Monday, September 10, 2012

Did You Split Your Head Open?

My Mother warned, "Jimmy, don’t jump on the bed! If you fall, you’ll split your head open!"

Turned out she was right. I went off-balance, fell forward, and split my head open when it slammed into the edge of the headboard. I cried, there was blood, and My Dad drove me to the nearby Carney Hospital in Dorchester, where I received four or five stitches in my forehead. Later, after the stitches were removed, I found that I had gained a scar that would remain visible until much later in life when it blended into all of the other wrinkles on my forehead.

The thing is I hadn’t literally split my head open. My skull did not crack. My brains did not spill onto the floor. What had happened was that the skin on my forehead was cut; that’s all. Still, that was what folks called it then – splitting your head open.

It was the era of weird terminology concerning medical issues. Heads were split open with such frequency one would have thought our neighborhood was populated entirely with overripe melon-headed children. On the other end of the age spectrum, I had an elderly aunt who "took a shock". You might imagine she had inadvertently stuck her finger in a light bulb socket, but you would be wrong. She had suffered a stroke. And, of course, unwed teenage girls were never pregnant. They were said to have "gotten in trouble."

(Now they star in reality shows on MTV. The same can’t be said for the current crop of shock-takers and head-splitters, but there’s always an open spot on somebody’s network schedule, so all hope may not be lost for them.)

Those were the days, my friend; we thought they’d never end, for we were young and sure to catch something. And when we did, and were laid up in bed with it, most of the other mothers in the neighborhood sent their children to visit, maybe even to crawl into bed with you, in hopes that they might catch it, too. That way, they could get it over with and not have to worry about it anymore. Measles (Is there a more cruddily descriptive name for an illness?), chicken pox, the mumps, you name it; if one kid got it, everybody else tried to get it, too, never mind the discomfort, possible disfigurement, and, oh what the hell, death. It was like some sort of insane contest to see whether or not your child had what it took to survive. Also, in the words of many a chain-smoking father sitting by the bed in a sickroom and filling the air with clouds of cancer, it built character.

(Speaking of smoking, it stunted your growth. That was the dire warning we received if we were caught puffing a cigarette. Never mind that it rotted your lungs, blew up your heart, could lead to amputations due to poor circulation, and otherwise KILLED you. No, we were told to worry that we might be 6' 1" instead of 6' 3". They could have at least told us we might take a shock if we kept smoking.)

The cures for many of the ills we suffered were no better than the ridiculous names we gave them. If you split your head open, but not so much so that your parents felt the need to have it stitched back together, they were likely to apply Mercurochrome to the wound. Some of you may never have heard of Mercurochrome. That’s because the stuff has been outlawed for decades now. It was a bright red liquid containing mercury. Parents would swab this poison on their kids just as readily as they’d baste a turkey with butter. And the kids were damn glad, too, because the only other options were rubbing alcohol or iodine, both of which made it feel as though your mom had set fire to you. At least Mercurochrome didn’t sting much. It did tend to tattoo you, though. A wound painted with that stuff would invariably leave your skin red for weeks after the treatment, at least if you had bright white skin like I did.

And if you had bright white skin, you tended to sunburn, which was OK because some parents thought you’d get used to second-degree burns and be better off for it. A face full of big freckles was considered cute rather than an indication of the likelihood of skin cancer later in life. And if the sunburn hurt, your parents rubbed Noxzema on it. Noxzema, which I believe is still extant, was a MENTHOL-based cream. Yes, I’ve got to say that there was nothing quite so wonderful for the pain of burnt skin as rubbing menthol into it. Even better was when the coolness wore off, at which point you were left with a face and chest full of warm, drippy, greasy, white goop.

(And after a few days, your skin would peel off as though you were a rattlesnake during moulting season. There were those kids who tanned, and more power to their now-wrinkled and leathery faces. I may have had a scar on my forehead, freckles, permanently red-stained knees, and a stink of Noxzema, but at least my face doesn’t now resemble an old catcher's mitt.)

