A Sick Day Reflection


I grabbed the jar of Vicks from the rarely used catch-all medicine basket in the closet. Expiration 2002. I unscrewed the lid, and, hey, it still smelled like whatever I remembered Vicks smelling like, so I dug my finger into the goo. I’d been coughing for 48 hours nonstop, and hadn’t had any relief from the natural remedies I’d been using, so I smeared some across my chest and under my nose. I remembered my dad slathering us in a layer of Vicks when we’d get sick as kids, and although I now liken it to those poor ducks with their feathers coated after an oil spill, it must have been a remedy worth revisiting because that’s what I did out of desperation.

My Italian father’s medicinal supplies were simple. Vicks and a stack of old cloth diapers, including the original diaper pins. If you’re too young to remember these, envision a large sharp safety pin with a yellow plastic head that had probably been a smiling duck face at some point before diaper duty took its toll. If you were coughing or sneezing or thinking about either of these maladies, he would rub our upper chest and back with a thick layer of the menthol magic, then drape a diaper over the front and back, adjoined at the shoulders with two diaper pins. And in case that wasn’t enough, he’d rub our foreheads down, and craft a diaper headband, pinned in the back, for safety I presume. For the final touch, he’d rub the excess from his hands under our noses, until we melted into a Vicks VapoRub sauna. (Apparently, my medicine basket is similar to his, only I found a handful of nail polishes mixed amongst the bandaids, baby’s old rectal thermometer, and a few ointments.)

His only other surefire remedy was the hot toddy. Hot tea, whiskey, honey, and lemon. In that order. Even into my teens, he would mix up the boiling potion for coughs, colds, and cramps. Yes, while other menstruating girls took Midol, my killer cramps were calmed at night with a not-so-kiddy cocktail. 

Looking back, with few exceptions, his treatment plans worked. i won’t mention the snuff that I occasionally snorted, because my mom "frowned heavily" when she found out her 4 year old was given a little pinch to relieve a stuffy nose. Such is the medicine cabinet of an Italian family. I should mention that my Irish mother, the voice of reason, kept a bottle of baby aspirin and a pharmacy-delivered antibiotic on hand as backup, so between the two of them, we had plenty of incentive to stay well.

So here I am, five days later, feeling well enough to join the human race again. I have a bit of voice returning, and I can almost finish a paragraph without blowing my nose. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a full on virus that has me non-functioning, and I hope it’s an eternity before it happens again. I visited my functional medicine practitioner, taken immune boosting supplements, used steam and salt room therapies, gotten plenty of rest, and even took a prescription cough suppressant.

But I know somehow the expired Vicks and the strong hot toddy I made last night played a part in my healing. Thanks for your medical wisdom dad. I’m on the mend.

Lisa Hautly