Category Archives: Medicine

Tuesday, Life, And Me

I visited my primary care doctor this morning. Inexplicably, my appointment started 45 minutes later than it was supposed to. Due to C19 (thanks, Lynette, for the cool abbreviation), I had to wait in the parking lot, observing the spectrum of patients waiting to be called from their vehicles. That’s what gave me time to write my Stolen Beauty post. Since I arrived 1/2 an hour early, I called 30 minutes after my appointment. Drinking two nutrition drinks, two bottles of water, and two cups of coffee before leaving the apartment (one from Kum & Go) left me with a conundrum: public urination in said parking lot or going inside the covid perimeter to the bathroom. Luckily, the woman on the phone could hear that I was almost gargling with the need to go. The nurse and I had a long and fascinating conversation about hospital conditions, my journey toward losing all the weight, and a dozen other topics. She told me she’d been put in the position of being the only nurse on an entire wing before she left her last job at a hospital. She also encouraged me to hide behind the door in an attempt to scare the doctor. Again. I’m guessing we laughed thirty times while we talked. Laughter is the best medicine – and they’ll likely bill me for that too. 🙂

The notecard is one I left on the doctor’s table prior to his arrival. He laughed about that, too. No one found the other couple of witty messages I placed in the exam room. At least, not yet.

I did hide behind the exam room door to scare and/or startle him. I think he might have charted himself a reminder to check behind the door on the way in, though, because he cautiously opened the door and peeked around just as I surprised him. The doctor was in shock that I’d lost so much weight. During my last visit, I told him he’d never see me fat again. I asked him to chart it when I last saw him, because I knew then what no one else believed: I was done being overweight. Though unplanned, The Stay at the hospital left me about 90 lbs. lighter than the last time he’d seen me. I told him the story. He said, “Yours is the single biggest self-done transformation I’ve witnessed as a doctor.” Please forgive me if this comes across as humblebragging. I stopped taking my blood pressure medication shortly after I saw him last year. Yes, my blood pressure has been fantastic since I went below 190 lbs. He told me details about my procedure that I hadn’t known. A herniation happened around my appendix, an improbable combination. He couldn’t tell me if they removed my appendix, though. Because of the CT Scan in the ER, the surgeons expected a tumor or something horrendous. I never knew that. The area affected was minimal compared to what they expected. They gutted me and fixed it in record time. Biopsies and lab tests confirmed nothing suspicious. He said I might be able to return to work once the staples are removed from my abdomen. (Note: they don’t want you to keep them and make a commemorative necklace out of them. That’s disappointing!) The doctor and I talked for several minutes. We laughed several times, too. I’ll never forget last year when I told him that I was over wasting time gaining and losing weight.

I didn’t sleep well last night. But I did stand on the landing outside my apartment as the lightning, wind, and rain made their approach. I could feel its chilly proximity. When the sheets of rain reached me, I felt like I was the only person outside witnessing it. It was sometime after 1 a.m. It was beautiful. The clotted overhead gutters gushed water in torrents unidirectionally. I was glad to have witnessed it. Later, around 4:30, as I started my morning, I watched the lower water-laden branches of a tree cast witch shadows across the pavement, the movement resembling awkward stop-motion photography. After my doctor’s visit, I noted that the parking lot is increasingly awash in thousands of newly-fallen leaves. I said “Hello” to the hummingbirds, who’ll soon leave for the season.

Because of the cause and a friend always recommended it, I went to Peace At Home Thrift Store. I found a shirt that called my name. I had to cut the shoulder pads out of it, which indicates which section I found it in. And for a pittance, I bought several things that seemed like they needed to come home with me. One of them is a nice fleur-de-lis brooch inset with sparkling stones. The woman who helped me pick them out had on a cacophony of jewelry herself. She laughed when I said, “I don’t really wear jewelry.”

Because it’s so close, I had to celebrate the great doctor’s visit by going to Renzo’s and getting a Caprese salad. I liked Caprese before but discovered that Renzo’s connected the dots regarding what it is SUPPOSED to taste like. When I arrived at the apartment, I ate half of it with pleasure. You might have heard me yum-yumming with delight?

“Old keys don’t open new doors.” That’s true. But they unlock parts of our lives that need to be examined. Closed rooms are secrets, ones that occupy parts of our minds and hearts that need to be aired out. A house is meant to be lived in – and our minds are meant to be free and open.

