Monday, April 11, 2016

I Is For Iodine, One Of Many Tinctures From Hell - A Slightly Fictionalized Memoir #AtoZChallenge


      It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.  Jumping on the bed, jumping off the roof, doing a cartwheel straight into a wood rail fence, pounding a strip of "caps" (remember those little gunpowder filled strips?) - with a hammer, all seemingly great ideas until I lost layers of skin or split something open. Then came the quick calculation of whether it was worth going home for treatment. Was it oozing blood, or streaming? Was it something that I could hide? Did anyone see and run off to report it to the adults? Could I come up with a plausible excuse (I tripped on my shoelace) as opposed to revealing that I was trying to see if I could fit my entire head into the mailbox?
     I'd been warned many times about the dangers of infection. You could have your whole arm turn black and fall off. You could contract lockjaw and die a terrible death - starving, raving and foaming at the mouth. (In my mind I had created a horrifying amalgamation of tetanus and rabies.) The alternative was to be doctored with something from the medicine cabinet.
     The current crop of kiddies are soft little crybabies. They get a scratch and are slathered with a soothing antibiotic ointment and a bandage with an adorable cartoon character. We older folks walked 10 miles to school, uphill (both ways) in the snow, barefoot; and when we bled, we were painted with iodine, merthiolate, or mercurochrome.
     Merthiolate burned like hell. Ever get hot sauce on a hangnail or paper cut? Yeah. Now imagine someone liberally daubing that finger from a bottle of ghost pepper sauce for a minute. Then telling you to "stop crying and blow on it". So you stood there, frantically blowing on whatever unfortunate body part you'd traumatized, spraying spit everywhere and getting dizzy from the effort. After about - oh, ten minutes - you were able to function as a normal human being again. Of course, both merthiolate and mercurochrome dyed your skin a reddish-brown color, which lasted for days. One summer I walked around with so many red splats I looked like I'd been blown out of a foxhole during the war.
     Mercurochrome, evil cousin of merthiolate, supposedly didn't hurt as much. Poppycock. It also left telltale red stains. The only good thing was that a healthy application could make an injury look a lot worse than it was, which could be used to garner pity from grandparents and an excuse from gym.
     At some point iodine appeared in our bathroom. Satan must have dropped it off. It was wicked, wicked stuff; it felt like liquid fire being poured into the wound, and dyed your skin the color of pee. Apparently a watered down version of iodine is not so bad, but the product sold in the 1960s had an alcohol base which gave the tincture its bite.
     Finally, when I was around ten years old, a miracle appeared.  Bactine. Actually, Bactine was developed by Bayer in 1947 and first used in 1950. It is an antiseptic. It also contains Lidocaine, a PAIN RELIEVER! Why did so many children have to suffer with iodine and the tortuous M twins?
     I can only think of two reasons: the "pain build character" philosophy, or the "if it hurts, it must be doing you some good" idea. I could offer a third possibility from my parents: "Maybe if it hurts enough, you won't be stupid enough to __fill in the blank_____ again". The flaw in that line of reasoning is that I never repeated a single stupid act. There were hundreds of others to choose from.
      The FDA banned and stopped the sale of both Merthiolate and Mercurochrome in the 1990s. Seems they contain stuff called thimerosal and merbromin, also known as mercury.  Perhaps members of the older generation are brain damaged as a result of childhood first aid practices- the current political scene certainly makes a case for it.  Hospitals still use iodine; my brother-in-law recently had foot surgery, and they painted him with it. He had a reaction and developed a horrible, itchy rash under his boot.
     Evil stuff, I tell you. Evil stuff.


  1. I agree ... EVIL STUFF this iodine thing.

    And your writing is so funny: The flaw in that line of reasoning is that I never repeated a single stupid act. There were hundreds of others to choose from.

    Aneeta from
    How to Tell a Great Story

  2. I'm fortunate my parents never doctored me with iodine! Peroxide was bad enough.

    1. I still use peroxide. The foaming makes me feel like it's doing something worthwhile. Like those "scrubbing bubbles" from Dow bathroom cleaner...

  3. I am glad that I did not get hurt much as a child. Funny thing is I think I am much more accident prone now, but nothing a little neosporin cant handle!

    1. Now that I'm an adult and have some money, I can afford supervised pursuits and safety equipment (like rock climbing) instead of jumping out of trees and climbing up rain spouting.

  4. OMG, I remember the hellish pain of both Merthiolate and Mercurochrome. I can hear my mom now. "Get over her, it's only Mercurochrome ... yes ... yes, yes. I swear. The one that doesn't hurt. I promise." Your writing voice is hilarious and truly unique. You actually took me back to that gosh awful putrid green tiled bathroom with the horrible fluffy curtains. I'm standing over the double sink vanity, the water is running and my mom is jerking me by my uninjured arm toward the sink. My feet are digging into the shag rug, but it slips and I slide toward her. She has me. There's no escape. She pours the reddish/brown liquid pain over my finger, the same finger that she's pinching between her hand (I guess to add more pain). I shriek in pain. She tells me to blow on it. Like an idiot, I blow and the pain intensifies. I sob, blowing snot bubbles from my nose. My older brothers poke their heads into the bathroom and laugh at me for being such a crybaby and tell me I'm too little to hang out with them and I can't go exploring in the bayou tomorrow. Mom hears that and her eyes bulge. She's about to snap the bandaid on my cut, but I duck from underneath her arm and haul butt. Iodine was ten times worse. And yes, kids today are pampered babies. "Oh sweetie are you okay. Come here, let me doctor you up, with some antibiotic ointment, here take this ibuprofen. We wouldn't want you to ever feel an ounce of pain. And now here's your bandaid. "But mom, I want the tie dyed bandaid. No not that one. The one that glows in the dark. So after the kid runs form the room, mom bends over, her back aching and picks up the wrappers from the first five bandaids that the kid didn't approve of. I'm kidding about that last part.

    Whenever mine complain, I tell them the Merthiolate and Mercurochrome stories and then they get smart and say something like, "Oh please don't launch into another one of your stories about how you had to walk five miles to school and you didn't have money for lunch or shoes. All with an exaggerated eye roll. LOL. Loved this post.

    1. What is it with the Universal Instruction "Blow on it!" ? How did that originate, what's the purpose, and why did every mother tell us to do that? One of the great mysteries of life.

      Thanks for sharing your childhood woes! :)