I shouldn’t be so vindictive. I had it better than a lot of kids. For instance, I know for a fact that every child in Korea was starving. My Mom told me. She said that they’d be happy to have my creamed corn. I told her that if they wanted it, why didn’t she pack it up in a box and send it to them? That very logical reply wasn’t what she expected. She laughed, bless her. Had she had less of a sense of humor, I might have been spanked (which is a subject for debate, these days, but was so accepted a practice during MY childhood that ANY parent in the neighborhood could tan a kid’s behind and not only would he or she not be arrested for it or sued, but your parents would usually thank the other grown up while apologizing for your less-than-sterling behavior. And, as a kid, you could expect another beating if you complained about it in any way.)

I may be giving you the impression that my parents were some sort of troglodytes. That wasn’t the case. My Mom and Dad were, for the times, unbelievably loving and enlightened. They never inflicted real pain on me (at least on purpose, as the Noxzema and rubbing alcohol and other things, despite the hurt, were meant to PREVENT pain in some way or another.) I knew some folks who really wailed on their kids. They took a belt in hand and left welts on them. It wasn’t questioned unless serious permanent dismemberment of some sort took place; for instance, if they split the kid’s head open.

Nowadays, kids wear helmets and pads and gloves and look like they’re ready to take the ice in the NHL as they ride down the street on their tricycles. And any parent who took a belt to a kid would be up on charges. We slather our kids with sunblock and cigarettes are unavailable to anyone without an I.D. proving that you’re old enough to be an idiot. Are we better off as a society? Probably. But those kids aren’t building any character, I can tell you that. How do you think they’re going to handle it someday when they take a shock? You can’t rub Noxzema on your brain, you know.

Soon, with more better stuff.


joeh said...

Amen brother, we had the same parents. I never knew Mecurochrome was poisen. When my mom left for assisted living 10 years ago her medicine cabenet still had a bottle of the stuff. It must have been over thirty years old. Does poisen have an expiration date. (Damn, that is a funny sentence and it was unintended.)

Thanks for the memories, and God help this generation, as you point out, what will toughen them up?

Buck said...

For instance, I know for a fact that every child in Korea was starving.

Your Mom took care of the Koreans while MY Mom was looking out for Chinese kids, who were all starving. Indians, too. Mom was multi-culti before multi-culti was cool.

Matt Conlon said...

Spanking was still popular when I was growing up, at least in my house.

...Well, no, that's not exactly accurate. I didn't get many spankings, I usually got slapped across the face. I tend to think it was because right before it, she'd say something about smacking the shit outta me. I wouldn't want my hand anywhere near an ass attached to someone I was smacking the shit out of either.

Being the internet ninja that I am when I read things I don't recognize, I googled Mercurochrome. According to wikipedia, the FDA "removed it from the "generally recognized as safe" and into the "untested" classification to effectively halt its distribution in the United States in 1998"

So instead of saying "We think it's ok" to "we don't know if it's ok". Here's an idea: Test it! friggin people.

Apparently it's still used it most of the rest of the world though.

Suldog said...

Joe - See Matt's comment and my reply to him.

Matt - Shhhhhhhhhh! It's not as funny if I say "It may or may not be a poison."

Buck - Your Mom was clever. She could reference more than one set of peoples, just in case you found out that the other was NOT starving.

Craig said...

Also, 'You're gonna put sombody's eye out!' Even though our toy guns fired actual projectiles that really might hit somebody in the eye (and boy, did THAT hurt. . .)

My mom always referenced the children in Africa, but I was a pretty non-finicky eater anyway. Except for anything involving beets or sauerkraut (which was a bit of a knotty problem, since Mom was German. . .)

We used Merthiolate, which was pretty similar to mercurochrome, I think. More like day-glo-orange-colored. It stung, but NOTHING like iodine. Sometime when I was in high school or college, I saw somebody using hydrogen peroxide as a topical disinfectant. It bubbles up real cool-like, but it doesn't stain, so what's the fun of that?

