Child­hood ill­nesses

Ev­ery is­sue, Yours writer Mar­ion Clarke will be shar­ing mem­o­ries. This fort­night she shares some old­fash­ioned cures for child­hood ill­nesses

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Grow­ing up on a farm, Sheena Dear­ness used to help feed the chick­ens be­fore she went to school – and that led to a mis­un­der­stand­ing when one day she felt strangely itchy all over: “My teacher sent me to see the school nurse. Us­ing a mir­ror, she showed me the spots on my face, my up­per body and my legs. Scratch­ing had left wheals all over me.

“Cov­ered in calamine lo­tion, I ran home. Gasp­ing for breath I flew in the door, shout­ing to my mother, ‘I’ve got a pox off the chick­ens’.”

But what up­set Sheena most was be­ing off school, so she didn’t win her cher­ished at­ten­dance prize.

Sue Con­way felt the same: “I was mor­ti­fied to be ab­sent from school for the first time and my mis­ery was com­pounded by the prospect of miss­ing out on en­joy­ing my im­pend­ing eighth birth­day. Mum’s so­lu­tion was to hold a chick­en­pox party which proved to be a great suc­cess.”

When Bren Mor­ris caught chick­en­pox, her brother, Alan, and her sis­ter Jill had it at the same time: “We used to stand on chairs in our un­der­wear in front of Mum who had an enor­mous bot­tle of calamine lo­tion and cot­ton wool with which to dab it all over us.

“Be­ing con­fined to home wasn’t too bad, as we had each other to play with.”

Kath Tuck agrees: “Chick­en­pox was not so bad as you had three weeks off school. I re­mem­ber the doc­tor used to wink at me as he told my mother I would have to stay at home. An­other good thing about be­ing ill was having Lu­cozade to drink.”

My mum shouted ”Get back into bed and look ill, the doc­tor’s com­ing”

Be­fore we had the NHS, the doc­tor was usu­ally only called as a last re­sort, as Rhoda Pip­pen re­mem­bers: “When I had a rash and a fever my mother sent for the doc­tor al­though a home visit cost 15 shillings, which was a lot of money. I cried when he

put a cold stetho­scope on my chest. To dis­tract me, he took a piece of pa­per and scis­sors out of his black bag and cut out a lit­tle strip of danc­ing fig­ures.”

When Rose­mary Rich fell ill with scar­let fever in the Fifties, the GP came to the house to check her progress: “As they wouldn’t open up an iso­la­tion ward just for me, my mum had to look after me, with reg­u­lar visits from the doc­tor. One day, when I was feel­ing a bit bet­ter I was us­ing my bed as a tram­po­line un­til I heard Mum shout, ‘Get back into bed and look ill, the doc­tor’s com­ing’.”

An­other bane of our child­hood years was whoop­ing cough and read­ers con­trib­uted a num­ber of un­usual ‘cures’ for this ail­ment. Jill

Ben­nett writes: “The whoop­ing bouts only came at nights, usu­ally when I was asleep. My par­ents had a sink full of cold wa­ter ready. When I was kick­ing out, des­per­ate for breath, they plunged me into the sink, still in my py­ja­mas. The shock would make me re­gain my breath.”

Pam Sheppard’s mother tried a less dras­tic treat­ment: “She gave me a mix­ture of Vase­line and honey a few times a day. How I sur­vived I will never know!”

A des­per­ate mother will try any­thing to make her child bet­ter, as Eve­lyn Downs can tes­tify: “Our doc­tor sug­gested a good cure would be to get some sea air down my lungs. Even though she was ter­ri­fied of the sea and we lived a long way from the coast, my mother took me out on a small plea­sure boat. It eased the cough for a while, but the next gem of ad­vice from the doc­tor was for her to hold me over hot tar to in­hale the fumes. She did just that where they were re­pair­ing the road and it ac­tu­ally cured me.”

The most bizarre tale comes from Mrs L Jen­ner: “When our fam­ily came down with whoop­ing cough I was given a mouse baked in the oven to eat. Dr McBride was not pleased to find that his medicine had not worked, but the mouse had.

“On his next visit to see my brother, Peter, he asked my mother sar­cas­ti­cally, ‘Why not try a rat this time?’”

Hear­ing of home reme­dies like that, we have ev­ery rea­son to be grate­ful for vac­cines! Mari Wal­lace says that Dr Jonas Salk, who de­vel­oped the po­lio vac­cine, is her par­tic­u­lar hero: “I grew up in New York State where the sum­mers are al­ways very hot, but my mother banned us from go­ing to the com­mu­nity swim­ming pool for fear of con­tract­ing po­lio. When the vac­cine be­came avail­able, we dreaded the nee­dle, but dreaded the disease more. My chil­dren don’t know how lucky they are to have their doses dis­pensed orally on a sugar cube.”

Bren Mor­ris (on the right) and her brother and sis­ter all caught chick­en­pox at the same time

Mar­ion as a young girl

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