This beautiful key was a gift. It hangs on the wall next to my stove.

P.S. IF all goes well, I might be able to return to work shortly after my staples are removed.

Once In A Lifewhile

Yes, I know I look tired in the picture. But I did sleep last night and woke up grateful again.

I sat with a borrowed cat this morning, its purr against me, slitted eyes sleepily pondering me, and my fingers languorously scruffing its neck. An empty coffee cup was in front of me, its contents too hastily enjoyed. It’s going to take a while for me to fail to appreciate making a cup when I want one, perhaps even a lifewhile, a word that appeared in my head as I stood outside feeling the chill of the morning.

I’d taken out the trash and threw it on top of the unimaginably overfull dumpster. I couldn’t convince myself that it had only been a week since I used my extermination kit to spray the dumpster; it’s a duty I took on to control the ridiculous fly problem. It seemed like a metaphor was at play. I wandered around the outlet of the apartment simplex, observing the distant roll of clouds against the early morning horizon.

My surgeon and hospital team forgot to include work notes or restriction information in my packet; I suppose my five follow-up reminders weren’t a sufficient hint. By sheer accident, my supervisor Joe was standing in the room when I noticed the oversight. He’s accustomed to the complexities and holes in medical care. “I guess I’ll be back at work Monday,” I said. We laughed. I wish I were returning to work tomorrow.

I’m supposed to maintain a routine and stay active. While in the hospital, though I might not have said so before, I did the breathing exercises 100 times a day and walked a thousand loops in the hallway without assistance. The worst thing physically I had to do was to shower myself without help. Not only because I had a massive hole in my abdomen, but because they’d left the IV in the inside of my left elbow, making safe flexibility on that side of my body impossible. I can’t stress enough how HARD that was, but I knew I would go without a shower for a week if I didn’t.

For all of y’all who are concerned, I am “taking it easy.” But I am not laying down or sitting needlessly. I’m working on a plan to reset my diet. Even before The Stay (as I refer to it now), I was formulating an effective way to gain weight. It made me nervous about getting on the scale once I was back at the apartment. My weight had dropped to 142 by Friday afternoon. For those with inside knowledge of my stay, they’ll tell you that I fought tooth and nail to get substantive nutrition and a plan of action; the bureaucracy of care cost me two days of what amounts to starvation without dehydration. Unbeknownst to me, someone who shares a weight loss journey with me was just about to reach out and lovingly tell me to pull up a bit before I had posted my intention to gain some weight back. It’s amazingly easy to take advice from someone who has walked the path themselves – without feeling attacked or defensive.

Even the hydration cost me constant vigilance, though. I still hear the alarms and claxons of the empty bags when I sit in silence. One of the secrets of a hospital stay is that staff will ignore alarms with steadfast consistency. If the person coming in to silence your alarms isn’t assigned to you, they will turn it off without much concern about whether it’ll be refilled or restarted. This includes scenarios whether you’re getting normal saline, anti-seizure medication, antibiotics, or any other drug. Call lights are hallway illumination until someone is ready to acknowledge them. You can’t take it personally. You have to learn to play the game of attention and leverage. It’s unfortunate, but one that no one in the system will possibly deny. This is another reason you need to have someone with you if you’re in the hospital. I have suggestions on how to make a game out of it, too, if you’re interested. This will keep the men occupied, assuming you can get them up and into the hospital room with you.

While in the hospital, I got a teddy bear, a t-shirt, a bag of suckers, flowers, activity books, a few visitors, 357 calls, messages, and well-wishes, all of which I appreciated immensely for one reason or another. AND one request to have something done with my face while I was already in the hospital.

PS A lifewhile is an indefinite length of time characterized by the unease of knowing something significant has shifted yet beyond our perception. In this case, my attacker was unseen in its approach. As I speed away from Tuesday at 1 a.m. when my surgery started, I’m accumulating lessons. The biggest ones are trite and already well-known: people are essential, and life is limited. A lesser-known one is that life is always casting its net out in the world, regardless of who you are or what you’ve accomplished. Your checklist can be full or empty when it snares you.

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I took the above picture to capture that strange shoulder bone protuberance. I could feel that another layer off my body had melted during my hospitalization.

