Posted 12/1/19

One of the diseases that had an impact on my early life was leukemia. When I was very young, a girl who rode our school bus was diagnosed with it and soon died. Her parents were some of the …

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One of the diseases that had an impact on my early life was leukemia. When I was very young, a girl who rode our school bus was diagnosed with it and soon died. Her parents were some of the wealthiest people along the bus route, and before her death they gave her a birthday party and invited everyone who rode our bus, and perhaps most everyone in school, to attend. No expense was spared realizing that this would be her final birthday party, and it was quite an impressive outing. I had never heard accordion music before that time, but that was one of the ways they entertained the guests. She died shortly after the party. In the back of my mind there was always a fear of contacting leukemia. 

Food poisoning was also quite common. I had no idea about the type, salmonella or whatever, but it was just referred to as food poison. Sanitary conditions were not the best at that time and dishes, pots, and pans were not always properly cleaned. With some families water was a scarce commodity, and the water that dishes were washed in was not always changed from one washing to the next. The lack of refrigeration and proper storage practices were often the cause of food poisoning.  

Another ailment that was quite common at that time was known as stone bruises. This comes to mind as I suffered from them quite often, and they would put you out of walking condition until they were healed. In the summertime I would go barefoot most of the time, and as a result the bottoms of my feet were subject to bruising and injury. This bruise could develop into a very painful sore. Athlete’s foot and jockey itch were often the results of warm weather outdoor activities. 

TB was another disease that affected some at that time, and it was very contagious. My uncle contacted TB which caused his death. TB was almost always fatal, and those who were infected were quarantined so as to minimize the spread. I can recall visiting my uncle before his death at a camping site he had set up on the banks of the Warrior River in a secluded area. He lived there until his death, isolated from the outside world. Such was the medical world as I remember it then.

I vividly recall the suffering of my great uncle as he lived his final years with cancer of his mouth and face. We passed his house if we walked the road to catch the school bus, and his moans were heard as we were passing. There were few drugs available to relieve his suffering, and he died a terrible death. I was very young at that time, but the sounds of his suffering and the sight of his cancer, which had invaded the left side of his head causing him to lose his ear, made a great impression on me. I can still replay the sounds of his suffering and the image of his cancerous head and say a blessing that the advancements in health care have all but made such suffering a thing of the past. His was the first funeral I ever attended, and I still remember a song that was sung there, “When I’ve gone the Last Mile of the Way.” His last mile was one that did not reach far enough to benefit from the advancements in medicine which are available today.

Dad kept very few medical supplies at the house. Staples included Vicks Vapor Rub, a tin (12, I believe) of St. Joseph’s aspirin, X-Lax, Watkins liniment, Carters Little Liver Pills (why), medical tape, and Vaseline.  Home remedies were the order of the day. I remember that at one time Dad tried Hadacol and Geritol which were widely advertised, but they were little more than an alcohol-based, terrible-tasting concoction with little medicinal value. 

Although our family has a rich Native American heritage, herbal remedies were not high on the get well list. Perhaps this was because many of the plants needed were not readily available, and perhaps unknown to mother whose side of the family was not as rich in Indian heritage. Daddy dug and sold herbs such as ginseng and star root, which grew in the vicinity of our home place, but he always thought that the oriental people, where most of the herbs were shipped, placed an excessive value on the medicinal value of some of the drugs. I helped a friend install medical cabinets at a manufacturer of herbal product in American Falls, Utah and inquired about the true medicinal value of many of the herbs such as ginseng. The reply was made “tongue in cheek” that the medicinal value of herbal depends is highly dependent on the user. If an herb has the desired effect on the user, it is of value, although many herbal products could possible be over-rated when it comes to the actual benefit to one’s physical well-being. He mentioned saw palmetto, for prostate health, and other products for various ailments, which he felt served the purpose intended, but many had to be taken in a high dosage to be able to compete with lab remedies which were created for the same purpose. The Native American people knew the value of every plant and how it might be for their well-being.