ToquiNotes: On Mother's Day, Medical Treatments and Misery by Way of All Mom's Old Medicine of Choice

By Jeff Toquinto on May 07, 2022 from ToquiNotes via

I was too young to remember – thankfully. But as I approached the age of 2 and was getting my walking skills down, I fell down my basement steps in my old home in North View, which would be a problem no matter the situation.
What made this situation particularly bad, other than the fact my dad had not fixed the door leading to the basement as requested numerous times by mom, is at that time there was an old hot water heater at the bottom of the stairs and the back of yours truly had an encounter with it. My back, as one might imagine, lost out to the rusty pipe it encountered.
The misery, however, was only beginning. My mother, God bless her, did what any good mother would do in the early 1970s fearing their child might be subject to tetanus. She grabbed a bottle of rubbing alcohol and doused the wound.
My mother informs me she is fairly sure I screamed, but only remembers her crying over the incident. Considering I have no tolerance for pain at 53, I am certain I let out a primal scream that roused the neighbors back in the days when you actually knew all of your neighbors.
The good news? My mom’s visit to our family doctor, the late Dr. Joseph Gilman (back when you could see your doctor immediately), was a bit in disbelief about my mom’s quick medical reaction but insisted anything that may have been in the wound that could have been problematic was now officially killed.
I bring this up to salute all of the mothers out there, particularly those above their 60s who may have reached for the same type of quick solution to such a scary medical problem decades before quick cares were available and there was a drug store on every other city block.
As much as I am thankful for not remembering the situation, I am thankful for something else for what did not happen that I am certain would not have been doused from my memory. I am so gracious mom grabbed the alcohol as opposed to the bottles of Merthiolate and Mercurochrome that graced our medicine cabinet.
Merthiolate and Mercurochrome. Does anyone remember those? If it was used on you, then you remember, particularly Merthiolate, which many referred to as “hellfire.” Mom said Mercurochrome did not hurt as much and our internet friends via Google agreed. Multiple sites point out Mercurochrome was water-based causing it to sting less than Merthiolate, which was alcohol based. Of course, the rubbing alcohol poured on my back was 100 percent alcohol based, but I digress.
This was the cure for all open wounds generations back; the same as castor oil was for any stomach ailment was in its day. While castor oil is made today, primarily in India, those red devil bottles of Merthiolate and Mercurochrome are no longer on the market.
Thank goodness for that.
There is a reason for it. The reason has nothing to do with the amount of pain they caused – although mom insists mercurochrome was not painful – to those subject to their use on skinned knees, elbows, or any type of abrasion.
It was banned. Merthiolate, along with Mercurochrome, contained mercury. Because substantial amounts of it are toxic and potentially problematic, it was banned. After a little more research (see Google), the exact date of banning by the FDA is not certain, perhaps 1998, but definitely in the late 1990s. Apparently, many other generations were able to fill the wrath of Merthiolate.
Considering folks tend to hang on to things in their medicine cabinets, I am betting a few individuals out there may still have a bottle of this lying around. If so, I do not want to see it.
While I have no recollection of the basement fall, I have plenty of memories of Merthiolate. I remember my mom swabbing it on, as well as Mercurochrome, and it would be dark red and then turn pink. It left a deep pink stain on your skin.
The stain would stick out from underneath the bandage that was soon to cover the wound. It was a badge of honor, or a tattoo of honor, back in the era of kids playing outside every single second of every single day from sunup to sundown.
You came home twice in those days. The first time was when mom told you dinner was ready and the second time as a kid was when it was too dark, and you needed to come inside for the night.
In a way, I am glad I remember Merthiolate. I am equally thankful for my mother – and thousands upon thousands of others just like her – using what was believed to be best to keep their children safe and healthy. 
On this Mother’s Day, it seems only appropriate to recall this unique, and less than wonderful, memory from the past.
Thank you, mom, for the pain. It was worth it.
Here is wishing her and all the mothers out there a beautiful and pain-free day.
Editor's Note: Top photo shows the deadly duo inside of everyone's medicine chest from the 1950s into the 1990s. Bottom photo shows me happily celebrating my first birthday as my brother Tim looks on. It would be several months later that the smile would be gone from my face thanks to tumbling down the stairs.

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