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Another Life

I woke up this morning grateful to hear the birds chirping. Even at 2 a.m., when some miscreant biker needlessly revved his motorcycle with a cacophony to awaken the dead, I was happy. To be alive – and to not be confined to the hospital another night. Twice I awoke, worried that I had imagined my discharge or that I was trapped in a Groundhog Day cycle of never-ending hospitalization.

Washington Regional is about to loosen its visitor restrictions again. It was good practice before – and it’s a better practice now: do as much as you can to have someone with your friend or family member as much as possible to be an advocate for their care. With staffing issues and the seemingly impossible task of coordinating complex care and so many moving parts, one of the single best things you can do for your family member is to simply be an eye and advocate. It is possible to be kind to staff while aggressively pursuing good care for your friend or family member. Never apologize for being an advocate for your loved ones; good healthcare workers are humans too and will not resent your participation. And if they do? Trust your instincts.

I learned a lot of lessons while I was in the hospital. Some of them I’ll probably never write about. Though my eyes were open before being a patient, I’ll never be able to relapse back to ignorance about the challenges our healthcare system faces. For those great people who work hard to be both compassionate and medically competent, I can’t say enough to thank them. For the others, my words won’t have a positive impact on the problems. I’ll have to think about how best to translate much of my experience into a helpful narrative; criticism, even well-earned criticism, seldom lands how we want it to. This is true one-on-one, and more so with complex organizations.

I imagine that many of my experiences will find themselves buried inside jokes, mirthful anecdotes, and disguised narratives. Comedy is one of the best means to hide the truth in plain sight. Most great jokes are wrapped around a nugget of truth, no matter how brazen or outlandish. Here’s an inside joke, based on one of my experiences: “She didn’t fall out of bed. She climbed over and sat on the floor from a surprising height.”

For now, it’s Saturday. The breeze is cool and the birds are dive-bombing their food. I’m waiting on laundry to finish because, well, let’s face it: the laundry doesn’t care where you’ve been. It places its demands like every other mundane chore required of us. In a minute, I’ll carefully go down the flight of stairs into the dungeon to retrieve clothes. And I’ll be happy to do it.

Even the Zen masters have a saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Each of us has to find a way to not only put one foot in front of the other without fail but also discover a way to find meaning and joy in the distractions.

I’m good.

I hope y’all are good too. I was reminded how much all of us need other people. Even those with tough exteriors need kind words and soft voices sometimes. Life wouldn’t be worth living without other people. I’ve had enough of Blake, though.

Love, X

P.S. I put a picture of my incision in the comments, so you can skip it if you wish. I’m currently working on a series of false and/or creative explanations for the scar I’ll have. I love scars; they remind us that we survived.
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Here’s a post from my social media from Friday morning….

It’s a good thing I’ve always had a wild imagination. Though I was allegedly a fall risk, I was left to get up and take care of myself these last few days. It is odd that the room they put me in overlooks my favorite place at the hospital. Below me is the gazebo, facing out toward the rustic farmhouse. It’s always been an escape and meditative spot. I have stood at the window three dozen times in the last two days, remembering how many times I stood at the gazebo. Sometimes watching the sunrise, sometimes waiting. Off to the right, I can observe the building I normally work in and the relentless comings and goings of daily commerce. The hospital is undeniably a business. But it’s powered by people and people need it to be made whole and healed. I am running toward the idea that I will be able to leave today. It’s possible that the ongoing and inefficient bureaucracy of the place might needlessly prevent that. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, I’ll be back here to work. The first thing I’m going to do, though, is to walk to the gazebo and look up, to perhaps find the window of the room I laid in. We all need people more than we like to admit. I’m already futurizing because that is optimism in action.

P.S. the surgeon’s nurse ripped off the bandage. The wound is really cool, bordered by an insane number of small staples. It avoided my belly button, something that was on my mind for some reason. I contacted my agent. He was so happy, because an unblemished belly button means that I’ll soon be gracing the underwear pages again.

Love, X.

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Here’s a post from my social media from Thursday…

I don’t have a catheter or an ngt tube anymore. (Old friends I never hope to see again…) The IV will be pulled sometime soon too, since I’ve been drinking a river of ice regardless. I haven’t eaten in 68 hours. The irony is that last Friday I started deliberately incorporating other foods into my diet to get my weight up to at least 155 or 160. Did I mention how good the Impossible Whopper was on Saturday? For the last few days I guess it has literally been impossible.

