What I learned about Health and Illness

All I learned about health and illness came from my mother. I never questioned her ideas or methods. She had been trained as a nurse and loved to take care of the sick.

The only doctor in our area lived far away but made house calls. We never went to see the doctor. And the only time I remember when she visited was when there was an outbreak of scarlet fever and diphtheria. One child infected the other and that was good; we were all sick at the same time and then it was over and done with all at once. No one of all my family was ever deathly ill when I was a child. But I was told, when I was a baby I had a bad case of whooping-cough. Mother told the story. She was pushing the baby carriage with me in it when she met an acquaintance who took a look at me and mother expecting a nice comment was shocked to see the lady’s reaction. She took a look at me herself and was horrified. I looked half dead. The illness had struck suddenly and caused great concern. I was also told that at another time when I was still a baby mother was called home from a trip because I had a serious throat infection. Of course I have no memory of that.

We all got the measles and chicken pox and now and then a runny nose and a cough, but that was it. The flue was unknown and if you got a cold was your fault because you had not dressed warm enough. There was no talk of germs. But we knew we could get warts from touching frogs and should not have cats or dogs lick our faces. No pets were allowed in our bedrooms.
I learned that to be healthy is normal. Illness was not normal. Adults were hardly ever ill. Only once did one of our maids get shingles and that was a big deal. No one in our family ever had a broken bone. But just at the time my youngest brother was born, I was in the hospital for an appendectomy. So I missed out on the excitement of his birth. I was 11 years old. A very inexperienced doctor must have practiced on me. I remember the nurses put a heavy sandbag on the stitched up wound. The result was, the scar grew as wide as a finger and all my life I never showed my belly. My older sister also had her appendix out as a child and her scar was hardly visible. But I must admit that it might not all be the doctor’s fault. I reacted to any hurt badly and my skin showed the anger.

Once I fell down the steps in the wood cellar and cut my knee badly. It was bleeding and looked horrible. I was still sitting on the steps when my parents put some dark blue solution on. I bet it was iodine. I burnt terribly but I just bit my lips. The knee healed but has been painful at different times later in life. Today when I walk down the steps, it pains a bit but I never take the elevator. Iodine was one of mother’s favorite medicines, Franzbrandwein and Essigsauretonerde she also used a lot. I don’t know what the English names are.

I cannot remember father or mother ever sick. Mother of course was in bed with the new-born baby but she was not ill. The first birth I remember a little was of my sister Margarete. She is 5 years younger than I. My parents had engaged a special nurse to be there for 2 weeks at the time of birth. But my sister was not ready to be born when she was due. All waited and waited and finally the nurse had to leave. So we were told Margarete needed extra time to make herself pretty. Of all the 6 girls she is still the one most concerned with her looks. She also was very dainty. When there was a spill on the floor she would take the rag with two fingers, drop it on the floor and wipe it up with her foot.
My youngest sister was born just 2 months before I turned 7. At that time early in the morning we older children were awake and waiting. We were told we would have a new baby. When someone came and told us we had a new sister and her name was Barbara we were thinking how could our parents choose that name. We had never heard it before and found the name very strange. No one in our family or in our village or even in our fairy tales or the Bible had it.  I have no memory of seeing the baby for the first time. I have a feeling of being uncomfortable with some memories. I guess much was put into the subconscious.

Father made mother the Queen and he made sure we obeyed her, served her and respected her. She was the absolute ruler of the children and the large household. She was very down to earth and knew what worked.

She believed we were ill only when we had a fever or did not eat. If we were ill we had to stay in bed and were not allowed to do anything we liked. So, no one wanted to be ill. She also talked about where she was trained, there people got only water-soup to eat. So we felt grateful that she was kinder and allowed us to eat good soup if we were able to. But we would not get anything special. She planned the meals and knew what was good for us and we ate what was served.
Once we brought head lice home from school. She just shaved our heads. The hair would grow again but the lice were gone. Fresh air was very important. The rooms were aired daily, bedding and clothing were always aired in good weather and the washing was dried outside on the clothe line. The children needed to be outside even on cold winter days.
Mother also knew a lot of home remedies that worked wonders but she thought the best medicine was sleep. Still, when the first sun tan lamps came out mother bought one and in winter we would lie under the health-giving rays with special glasses over our eyes. She also bought fruit and vegetable health juices for us. This was very new and special and she got cod liver oil and we had to swallow it. Otherwise mother believed the body will heal itself and most health troubles people suffered from were due to overeating, laziness or too much thinking. She told of her mother never being sick. If my grandmother did not feel well she went in the garden and did some hard digging and when she came back she would say, now I feel better.

I realize how fortunate I am to have learned some good health care as a child. What we today call health care is really illness care. We had healthy immune systems because antibiotics were unknown.
But there were some things that are much better now. Many injuries of children were never taken seriously or not recognized and resulted in damage that with age only grew worse. I once fell out of a tree and for a little while could not breathe but I asked my brothers and sisters who were present not to say anything to my parents because I knew it was my fault and I felt guilty. I also hurt my tailbone repeatedly falling on the ice. It is still very crooked, so I now know it was broken but no one ever knew about it.

When you are a child in a very small village without television and having learned not to ask unnecessary questions your greater knowledge comes from books and I have loved them and enjoyed them ever since I learned to read. My parents had already a very big book, similar to Grey’s Anatomy and when I was a little older I found there some basic biology explained that was never talked about. My parents did the best with what they knew.

So till next time take care, Tela