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Peggy Keener: Before there was mayo

Oh, dear! I had no idea I was so ill-equipped. Why didn’t you tell me? I am looking at “The People’s Home Library” circa 1919. It states firmly that to treat internal health conditions, I must have the following potions in my home medicine chest: olive oil, glycerin, whiskey, gin, sherry, wine, magnesia, castor oil, syrup of rhubarb, baking soda, sweet spirits of nitre, essence of peppermint, essence of wintergreen, syrup of ipecac, hive syrup, paregoric, laudanum, one or two grams of quinine, soda mint, and spirits of ammonia. (Whew! Is that all?)

Rushing off to Walgreens, I could find only a few of these critical essentials—sweet spirits of nitre being the peskiest. The liquor was cinchy, though, as I had already ascertained its healing powers. After imbibing enough, I just don’t care anymore.

Then I realized I had only covered the insides of me. What about my outsides? The book stated that I need: alcohol (darn, it means the rubbing kind), ammonia, water, turpentine, chloroform (oh, boy, things are getting serious), soap, liniment, extract of witch hazel, tincture of iodine, boric acid, flaxseed meal, vaseline, benzoated lard, and zinc ointment. (Hard to believe, but Walgreens was completely sold out of benzoated lard. HyVee didn’t have any either. So, what’s a self-medicator to do?)

The tome then advised that for the bedridden patient it is best to use a bed pan rather than the old porcelain chamber pot. This is because using the pot necessitates sitting the patient up (to say nothing of the awkwardness of getting him all the way off the soft mattress and onto the ten-inch tall pot.)

Furthermore, if the patient has typhoid fever, it is important to keep his mouth and teeth clean with boric acid. Simply wrap a soaked piece of gauze, absorbent cotton or piece of clean linen around your index finger, a stick or a piece of whale bone. (Best not to use a whole whale rib, if you know what I mean.)

If the patient succumbs to some dastardly disease, the sick room must be disinfected. This is very simple. Begin by pulling the wallpaper off the walls. Then wash them along with all the woodwork using a one to one-thousand solution of corrosive sublimate. Be certain to fill all the cracks, then cloud the room with smoldering sulphur fumes. Another solution is to burn formaldehyde. In every respect, however, this is a very dangerous maneuver and probably best left to the health officers. (Does anyone know if Mayo has health officers equipped with combustible formaldehyde room spray?)

If you are using dry disinfectants, stick with chloride of lime and copperas as you will be happy to learn they may be used freely in your closets and around your cesspools.

As for dissipating foul vaporous odors, use one ounce of pure carbolic acid, one ounce of eucalyptus and four ounces of turpentine. Simmer one or two tablespoons of this mixture in hot water. Note that you must strictly avoid getting too near this hazardous mixture. (If, alas, this does not clear the room of noxious vapors, I would suggest opening a window.)

Sometimes a sick person needs to sweat. One of the best ways to produce profuse sweating is by using corn. (This is appropriately called “corn sweat” and during our Minnesota summers, it is possible—whether we need it or not—to do this everyday!) The process is simple. Put twenty ears of corn into a pot of boiling water. Cook for half an hour or until a boiled corn smell permeates the room. Drain and wrap four ears in four separate towels.

Place one pack at the patient’s feet, one at each hip, and one under each arm. Cover the patient with blankets up to the neck, holding him down if necessary. Very soon he will begin to feel uncomfortable. (No kidding!) Sweat the patient for a few hours, followed by a warm sponge bath. This method begs the question of what if one needs the sweating treatment after the corn has been harvested and sold? Wait til next August?

If the patient is suffering from lumbago, sciatica or inflammatory rheumatism, applications of warm mustard plasters or a fly blister can be helpful. This requires patience on the part of the nurse. If you are a nurse who does not have patience, you should not care for this patient. Additionally, a nurse must never ever make fun of a sick person. (Dah!)

The information I have gleaned from “The People’s Home Library” appears so essential that I plan to devote more columns to its expertise. For example, things you need to know if, heaven forbid, the patient expires. Like how to prepare the body by tying up the loose limbs while binding the jaw to the crown of the head. But, above all, after you’ve completed these preparations and you’re in the process of moving him/her out of the house, make certain that he/she is, indeed, dead.

See what I mean?