September 27, 2023

The Liberal Use of Coal Oil and Sugar


The Smallwood family has a handsome farm just about where the two branches of Oak Creek pinch Doodlebug Island down to swimming properties, and old man Sedge and his wife Emily have an abundance of children who have known only the care, the tutoring, and the doctoring of their parents. Emily assumes responsibility for the first two, but the doctoring is purely the province of Sedge himself. Not that he’s ever taken training to diagnose illness nor dispense medicine. No, he’s had only the rough experience of farm life with its compilation of bumps, bruises, broken bones, contusions, gorings, maladies, illnesses, and the general malaise associated with too much work, too little money, and time which seems only to move by the calendar year.

Well, to tell the truth, experience isn’t all he’s got; he also has a book on doctoring. Admittedly, it’s an older volume dating to the time medicine had barely learned the efficacy of cleanliness, but it has a satisfying bulk to it so that if you can’t be cured of something, at least you have the happiness of knowing it was at one time addressed.

Each evening after supper, Sedge gets out his doctor book and pours over it. Truth to tell, it’s hard to know whether he spends more time studying the book or his children. For he reads awhile, then gazes at his children, and you can’t help believing he’s mentally examining each one to see if any of those entrusted to his care exhibits the symptoms about which he’s reading.

With the help of his book, which rather consistently recommends the liberal use of coal oil and sugar, castor oil, and senna leaf tea, all administered orally, Sedge has succeeded in limiting most colds his children experience to only seven days. Colds, he’s learned, may often be avoided by wearing a clove of garlic around one’s neck. Carbuncles, on the other hand, may be helped through an application of poppy seeds and flax seed meal, especially if the patient is given a Compound Syrup of the Hypophosphites noted in the National Formulary.

Poisonous bites from spiders or scorpions must be treated by splitting the skin over the bite, sucking out the venom, then applying pine pitch. Puncture wounds, which might result when children play around haystacks or pitchforks, are best treated by applying lemon slices to either end of the puncture. The patient may count on an ugly scar, but he or she is assured that lockjaw or gangrene will be thus avoided. At least in most cases.

There may just be something to the medicine outlined and fully described in Sedge’s book, for every one of the kids appears robust and healthy. This is undoubtedly a disappointment to Sedge although he’s tried to compensate by periodically assigning each child one or another of the world’s worst diseases.

In young Daniel, he thought he’d identified a certifiable case of beriberi. It was only measles, however. Sarah had what Sedge thought surely must be bubonic plague, but it turned out the dark circles around her eyes and the ashen color of her skin were exactly that–ash from the fire she and Matthew had started to roast marshmallows.

Arithra had what Sedge was convinced was Ague-cake, a disease caused by great muscular exercise, malaria or poison. Treatment: Indian cup plant. He treated Benjamin for pellagra with a regimen of yeast and lean meat. Eructations known as Water Brash were symptoms Sedge thought he detected in Hazel when she was found to have saliva dribbling from her mouth. He gave her ten drops of water of ammonia to quell the discharge, which aggravated the very devil out of the canker sore she’d developed.

It could never be said that Sedge has denied his children exotic diseases. Diseases that other people only hear about, his children have had, if only in his diagnosis and treatment. Whether it was yaws or scrofula (King’s Evil), St. Vitus’s Dance (Chorea), salt-rheum (teeter) or quinsy, his children have had access to them all, and it’s their fault if they’ve neglected their opportunities.

Only once have the children been seen by a doctor who gets paid for his services. A separator blew up, injuring every member of the family. Unable to attend to the various cuts and lacerations, Sedge reluctantly agreed to professional help, especially when he learned that Sears Roebuck was going to pay the bill and furnish the family a new separator.

You should probably forget any desire related to borrowing Sedge’s book, but if you learn about a new disease, I know he’d like to hear from you.

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