Croup, Asthma, Bronchitis and All Lung Diseases,” and, the advertisements added, “It Surely Expels Worms.”
When Ma was a sick little kid, grandma used to give her Laudanum, or tincture of opium, including morphine and codeine. That doesn’t fly nowadays, but Ma says it sure made her feel better. I bet it did. Sure wish I could have had some of that, but by my day the Safety Nancies had got laws passed to keep it off the market. Oh, I shouldn’t knock the Safety Nancies. You gotta have people around who will crack down when hucksters graduate from selling snake-oil to peddling poison.
And sure, some of the real traditional medicines might be a crock too, but a lot of them a tradition because they’ve been around a long time because, of course, they work! And a lot of them still make darn good sense today. Like apple cider vinegar mixed with honey for a sore throat. Or…you can get all kinds of fancy-packaged creams and gaums and goops to smear on when you have poison ivy or poison oak, for example, but smearing goo on poison ivy/oak blisters doesn’t do anything but make them greasy. Fels-Naptha bar soap, on the other hand, has been around since the Pharoahs – or pretty long, at any rate – and it always worked for me. Suds it on, let it dry, then wash it off. Repeat process over and over. It just sucks the juice out of that poison ivy and dries it right up.
And whatever happened to Mercurochrome? I always liked it better than Merthiolate when I was a kid, because Merthiolate really stung. You can’t get Mercurochrome any more, because it contained mercury. Just like you can’t get that really good Christmas tinsel anymore because it contained lead. Hell, those things never hurt me. Anyway, the convulsions and seizures were really good exercise, really worked the muscles. Haw!
Fact is, though, even the doctors sometimes recommend home medicine. For example, plantar fasciitis (good Web site on that topic), the foot affliction that torments especially people who work on their feet and not on their butt behind a desk, the docs recommend months to years of trying self-cure before they even consider surgery. I believe I got my case of plantar fasciitis in September a year and a half ago in Nebraska stomping sticks of wood into pieces for firewood. Always did it in big heavy shoes, but this time I did it in tennis shoes and got to stomping like a wild man in frustration on some pretty thick branches that wouldn’t break until I stopped because I thought I’d broke my heel. Okay, alcohol was involved in this poor judgment, but there you go.
Bugged me through the winter, and became more of a problem in the mineral exploration field season up on the Canadian border where I was bushwhacking and going up and down mountains from dawn to dusk from May to October. Gimped up good by October, I started talking to docs and they told me 90% of plantar fasciitis sufferers get cured by self-curing through stretching exercises, most important, and by other things like trying the right footwear and orthotics, wearing night splints and other tricks. They won’t do plantar fasciitis surgery until you’ve proven yourself severe chronic by doing the self-cure for six months, 9 months, and one doc even said he wouldn’t operate until you’ve gone through two years of self-cure and still have a severe problem.
Gout, that’s another one that gets a fair number of us old fat boys, and about an equal number of the ladies, and it’s an especial affliction of us hillbillies. “The working poor,” hard-working people who work like hell for a living but never get rich. Gout has a lot to do with obesity, the docs tell me. In the olden days, that meant rich people, because poor people tended to be thin and rich people tended to be fat.
Not any more. Nowadays, in fact, the richer you are, the thinner you are likely to be. There was a study that showed that the average net worth of obese people was about half what it was for people with what they called “healthy weight.” “More and more,” as they say, gout is attacking those who can least afford the fancy medicines and treatments to control it.
But again, while they have medicines for pain and flare-ups, a lot of it is supposed to be self-cure through losing weight and eating right. You gotta avoid certain foods, and most especially beer (Good God!).
And type II diabetes. That’s another one that can be self-cured in most cases by losing weight, like that comedian Drew Carey who used to be fat and then lost weight and didn’t have to shoot up with insulin anymore. He was cured! One doc even told me that if the entire U.S. population got to “healthy weight,” type II diabetes would “virtually disappear.”
And rotator cuff problems, sometimes it’s a tear the docs tell me but mostly it’s “overuse syndrome.” It’s worst for people who do a lot of physical work, especially overhead reaching, and the docs prefer you to deal with it by doing the right rotator cuff exercises. Even among patients with “massive tears” of the rotator cuff, one study said, 75% were able to avoid surgery in favor of “conservative measures,” basically exercise. “The results were significantly better than those for the 30 patients who ultimately required surgery,” the study said.
But seriously, if you got any hillbilly healthcare doozies to share, please feel free to chime in. There’s a comment section at the bottom of this page, or you can weigh in on the Hillbilly Hijinks Facebook page too if you want to.