The alarming report of a measles outbreak in Ohio brought back more memories of my mother and reminded me of the major role that disease played in our lives. Because we were poor and my father was stubborn we rarely went to the doctor when I was a child. Mom’s nursing and home remedies were the norm for most things that ailed us, and dentistry was my father’s specialty, at least if you only needed a tooth yanked out with the pliers.
My brothers and I routinely got colds and stomach aches, but we also suffered through more serious ailments and diseases such as ear infections, croup, strep, pneumonia, measles, mumps, and chicken pox. I remember sitting for an eternity under a sheet, hovered over a pot of steaming water mixed with Vicks VapoRub. It’s a wonder I’m not blind! We also relied heavily on aspirin and cough syrup, a combo not approved of today.
Our bout with measles must have been severe, because I do vaguely remember a trip to the doctor. I don’t remember which of my brothers was sick at the same time, but I know that my grandmother became involved in our care.
My mother and I had mumps at the same time and my father was forced to care for us. (I don’t recall where Gran was.) I remember a lot of chicken broth and being in bed with Mom, but little else except pain. I don’t know if we went to the doctor or not.
We all had chicken pox during a seemingly endless winter. The boys came down with it first and quickly bounced back. I was sick for weeks and missed quite a bit of school. I also ended up with numerous scars. It was one of the most miserable experiences of my childhood.
I think back on those times now and wonder how my poor mother coped with the responsibility of doctoring us. The task must have been almost overwhelming. She couldn’t just pick up the phone and call a doctor. For much of our childhood we didn’t even have a phone! Antibiotics were not routinely used as they are today. She couldn’t Google symptoms and treatments. And lingering in her thoughts was the memory of her brother (photo)- who died of an ear infection when he was not quite ten.
It’s a whole new world now, but mothers still bear the burden of health care. They are the ones who most often stay home with children, take them to the doctor, and administer medications. We may all have more options, but Mom still has to be “almost a doctor”.