And remember Vicks Vaporub? I used to almost hope I'd catch a cold, just so Mom would rub a big glob of that stuff on my chest. . . Mmmmmm. . . Menthol. . .

Michelle H. said...

We were the Iodine and rubbing alcohol family. And my parents loved spanking us with the belt so much we got spanked even if we did nothing wrong but were just in the general vicinity of our property.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Oh, for the good ol' days, eh? :D

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

Sorry I'm late...
Hydrogen Peroxide was pretty popular around out house, before slathering on Mercurochrome, Merthiolate, or Iodine. I don't remember which country the starving kids were from, but I'm pretty sure they were oriental, and they could have my peas.
There was a kid from my grandparents neighborhood who fell off a cliff and did split his head open. I think he survived.
I didn't much care for Vaporub and I don't remember Noxzema being mentholated, but it sure was cold.

lime said...

i think we had mercurochrome AND merthiolate. and lord have mercy, rubbing alcohol. i was also a bit younger than you so there was also a bottle of bactine. my brother and i begged for bactine. i was not prone to ear infections but my brother was a little. i remember my mom getting into an argument with our grandfather because he wanted to blow cigarette smoke into my brother's ear to help his earache. kind of a mystifying remedy to my young mind.

and here we are, the fittest who have survived.

Anonymous said...

Ah, those were the days for sure. We had Monkey Blood (easier to say, but essentially the same thing, I think,and the red color was so cool we'd use it when we played cowboys and Indians.)I had so many near-misses that I'm sure I went overboard trying to protect my kids. From what I hear now, they still had enough near-misses when I wasn't looking that they developed plenty of character, thank goodness!

Suldog said...

Michelle - Well, just so long as they didn't put the belt to you and then apply alcohol and iodine. That would have stung!

Angie - Well, except for the belts and sunburns and tattoos and split heads and shocks and stunted growth, yeah.

(not my) Uncle Skip - I remember Noxzema being mentholated, but maybe I'm wrong. It's been known to happen. Let me check...

Yup. Menthol, as well as camphor and eucalyptus. Even better than I remembered it!

i beati said...

My husband's mother said to him so often don't jump off the roofs you'll kill your self so one day he jumped from one apt roof to the other and his mom opened the door to a little friend saying Donnie has killed himself. His leg was broken in 3 places.

Suldog said...

i beati - "Donnie has killed himself."

I know it's not really funny, but that's FUNNY!

Michelle H. said...

No, I was lucky enough to not have those tortures combined. :-)

And, by your comment to Angie, I'm wondering why you never got a tattoo? I figured you would have gotten one during your band days, being the rebel that you were/are.

Suldog said...

Craig - Vaporub was excellent. I get a whiff of it now and am instantly transported back to childhood.

Lime - I remember hearing about that cigarette-smoke-in-the-ear cure. I'm not sure where. I never had it applied to one of MY earaches. It may work, though. Nicotine does have some pain-killing properties, I think.

Barbara - You bring to mind another idiotic episode of my childhood. I remember squirting red food coloring INTO MY EYE because it made my eye look like it was bleeding. I ran to show My Mother how cool it looked. I'm surprised she didn't drop dead right in front of me. And I'm probably lucky I didn't permanently tint my vision in some way. What a dopey kid!

Suldog said...

Haphazard - Is your mother also Craig's mother? He referenced Africa, as well.

Michelle - I almost got a tattoo. All of us, in my first band, were going to get the same one, to show our solidarity and the fact that we were brothers and would never split up. We split up about two months later, so I dodged a bullet there!

Joan said...

A hot match (flame was blown out) against the tick....every summer.
I loved those smoke rings my Dad could make. I thought he was amazing.
My brother was just talking about buying cigars when he was 10. They didn't even ask if they were for my Dad. lol They weren't.