It is such a crazy coincidence that after 11 months of die-hard level commitment to health and healthy eating that something like this unexpectedly slaps me so hard.

I’m starting a clear liquid diet this morning, something that should have happened yesterday. I’ll be polite and skip all of that story for now. PS just because vodka is clear doesn’t mean it’s included in the diet.

I feel terrible for my coworkers, who are already strained from covid and absences. Some of us openly joke about how these kind of surprises and tragedies happen simultaneously. We rarely have enough help to do the job the way it needs to be done. I suspect this may be a universal symptom of our modern times- and the medical field in particular.

I have 2,342 stories already to tell about my incarceration, I mean my hospitalization. I’m glad to be alive to ponder them. But I am leaving here with a first-hand and profound education regarding healthcare. As much as I thought I knew before, this has been a true education.

I hope everything continues to go well and I get out of here. Because this is a bureaucracy, there’s no clear answer or straight path to getting that done.

Meanwhile I’ll continue to engage in a battle of amusement and wit with anybody who comes by. If they get snarky or out of control I usually have a mostly full urinal by the bedside. I’m guessing that it is very aerodynamic.

Thanks to everyone who reached out.

Life can still surprise me.

I hope I can still surprise myself.

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Seeing the Grand canyon and running a marathon might be great, but having my catheter yanked out will certainly be more memorable.

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Here’s a post from my social media from Tuesday…

An obstructed bowel jumped up at 3:30 yesterday and put me in the ER. I had emergency surgery early this morning around 1a.m. Worst pain of my life! I didn’t have time to be anxious or scared. PS no, this is not a Photoshop.

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A Deceptive Photo For This Post

I spent another afternoon painting everything. Well, not everything. The neighbor’s dog escaped. My quest to fill my life with color is proceeding like the General Lee across an unexpected levee. If that reference is too old for you, try this one: …like an NFL linebacker making his way to the pizza… or a housewife driving into a Target parking lot.

The Covid debate raged around me everywhere. I wish everyone could visit a full ICU-Covid unit and see how incredibly difficult this virus has made everyone’s lives. It’s easy for me to forget that not everyone shares my vantage point. For many people, it’s like imagining a war fought overseas; distant, disconnected. The truth is I find myself doing my part while simultaneously glancing away. Each day that passes, I hope that no one I know or love will need emergency care. The waits are incredible, and the misery is real for everyone, patients and family members. I have my opinion about BB&BBQ, Arkansas football games, and other social gatherings. But no one cares about my earned opinion. Instead of throwing my two cents in, I hope everyone can avoid Covid if possible. And if not, that it does not cut you or your family too profoundly as it lays its fickle finger across your life.

So that you know, I still go out in public. I wear a mask and try to avoid licking my fingers at random times. For me, my most significant exposure to Covid has been inside my allegedly safe bubble at work. Repeatedly. Even if I do everything right, I must work. It doesn’t stress me. It’s not because I fail to understand the risks. It’s because I’m at the mercy of everyone around me. The truth? I always have been. We all are. The sooner we realize it and act like our actions affect everyone around us will be a good day. While we’re at it, let’s make fundamental changes to our social policy and healthcare system so that no one will worry about medical care.

Until then, I’m going to get back to painting.

But I’ll be thinking about y’all and hoping we’ll all be safe. We won’t be. But I’m hoping.

Love, X

I Have A Question

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I’m still waiting for a reasonable, honest answer to this question: why did the State of Arkansas fail to require a Covid test for all healthcare workers?

You’ll note that the Governor goes out of his way to classify correctional carriers and other sectors. Notably absent? Healthcare workers – one of the single most important possible classifications to track.

It has always been in the public’s best interest to ensure that all healthcare workers are tested, yet proposals to do so have been unceremoniously shown the door like a drunken Uncle on New Year’s Eve.

We’re required to get flu shots each year, among other things.

We mandated that non-emergency patients be tested, yet did not conduct a baseline safety test to benchmark how many of the healthcare workers helping them might be carrying the virus.

