Aging in Place; Old time medicine


By Scott Funk

It would be more accurate to call it “ old time no medicine ,” for in the world Boomers grew up in, there was precious little medicine in the medicine cabinet. In the medicine chest at our house, there was a battered box of Band-Aids, a bottle of mercurochrome, and a bottle of Bayer aspirin. There were other things, like my dad’s Noxzema and his Gillette safety razor. And in the kitchen, in the refrigerator, was the vilest of all remedies: cod liver oil.

As to the Band-Aids, the box was worn, battered, and old. One rarely ever received a Band-Aid because it came with the stinging application of mercurochrome. Anticipating the pain of that topical disinfectant was sufficient to prevent running home with a scrape or cut. Better to treat it with spit or by rubbing with any number of weeds or plants, rather than to head into the house, crying, “I’m bleeding!”

Headaches? Why should a child have a headache? Ridiculous! In my memory, none of the aspirin was ever dispensed to any of the children. In fact, I’m not aware of a new bottle of anything medicinal ever coming into the house. So severe was my mother’s application and so painful or upsetting the results, no treatment was worth the cure.

Which brings us to cod liver oil. It was kept in the far back of the fridge, where it could not contaminate edibles or be mistaken for anything else. The label was stained and the bottle was dark brown glass, like a patent medicine from the 19th century, sold as a miracle cure. No doubt that was how it made its way into our family in the first place: a cure-all for whatever ails you. If it didn’t right the problem, it certainly silenced the complaint.

If there is a more repugnant taste, I have not encountered it. The gag reflex from cod liver oil is instantaneous, but don’t dare succumb or you risk a double dose, administered with a pinching of the nose to help make it tolerable and a shoving of the whole spoon back to pour directly down the throat. A perfect pitch missed the taste buds entirely.

But not for long—there is no burp like the burp of cod liver oil! It comes up from the depths, carrying the breath of Jabba the Hut. You rumble, you bubble, you quake, and then you evacuate. It was alarmingly efficient, although dangerously unpredictable.

Now my medicine cabinet is filled with homeopathic salves, several types and styles of bandages (of various brands), aspirin, acetaminophen, assorted other pain-relievers and aids, shaving gear, creams and cleansers. Actually, they don’t all fit in the bathroom cabinet. There is also a shelf in the linen closet, and another in the kitchen for the vitamins.

No cod liver oil, no mercurochrome. These miracle drugs did their work; I survived them and now I survive without them.

Aging in place, it doesn’t happen by accident, but you do have to take your medicine.

Scott Funk is Vermont’s leading Aging in Place advocate, writing and speaking around the state on issues of concern to retirees and their families.

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