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

Buying cigarettes by the carton because nobody ever doubted they were for anyone but parents
Hiding in the crawl space under the house to avoid the belt

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

I stand corrected. I suppose the menthol just wasn't quite as noticeable as in some other products?

Karen said...

Yep, we could have been siblings. We got spankings and I remember my dad holding onto one of my arms while I twirled around him... he trying his best to swat my butt. My mom used Noxema ... still remember that smell!

Suldog said...

Joan - Oh, sure, folks used to send kids in the neighborhood to buy them cigarettes all the time. Nobody ever asked any questions.

IT - Well, the "crawl space" itself is probably off-limits to most kids these days. Wouldn't want Little Snowflake to get a spider bite or something :-)

Karen - Talking about you twirling around to avoid a spanking reminds me of how folks used to swing kids around by their arms (I stil do it for my nieces and nephews, who love it) but some folks think it's horrible because Junior's arm might come out of its socket. Nah. Kids are amazingly resilient :-)

Jeni said...

Maybe Buck and I might somehow be related but further back in the family tree because my GRANDMOTHER always told me "Children in China are starving!" and of course, because she said that to me, so did my Mom. And since I'm probably older than any other commenters here and that piece of wisdom came down to me from my Grandmother, well age rules in that case then doesn't it?
This post reminded me of so many things from my much, much younger life -not a thing there that didn't exist in my own youth! I'm just wondering though if anyone else's Mom was a registered nurse though? Mine was and she was prone then to treating most any and all illnesses as well as injuries without the consult of a physician, which then of course, ruled out the probability of getting stitches. I ran a pick (if anyone knows what type of instrument I'm referring to there, let me tell you it's nowhere near like a pic for a guitar!) into my leg -the lower part of my shin -and my Mom just cleaned it out really good with hydrogen peroxide, then pulled it together with an adhesive tape (the white kind ya know) bandage. That would got checked daily, more peroxide poured into it and desitin salve, which was her favorite cure-all stuff, and re-bandaged up. After about 3-4 days, she casually mentioned that I probably should have had stitches in it, but well, it seemed to be healing okay so no problem then! I still believe if all my aunts/uncles and cousins hadn't been here at our house the morning of a family reunion when I slipped on the wet grass in a game of tag and broke my left arm that my Mom would have set and splinted my arm herself. But with that many relatives around, she was pretty much forced into taking me to the emergency room to have it x-rayed and set there then by a bonafide orthopedic physician -which means she paid out good money to have that injury tended to and that was usually what controlled whatever treatment plan took over in an illness or injury in my youth -MONEY! But hey, we all lived to tell about these things, didn't we?

Pearl said...

Noxema. The very word conjures the smell...

Never split my head open, and never took a shock, but I will let you know that, as far as my mother was concerned, just about everything could be cured by either pooping or applying a hot washcloth to the affected area.

These medical treatments did not affect me or my adult personality.



Jackie said...

What about being given laxatives because one needed "a good cleaning out". Disgusting. I don't think I'll ever forget the awful taste of Syrup of Black Draught. Ugh!
A nurse (RN) told me last week that peroxide is no longer being used in the medical has been found that it kills the good as well as the bad. Sigh. I can't tell you the days that I just poured it on a wound and watched the bubbles froth. What's next?

Suldog said...

Jeni - I've often wondered if there weren't some moms in Korea telling their kids that there were starving children in America who would love to have their Kim Chi.

Pearl - Pearl - Or gargling. I forgot about that. Warm salt water. Ugh.

(Funny thing is, though, that it did tend to work, at least on a sore throat.)

Suldog said...

Jackie - Thanks you so much for bringing to mind the marvelous taste of Kaopectate. Blah!

Hilary said...

Noxema.. of course I remember the smell but I loved the cobalt blue jar. I now have glass dishware in that exact shade.

Mecurochrome.. I was three when I got the chicken pox and doctor's order was for my mom to allow me to apply Mecurochrome to the itchy spots at will. The idea was to sooth the itch and keep me distracted and amused. And full of mercury.