Knowing how many healthcare workers have the virus would give us insight into the behavior leading to getting it. After all, healthcare workers are presumed to be the most cautious and educated about this sort of public health hazard. Their infection rate leads to immediate recognition of how well what we’re doing is working.

When I point this out to people, they get that recognizable and confused, puzzled look on their faces, the one that immediately indicates that they assumed that sort of thing had happened.

It hasn’t.

This kind of question falls under “public safety and worker safety” guidelines, so I of course am unconcerned about asking such a reasonable question publicly. I’ve asked it at least 500 times in the last two months.

I’m still asking.

It’s the right thing to do, even at this late date.
– X

X’s Observations on COVID

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If you’re being screened for COVID19 and you see that the screeners are using temporal (forehead) thermometers, you need to check your temperature with an oral thermometer. Despite what some might say, an oral thermometer will eliminate environmental variables, assuming you haven’t been chewing whole ice cubes. While the absence of a fever doesn’t preclude that you have COVID, it occurs in the majority of cases. I’ve personally witnessed a 2 or 3-degree temperature difference between oral thermometers and other types. (*Generally speaking, of course.)

If you don’t own a pulse oximeter, you should purchase one. If you are infected with this virus, the flu, or have other health conditions, your 02 level is one of the single biggest ways to answer the question: “Should I be concerned?” It will signal that you’re deteriorating or at what point you need to call 911 or go to the doctor/ER. You should buy one of these even after our current virus crisis is over.

Additionally, the number of medical people being tested is artificially limited by how willing screening clinics are in administering the test. All those saying we haven’t tested nearly enough people are correct. You would be surprised by the number of people refused tests, even those working in the medical or emergency services fields. We don’t want to squander tests needlessly, of course. With anyone in the medical field or those who must be ‘in’ the world on a daily basis, it should be automatic with symptoms. The same guidelines for the general public don’t translate to dealing with medical workers.
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In Northwest Arkansas, there isn’t a big scarcity of testing kits available, compared to other regions. Our bottleneck seems to be the number of labs at our disposal to perform the lab tests. Some people are still being told it might be a WEEK before getting their results. Senator Rand Paul had to wait 6 days for his, and he’s a United States Senator, and he didn’t self-quarantine during that time. (That’s not a criticism of Senator Paul, by the way, in part because he is a Senator and his job duties are critical. *Someone correctly pointed out that he did go the gym and do some stupid things in the meanwhile, though.)

If you are tested, you are now required to self-quarantine until you get the test results, which is of course an improvement over the previous policy. However…

Those who have symptoms or are turned away then return to their jobs or their families, often with the misguided belief that if the screening methodology indicates they don’t need to be tested, that they are in fact, not positive and pose no risk. For the purposes of this post, assume that those who are turned away or discouraged from a test work in the medical field or another field in which their presence is ‘essential.’ They return to their lives, potentially infecting many more people. ‘Not tested’ does not equate to ‘not infected.’ For public health, these cases should be treated as positive, even absent a test, as it is the safest course of action for society as a whole to prevent needless spread of the virus. In a crisis in which the virus spreads so easily, it’s obvious that anyone working in a critical field should be tested immediately, even if their symptoms only include a fever – but do not rise to the critical level. If our medical system did become overwhelmed, which I do not think it will here in Northwest Arkansas, we’d have to reexamine that policy.

If you’re already quarantined, this won’t affect you on an individual level.

By not quarantining even potentially suspected cases as they arise, we’re creating an expanding circle of exposure. (Obviously, I’m referring to those who can’t be at home each day.) We all know that we’re almost all going to eventually be exposed to the virus. It’s not about being able to sidestep our eventual exposure. All of us will ultimately step up to the fact that we’ve been exposed.

Another concern that people are misunderstanding is the tendency toward a false negative test. (You have the virus, but the test shows that you don’t.) A false positive might scare you, but at least you’ll think you have the virus and take immediate and drastic measures to avoid spreading the disease. In the case of a false negative, the opposite occurs. Given the way the tests are performed, the margin of error is actually quite high. If you google “Bayes’ Rule for COVID19,” you’ll see that false negatives are the biggest threat for how we deal with the virus.

