Archive for the ‘Life before Antibiotics’ Category

An unseasonably warm spell with lots of sunshine inspires visions of spring.  Certainly we will have more winter.  We could have the blizzard of the century anytime in the next two months, and perhaps even in April.  But today we have 56 minutes more daylight than we had at the December solstice.  The sun is pounding into our sheltered garage opening.  Joe and I sat there this morning, basking in the ultra violet.  Regardless of whatever lies ahead, today we are celebrating our official Opening Day of Sun Bathing, 2012—although only our faces were exposed to the welcome warmth.

I love this season, when each week brings a fresh reminder that winter will give way to spring:  extra daylight, the chick-a-dee’s melodious “chick-a-dee-dee-dee”, a fresh earth fragrance emerging from melting snow.  Every year about this time I recall childhood seasons, and the late winter/early spring tonic administered by my mom.

Born twelve years before the widespread civilian use of penicillin, I grew up on remedies bequeathed by my two grandmothers who were gatherers of herbs and proponents of natural potions.  We had one tonic which was very sound, medically speaking, but not much fun to imbibe—cod liver oil.  I always felt like hiding out somewhere at cod liver oil time. 

But the late winter/early spring tonic!  That was a treat!  Whatever herbs went into the concoction are lost to my memory, but they must have been bitter to begin with because what I do recall is molasses—lots of molasses resulting in a spoonful of something incredibly delicious and sweet. 

Undoubtedly the tonic contained a source of vitamin C, much needed for the immune system as late winter/early spring always set the stage for potentially tragic dramas:  measles, mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox, diptheria, and scarlet fever—spelled out in capital-lettered warning signs on the front doors of homes where disease lurked within. 

I thought of Seasons Past today, as I mixed a beverage with the above-pictured ingredients.  All the good stuff is there—fruit juice with nutrients and sugar, a package of Emergen-C powder, ice cubes, and Sierra Mist® for more sugar and a bit of fizz.  Rather than just a spoonful, I get to enjoy a tumbler of tonic for the Season Present!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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Here in Wisconsin, illness is an early sign of spring—at least it has always been that for me.  My husband is “down” with a respiratory infection, and I’ve been wandering around like a zombie with a fever of 101 degrees and a sinus infection.

Late winter!  As clear as yesterday in my mind are those ominous signs on houses in the little Wisconsin town where I grew up:  SCARLET FEVER; WHOOPING COUGH; MEASLES; MUMPS; DIPTHERIA.  Most often, the epidemic of signs on houses occurred in the late winter.

A common cold settling into the bronchials was threatening before penicillin was available to whack a bacteria.  Colds could turn into bronchitis, bronchitis sometimes settled into the dreaded pneumonia, and rheumatic fever sometimes resulted.

Pre-antibiotic mothers didn’t mess around when their kids were sick.  They popped them in bed at the first sign of a fever, and kept them quiet until the fever dropped.  I recall how our doctor came to the house every day when I was sick—usually at 6:00 p.m. after his office hours.* 

Memories surface in late winter.  But as I was growing up, the most terrifying illness of all appeared every August and September.  That’s when the enigmatic hand of polio hovered over communities, randomly seizing a child or young adult to paralyze or kill. 

I’m thankful for antibiotics and vaccines!  We’ve come a long way.

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

*Julie H., if you are reading this–that doctor was your grandfather.  A fine physician, and a very sweet man!  And he always told me to eat a lot of orange sherbet, which he knew I loved.   🙂

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