Our starving kids were generic.. they were just "in the world."

Great post, Jim. It brings back so many memories. You're tops at that.

Suldog said...

Hilary - I, too, loved the cobalt blue. It's still one of my favorite things to see sunlight streaming through a cobalt blue bottle.

Jimmy said...

Lordy did you bring back a few childhood memories, I also remember a purple liquid Mom called Purple Medicine, not sure what it was but it was as bad as the Mercurochrome in my opinion, it stung and stained just as bad.

I also remember the man at the gas station keeping a pack of smokes under the counter to sell to the kids one at a time.

Wont see that now days.

Suldog said...

Jimmy - One smoke at a time - I remember that used to be a 'service' offered by some of the stores on Dover Street (which could have been considered part of Bostons "Skid Row" at one time.) I was old enough, and well off enough, to not be wondering about selling to kids instead of unfortunates who could only afford to buy 'em that way, but I wouldn't doubt kids were buying them, too.

stephen Hayes said...

Did your parents ever blow cigarette smoke in your ear to cure an earache?

messymimi said...

And have you seen the playgrounds these days? They are so "safe" that the kids don't want to bother playing in them any more. That's why my kids go to the creek, and we've made many a visit to the ER for things like stitches. Building character. (And my kids are characters, but that's another story.)

silly rabbit said...

My threat to my kids was "You'll break your neck!" One of my son's friends actually did crack his neck and had to be in a head cage for many months. My son took it seriously after that.

I also cracked my head open over my right eye and my mom was a believer in the starving children in China. My dad's favorite line was "You'll give yourself appaplexi" which I think is the same as "having a shock". Goodness only knows how to spell such a thing.

I do think we over protect our children these days. Especially their little egos. Sounds bad, but seriously, they need to learn how to take guff, because life gives you tons of it. No wonder teen suicide is up. They don't know how to handle being teased or shaking things off anymore. I can't think of a time in my kid life when a bully wasn't near by to sneer or say some snarky thing, if not a threat of violence. Not to mention the kindness of friends to each other. Hee hee

Absolut Ruiness said...

You split my sides with this one! I passed on the favor to my friends in my work place. Now i see guts spilled everywhere!

Suldog said...

Stephen - No, that never happened, though I can see where it might be slightly effective. Nicotine does have some analgesic properties, as I recall. Whether they would be worth the stinky ear, I don't know.

Mimi - Yes! Playgrounds are made of foam rubber now. I used to fall off of a jungle gym, made of rusty iron, at least once a year. It made me the man I am today, dammit!

Silly Rabbit - Yeah, even though I was unmercifully bullied on occasion, I think there is some worth in it. If you don't learn how to fight back in some way, you grow up defenseless. Of course, it would be swell if we didn't have to have defenses, but the world isn't that way and never will be, unfortunately.

Absolut - I'm sorry I caused all of your gizzards and livers and stuff to fall out. Stuff 'em back in and carry on as best you can!

Daryl said...

oh boy ... when we met we must remember to compare split your head open scars .. i got mine from a game called PUSH ... wherein you and your friends line up and push one another .. clever game no? ... i was lucky enough to be pushed into the sharp edge of a mailbox .. a trip to the hospital, 7 stitches and a very angry mother .. my scar which was awesome finally blended into the other fabulous lines in my forehead ..

Sueann said...

And Vicks Vapor Rub slathered on ones' chest for any kind of sniffle! Ha
Loved this post.
Personally I think we may be in need of some spanking nowadays.

Hilary said...

Oh gosh, I remember it all so well. I grew up the same way, and I don't think it hurt me one bit.
When my kids complain about my grandchildren, I always tell them the same thing, they need their a** battled. Simple as that.

Sometimes, they listen.

Jenny Woolf said...

Yeah, I can remember at school the teacher showed us mercury, a dry liquid. We could play with it. Cool! it really was.

