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