Vicks, the Wonder Drug


My mother was a nurse from 1941 to 1948, which made her the family resource on all health advice for many years. But along with her medical advice came quite a bit of homespun “wisdom.” When I was little, unhardened Jello was her answer to most stomach ailments, and Mexsana powder was what she put on all scrapes. And the magical balm of the cold sufferer was Vicks Vaporub.

Rubbing Vicks on people’s chests was basic practice for novices. When I had a cough or sore throat or laryngitis, my mother would slather Vicks on my neck at night before bed and then take an old sock and wrap my neck in it and secure it with a safety pin. Often, she’d have me put some in my nostrils (not recommended on the jar) to clear my sinuses. And sometimes she’d make me take a dollop of Vicks and swallow it whole, as a chaser. That part was pretty gruesome, but the throat wrap practice stuck with me through adulthood, and I have to admit to owning an old gray sock that I keep with a safety pin in it just for that purpose. Which I used for The Cough From Hell just this week.

But as she got older, Mom also used Vicks for other things, like toenail fungus. She said her cronies all did it and it worked. Yeah, right, Mom. She also put it on her feet to stop a cough. Well, I figured this was just a bunch of octogenarian legend on the order of her other ideas that we should unplug all appliances when not in use and that one must shred every bit of correspondence with one’s address on it. But this week, The Cough From Hell just would not quit. Don’t worry. It’s not pneumonia. It’s a shallow cough fueled by a drip and perpetuated by the irritation it causes in the bronchi. Been there before. Seen the movie. Bought the T-shirt.  Especially in 1994 when I was nine months pregnant and past my due date. Which is another story.

Anyway, this week I was so busy coughing and napping from the coughing that I couldn’t get to the doctor for some Tessalon perles, those magic cough stoppers. (I don’t like codeine—it makes me queasy.) So last night, at 7:30, I was exhausted and had been coughing hard all day—day 15 of this cold. Enough already. In an effort to get a real rest, I took out the old jar of Vicks (really old—dated 2011) and tried it. Not being that flexible in the low back, I got a spatula and scooped out a dollop of Vicks and spread it on the bottom of each foot, just like cake icing.

And my cough STOPPED. Like magic. No irritation, no fuss, just calm. And I slept like a baby for eight hours, getting up once, just once, all night. No drama, no diaphragm spasms, no dreams. With my feet all toasty in their Vicks socks. Of course, I woke up at 3:30 for the day, but what a way to sleep! I may use this from now on for sleep, even when I don’t have a cough.



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