Drugs were always taboo in my family. Not sure if they were considered a weakness, an excuse not to avoid or turn from the rigours of life, but whether an allergy ,an accident or procedure, one was supposed to grit their teeth and go it without medicinal support. That just was how we managed our life, one step at a time, dragging our feet forward, no matter the rocky, twisted, unfair pavements we were encountering.
My father in his ten months at Riverdale Hospital during his polio siege described how he was able to project the ravaging death of his nerves sparking and swizzling up his back onto the bedside night table beside him. Many years later, I of three herniated disks, might rate the back pain of herniated disks far beyond childbirth or surgery. As his limbs were devoured and ravaged by polio, his spine the focus of the disease, I was incredulous at his ability to banish himself from that agony, a mental meditative warrior, who unable to physically remove himself from the lashing strikes of a ninja assailant, accepted but transmitted his torment.
If childbirth is a hill, back pain is the craggy Austrian Alps. The electrical jolts that race and rock through you, shocking and jolting you are indescribable in the realm of torture, one in which you long never to twitch, turn or tap your body so to avoid igniting the raging red hot flames piercing and penetrating your body. So how he endured, I have no idea.
As children ,our dentist the kindly Dr. Mueller was the only person I ever knew to call me Patsy. Because my father did not believe in freezing, our teeth were the sites for pain. Before fluoride, cavities were often deep and crater-like, veering perilously too close to the nerves in wait for a metal probe that jolted us into a learning: that going to the dentist was a necessary evil to be endured, but roundly feared . With no calming agent, the intensity of pain both my sister and I tolerated and complained of were rebuked by our father, querulous that we would even want an extra loading of discomfort by submitting to a needle that in itself hurt, he would state, honestly amazed. Whether it was the extra cost which in truth he could not afford or truly his own example of being able to withstand his own past pain, I do not know. But for the rest of my life, I was conditioned to hate those bi- yearly visits, some teeth verging dangerously close to demise because poor Dr.Carl Mueller, himself, had a difficult time, working on girls who squirmed and twisted even before the procedures commenced.From his reminisces and twice a year excursions, I learned to tough it out, no painkillers allowed, accepting and embracing the dictums of no drugs as my own. If our father had been so brave in his own terrible onslaught, should we not perform as uncomplaining little soldiers too? Even my mother’s,” Maybe Saul…” was not met with a response. Maybe a look of disregard or failure.
And when as a young mother myself with a bad cold, I did popped a Corricin, a favoured cold remedy in the 80’s, and my tongue began to grow, swelling and enlarging to touch the edge of my cheeks and fill my mouth, causing my speech to become sloppy and unintelligible, we raced to the hospital to learn I was now- not previously, but now allergic to aspirin and aspirin- properties. Were my parents correct: that taking a medication was punishable by something worse than attempting to release us from a bit of pain.
The mind tells us strange things.
Yes, there were aspirin substitutes I was told, but their molecular structures were not all that different to aspirin, so be wary. With a second pregnancy, I carried some prescribed tablets in my purse should my tongue begin to engorge, these talismen dissolving in the sweaty hands that cupped them continually in panic, particularly in the darkness of sleep when nightmares danced in my head, taunting and terrifying, overriding my rational being who whispered,” perhaps you have unknowingly imbibed an offending aspirin product or its second cousin that is about to teach you a sharp lesson. Ha ha.”
Even at 70, these early behaviours linger, warning me that any medication may swell or disrupt something within. And in truth, even the present day medicine-men and women cannot know for sure, what will, or might not trigger swelling, speaking in likelihoods, statistics, hopeful assurances. Some retort, “ Check with your pharmacist.” Ah- ha
For in fact, the hot itchy hives that erupted on my skin, the ertacaria, one doctor in the 90’s lectured to me were neurotic, not triggered by the hot of my sweaty feet in perspiring boots or cold ice seeped through the seams of my mittens as I cupped snowballs -that were actually the catalyst. And although I do believe the mind holds great sway, turning a sunny day to gloom and clouds, the cause of some of my unrelenting itchy hives was eventually identified as sulfa, not my much maligned over sensitivity and emotions.
Perhaps my father’s scorn was levelled because of the asthma drugs and intense reactions to yearly hay fever that caused his nostrils to seal and his breathing to be corrupted and uneven, even the weekly shots not offering much release from his suffering body. Likely these reactions lay behind his ridicule of plants and flowers, for both held the potential to render his life even more difficult. But as a child, you are merely scornful, choosing not to look beyond the surface, merely holding back your own anger for fear of a calling down, once more your sensitivity and sloppy emotions to be mocked, tears escaping to underline your weakness.
As children, we absorb much directly or indirectly from our homes, our parents, our upbringing. As we form, bits and pieces of knowledge adhere to our souls, moulding us beyond the genetic properties with which we have been gifted- or not.
Often we attempt and are successful at reasoning with our unconscious selves, explaining that we comprehend the patterns that make us crazy and plunge us back to our obedient childhoods. But the seed once planted whether dormant or hidden deep in the snow of our active brains, lies in wait for the moment that renders us a child, observing our parents who believed for the moment they were preferring wise ways. In the end, we must forgive them and look within to our own management of self.