Visiting a Doctor


When I was young I had a very good doctor, My Mother. Now if we had been a Pilgrim family and her practice become known, she would have been burned as a witch. Then she would have been diminishing the stature of the real doctors by her constant success at treating diseases and maladies where 'modern' methods failed, methods proclaimed to be ultimately better than the herbs and common sense that women used at home.

And women couldn't possibly be better than men. By the way, religion used murder to cause fear and raise the power of leaders. Witch hunting was a fun thing, favored by people who craved recognition from those same nasty leaders.

But we're talking about medicine in middle America of the 1930s. Trust in doctors had not escalated much since the seventeenth century. Few doctors were available and we didn't have a phone to call one, nor did we have money to buy their services.

Invitations To Disaster
My father rented a small farm one mile from Svea in central Minnesota. A large house and barn with smaller out-buildings nestled behind mysterious rows of sheltering trees. The buildings were in disrepair, neglected because inheritors could not agree on division of their legacy. Discarded boards with rusty nails intact and piles of outdated machine parts were strewn about. These became the first frontiers for exploration by me and my inquisitive siblings.

A silver maple in the front yard grasped a tire swing and the tree itself became a height to conquer. I never climbed as high as did my sister, Ruth. But then I never fell out of it either.

Ruth was better at most things than I ever was and her scars show that she went places that I wasn't adventurous enough to seek. Well, she was thirteen and I was only six. She ran into a scythe in deep grass that cut a permanent hash mark in her calf muscle. She almost cranked her forefinger into the wringer of a rusty washing machine, permanently disfiguring her finger nail.

When my left thumb was caught in the chain of a school swing the nail festered and fell off completely. A new thicker nail grew in, whole and well shaped. In spite of all the scrapes, cuts and bruises Ruth and I and two brothers came up with, Mother treated them as required and we all grew up strong and healthy.

All of us stepped on rusty nails with the first bare feet in the spring. If there was a nail waiting to be found, one of us found it. The puncture was due for a poultice. Mother used different kinds of poultices for different things.

Dreadful Circumstances Require Formidable Treatment
Foot wounds, especially those caused by rusty nails, were extremely serious because infection from rust and soil could happen quickly. Mother had seen infection send vicious red streaks up a leg, or heard of gangrene and amputation. None of that for her beloveds. She put on a solemn expression as she grabbed a small clean bucket in one hand, a short stick in the other, and headed for the pasture.

Fortunately the poultice material is manufactured at the same time the bare feet find the rusty nails, with the appearance of fresh spring grasses. When it was not my foot in question, I would tag along with Mother while she stalked a docile bovine. Not having all day to wait for the animal to defecate, Mother wielded the stick in her right hand with jabbing to the haunches of a likely animal. You must understand that the fresh green grass loosened the cattle's bowels and sudden jabbing resulted in uncontrolled squirting of the poultice material. Mother was capable of catching what she needed in her bucket and we would hurry back to get the warm shit on the infected foot.

I am not making this up. I had the fresh warm manure on infected feet several times. The flesh surrounding the wound turned white and the puncture closed up. Ointment and clean bandaging was applied for week or so. Then the clean bandage was worn off as the foot stepped forward for new delightful explorations.


Copyright 1997 Naomi Sherer - All Rights Reserved




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