The truth is that many organizations say that all those tested should be quarantined on the side of caution, even though who are tested negative. In the short term, it may cause needless isolation. That needless isolation of critical medical staff will statistically reduce the spread of the virus. We already know that up to 1/3 of all negative tests are incorrect, depending on the variables in the testing system. For every 100 people testing negative, it is possible that 30 of them are actually positive.

After having said all that, a significant portion of the population has been infected and has no symptoms at all. It gives us a sense of false confidence as we proceed with our lives.

Even though you’ve not read my definition of a public place, here it is: any place outside your house where anyone other than the people you’ve been with for the last 14+ days has breathed. If anyone ‘new’ has entered your house, your house is public for 14 more days.

I don’t personally feel alarmed, even if it kills me. Many of us all are doing to do everything perfectly. Yet, it’s going to hurt someone of us badly. I read your posts and hope that we can get back to being pissed off at each other for stupid reasons.

We’re going to get a vaccine, eventually. It won’t be permanent, though. We’re going to need to invest in and trust researchers and science. We’re going to have to stop pretending that anti-vaxxers have a valid viewpoint. Maybe we’ll finally get universal healthcare. Maybe we’ll manage to achieve a cohesive non-profit nationwide collective of clinics and hospital making decisions from the viewpoint of public health.

Our hospital system will not be overwhelmed here locally. I also don’t think we are going to run out of PPE or necessary medical equipment. You would think I’d be cynical about this. I’m not though. I think we are incredibly more prepared that many areas around the United States. No matter what happens, I hope you remember after all this that I was optimistic in our ability to diminish the impact.

We’re lucky we live in Northwest Arkansas. Comparatively speaking, it’s a great place to be quarantined – and an even better place to be if you find yourself needing immediate medical care for the virus. We have an incredible confluence of food, resources, and medical clinics/hospitals to help us get through this.

P.S. Although a few people missed it, much of my post indicated it referred to those in the medical field or those who go out into the world because they are ‘essential.’ Taking this into account quells many of the comments people might make. ‘Err on the side of caution’ is a cliché precisely because it is true and fits the commentary here.

Vicks Recipes For Southern Survivors

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Vicks salve was invented in 1905. The same person Frenchman who invented BenGay was ultimately responsible for creating Vicks VapoRub, as he inspired a pharmacist here in the United States to modify the recipe for BenGay.

On a personal note, I’d like to say that I l-o-v-e the smell of Vicks. I like the smell of creosote and diesel, too. None of them are good on a sandwich, an ice cream float, or on a spoon on its way to my mouth, however. As anyone who ever used Vicks in steam can attest, the aroma is inescapable and rich. If eaten or allowed to melt in one’s mouth, it manages to embed itself between teeth and the gums for several hours. If you’ve never eaten Vicks, get a slice of Dominos pizza and put an entire package of mint gum on it, and then topped with vaseline, and attempt to eat it. A slice of Dominos is bad enough, I admit.

The cobalt blue bottles were also immediately recognizable. One could clean them completely with very hot water, followed by vigorously adding soap and wiping them out.

Evidently, Vicks became a household staple thanks to the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions of people. It’s hard to imagine the effect of such an epidemic, one which killed more people than any other in human history. We don’t hear much about it anymore. At least 7000 Arkansans died officially from the flu in 1918, a huge number, compared to the 600 who died in WWI. Because of the huge number of poor rural people in Arkansas at the time, family history and circumstantial evidence tell us that many more died from the flu. Additionally, because Arkansas was deeply affected by Jim Crow, thousands of blacks also went under the radar. It’s interesting to delve into the story of this epidemic; it’s undeniable that Arkansas lost at least twice as many people as officially reported.

Interestingly, I had heard stories that a great-grandfather of mine died from the flu in 1918. Research proved this to be erroneous, as he died in February 1918 before the first known case in the United States that year. Almost no family escaped death from the Spanish flu that year.

You can’t study the history of Vicks without factoring in the trauma of the 1918 epidemic. I found several news articles from early 1919 regarding the Vicks shortage as a result of the flu epidemic which had killed millions of people worldwide. Vicks was relatively inexpensive and easily obtained. Almost all households in the rural South had a bottle of Vicks. Most were smart enough to avoid eating it. I like to think that some ate it simply to accelerate meeting their maker.

