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Mom knew best when it came to staying healthy

Published July 20. 2013 09:02AM

When I was a boy growing up in Summit Hill, my brothers and I were subjected to any number of mom's home-made remedies. The most unpalatable was when she made us eat a glob of Vick's VapoRub when we had a cold. Never mind that the warning on the jar said: "Not to be taken internally." Mom knew better.

My mother was also religious about having us "sweat out a cold." She would give me a shot of Four Roses whiskey, then bundle me in three layers of clothing, and rub down my chest with the aforementioned VapoRub covered with a cotton pad to prevent the bedding from getting oily. Then she would turn on the heating pad and make me disappear under the bed sheets and two blankets for a night of fitful tossing and turning. It may have been my imagination, but the next morning, even though it seemed I had just emerged from a swimming pool - that's how sweated I was - the cold had magically become less intense.

My mother was also religious in her reliance on castor oil. Even as I am writing this, I am getting that funny feeling in my throat just thinking about the vile substance. To this very day, the mere thought of ingesting castor oil makes me queasy.

I would never admit that I was ill unless I was barely able to stand, because I knew that if I even hinted I might not be feeling well, I would soon see the castor oil bottle in front of me.

My mother was humane, however. She would not force me to drink castor oil straight. Rather, she would pour it into orange juice. Unfortunately, the orange juice did not mask the flavor, nor did it protect me from the after-effects of the castor oil. I can still see myself as a 5-year-old - on my knees - retching into the toilet and sobbing uncontrollably. This was definitely a case where the cure was worst than the ailment.

My mother was also a big believer in Ex-Lax and Carter's Little Liver Pills for regularity. She always had ample supplies on hand in the medicine cabinet.

I remember the first time I was introduced to Ex-Lax. As a 5-year-old, I was exploring one day after coming back from kindergarten classes. I thought the box contained chocolate candy, so I ate five or six pieces.

Needless to say, during the next few hours I spent some serious toilet time. I never told my mother that I ate the "chocolate" in the medicine cabinet, because I didn't want to get into trouble. The bout of diarrhea prompted my mother to give me paregoric, another one of those horrible-tasting medicines, which is today classified as a Class 3 drug. The next day, my mother found that I had placed the Ex-Lax box in the wrong spot in the medicine cabinet and put two and two together. I finally confessed to my transgression, which is when I found out that I had not eaten "chocolate candy" after all.

Since my parents were immigrant Italians, I can only surmise that my mom brought some of these home-made cures and over-the-counter remedies from the "old country."

I once stumbled upon a book by two University of Indiana researchers - Dr. Aaron E. Carroll and Dr. Rachel C. Vreeman. Their work - Don't Swallow Your Gum: Myths, Half-truths and Outright Lies about Your Body and Health - seeks to debunk or, in some cases, confirm some of these old, uh, spouses' tales. (One must be politically correct, you know.)

Here are the five I found most intriguing:

• You only use 10 percent of your brain. Neuroscientist Dr. Barry Beyerstein has debunked this assertion in great detail. Much more than 10 percent of the brain is in play nearly all of the time, he found.

• You'll ruin your eyesight if you read in the dark. Reading in dim light does not have a permanent effect on your eyesight, ophthalmologists agree. It may be uncomfortable for a little while, but that's about it.

• If you don't shut your eyes when you sneeze, your eyeballs will pop out. First of all, you can't keep your eyes open when you sneeze. On the other hand, vomiting hard and frequently can cause your eyes to pop out.

• Cold or wet weather makes you sick. Not true, although some experts believe that cold weather makes people more likely to stay indoors together. This spreads colds and other viruses.

• You should put butter on a burn. This is a bad idea, because butter is just about the worst thing you can put on a burn. Not only does butter hold in heat, which can make the burn worse, it can also make your burn hurt more and make it more difficult for a physician to determine the severity.

(Bruce Frassinelli of Schnecksville is a 1957 graduate of Summit Hill High School and teaches Political Science courses at Lehigh Carbon Community College.)

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