I've been reading a book about a nurse training during the war in Britain. How tough life was then - and what is more the food was disgusting. I'd rather live now, even tho I do sneer at those toddlers who wear kneepads and helmets for riding on their little trikes.

Suldog said...

Daryl - PUSH sounds like a distant cousin of a game we played in my neighborhood called PIGPILE. The rules were everybody jumped on top of some guy who wasn't looking :-)

SueAnn says - "Personally I think we may be in need of some spanking nowadays."

Your place or mine?

Hilary - Take your grandchildren out and rub their knees on some asphalt. They'll thank you for it later in life :-)

Jenny - Yes! We were allowed to play with mercury, too, even though getting it into a cut you might not know you had would have resulted in some sort of hideousness. Ah, good times!

Kat said...

I love this post. Love.
I did a post on this same topic of how we overprotect our kids these days, and I think to our detriment. I don't think it gives them many opportunities to develop common sense, something that is SORELY lacking in today's world.

On a side note, I STILL use Noxzema for my sunburns. :)

TexWisGirl said...

too funny! congrats on your POTW! thanks for the memories. my sis always used noxema and we got it sometimes if we took a burn. and that red tincture stuff - never had it in our house but saw kids with it. always wondered why it wasn't around anymore. :)

Suldog said...

Kat - Common sense? What's that?

TexWisGirl - Welcome aboard, and thanks for the kind words!

Bill Yates said...

Jim, I stayed healthy because of the vitamins that Mama gave me. They weren't tasty little treats shaped like Flintstones; it was a LIQUID vitamin that tasted just like a One-A-Day smells if you split it open. One spoonful, followed immediately by a cracker to cleanse the palate of the horrific intrusion it had just experienced. Our injuries were also treated with Mecurochrome, the wonderful red stain remaining with us for long after. However, if it was a minor scratch, Mama would pour hydrogen peroxide over it, which didn't hurt at all and as a bonus produced an amazing bubbling effect that we were convinced was proof that all germs were experiencing a tragic demise.

Suldog said...

Bill - Ugh. One-A-Days were nasty-smelling. God bless you!

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

Oh man you just reminded me of the stuff my mom used to use on us to disinfect a cut...white bottle, green cap & red letters. I can NOT for the life of me remember the name of that stuff!

Which probably isn't a bad thing, it stung like 8 million bees just jabbed you in the knee (or insert your cut body part here) every time.

Cricket said...

heh, heh... mercurochrome. Preceded by green soap. I was recently at the beach w a German friend who had a bottle in her beach kit, which I found out when her son's friend stepped on something sharp, the which was removed and the cut painted red.

Pigpile, too. Yep. Sometimes we called that game "peer pressure," get it?

I suppose mercurochrome is a step above 18th century medicine, where you might be fed a spoonful of a mercury concoction: the violent vomiting to follow proving that the "doctor" had, in fact, done something.

That's ok, though. Do whatever it is they tell you to do or not do now... this time they've got it right. Sure. Wasn't so long ago you'd have been laughed at for suggesting that perhaps you might wipe off the saw between patients.

I'm sure we both played with mercury... hitting a blob with a hammer to watch all the pretty little balls shoot out? Maybe not.

Kerry said...

Apropos of smoking...I really miss candy cigarettes.

Suldog said...

Jenn - I wish I had come up with that bee line...

Cricket - Green soap - Lava? Felt like 100-grit sandpaper on your knee or wherever? Yup. I remember it well. It was standard issue for dads back in the day.

Kerry - That did it. There will have to be a whole new post now. Thanks!

Chris said...

Yeah, our nation's safety rules have pretty much wussified the juvenile population. My buddies and I would never have considered wearing a helmet on our bicycles . . . unless it was a replica football helmet when we jumped trash cans, but that's another story.

Pain makes a man out of you, as someone once said. Probably right before getting injured.

Pearl said...

Sul, you got it. :-)

You are on my blogroll.