For those of us who had ignorant ancestors who made us eat Vicks, most of this tendency is a result of misinformation and the worldwide scare of the deadly flu over 100 years ago. They didn’t mean to unsuccessfully poison us. At least, for the most part. During the epidemic, Vicks was considered to be a disinfectant if applied on or inside the nose. It’s no wonder that even level-headed people began to ingest it directly.

The world was smaller and people didn’t have access to a wider community of people. Home remedies and folksy cures tended to become ingrained in cloistered communities. This is exactly why so many of us were subjected to the stupidity of our parents telling us to eat Vicks, even if the bottle were clearly labeled “do not ingest,” or “toxic.” We can laugh at such goofiness now, despite the fact that the modern internet has brought us anti-vaxxers and other idiots clamoring for attention to spread their modern snake oil ideas.

Vicks also contains varying levels of turpentine, another old folk remedy that can be quite poisonous but was once very popular. It’s important to remember that people scoffed at the idea of germs until fairly recently, too, or believed that blood-letting and blowing smoke up one’s anus could reduce serious ailments such as hernias. (It’s where the term “blowing smoke” originated.) By the way, I’m referring to the mistaken idea that all turpentines are the same, even the ones found in hardware stores versus distilled turpentine oil.

Another point I’d like to make is that so many people could make a living in the South selling Snake Oil. Like all ridiculous claims, Snake Oil appealed to those without a proper understanding of science or medicine. Paradoxically, thanks to the internet, we now find ourselves in reversed roles: some of the stupidest health claims for completely useless products are made by those with advanced education and training.

In the same way that people say, “Riding in the back of a pickup didn’t kill me,” or “We didn’t have seatbelts back then,” people excuse away eating Vicks VapoRub with the same ridiculous claims, “Well, it didn’t kill me!” Any examination of our safety record clearly demonstrates that seatbelts made our lives much, much safer. Science easily demonstrates that ingestion of Vicks is dangerous. Convincing people that they were terribly wrong about such an obvious thing is a difficult feat. They didn’t die after all.

Were my mom still alive, she’d roll her eyes and cluck like a chicken if she heard me picking on her about this. My favorite cousin will point out that my mom learned to feed Vicks to children as a result of my Grandma. In Grandma’s defense, she was born after the turn of the last century and her world was very small, in the Arkansas Delta area around Monroe County. She loved me like no one ever did; she also had some strange ideas about the weather, driving in the dark, and eating things like Vicks. She lived to be over 90 years of age, so it’s difficult to argue with her methods. Plus, she loved bacon, and as you know, bacon is the single best medicine available.

I’m convinced that my mom enjoyed forcing people to eat Vicks. I’m only saying that because she could be quite sadistic, a fact that is a simple truth today, but one which would have resulted in my murder had it voiced in her vicinity as a kid. As I grew older, I joined my brother in reading the labels on ‘medications’ my mom was fond of. Several of them literally had poisonous logos on them. Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy would have been a relief to us both as we endured our mom’s ignorance about all things medical. Mom was one of those people who would not listen to reason and her stubbornness was legendary, even among mules. For most of my childhood, my mom worked at Southwestern Bell and had excellent insurance, yet I never went to the dentist between ages 5 and 18  and only got medical treatment after trauma. “You’re breathing!” she’d say.

In 1983, the FDA decided that products such as Vicks couldn’t have more than 11% of a concentration of camphor. Camphor can be fatal to small children and studies demonstrated that it actually made most people less likely to breathe more freely. Weirdly, many people report that it allows them to sleep better.

Any discussion regarding Vicks needs to take into account the historical differences of the ingredients used compared to the modern version. I’ve read anecdotes of people who claim that the bottles once recommended ingesting small amounts. I don’t doubt these claims given the ointment’s history. I can’t find evidence of it, however.

Interestingly, Vicks labels have warned against using it under one’s nostrils for any reason, as well as ingesting it. Obviously, you should never eat it, either, or put it anywhere it can penetrate into the skin. I was surprised to learn that it can damage one’s corneas, too.

Vicks VapoRub actually confuses your brain, which makes it think that you’re breathing more easily while actually reducing your ability to breathe more freely. I think it works the same way that the internet does for modern versions of my mom.

With my new cookbook of recipes, those who survived eating Vicks when they were young can once again enjoy the undeniable taste of this treat. I recommend that you start with a PB&J&V sandwich.