Homegrown healthcare

Farm Forum

There’s a persistent nattering these days regarding “healthcare” this and “healthcare” that. It’s enough to make you sick and tired of hearing about healthcare! Good luck with getting coverage for that particular malady.

The constant complaints about our healthcare delivery system has caused us to lose sight of the fact that things have improved astronomically from “the good old days.”

For thousands of years, a village shaman or local witchdoctor would be in charge of delivering healthcare. Since neither the office nor the waiting room were yet invented, the healer had no choice but to go to the bedside of the afflicted. Incantations would be chanted and potions – many of which included such things as an eyeball of a newt or the toenail of a bat — were administered.

The shaman would keep watch over the sufferer until he or she got better, or didn’t. And if things went south for the patient, no one was ever sued for malpractice because lawyers hadn’t been invented. Besides, the witchdoctor was probably paid with turned turnips or rancid rutabagas. Few attorneys will take on a case where remuneration involves dividing a pile of yucky yams.

Those simpler times have long since faded into the past. On the bright side, healthcare delivery has made huge leaps, mainly because it no longer depends on such things as the availability of salamander eyelashes.

By the time I came along, our modern healthcare system was fully formed. Its most important advancement, as far as I was concerned, was the use of candy to soothe kids who had just been given an injection.

I don’t know if my parents had an official family healthcare strategy when I was growing up on our dairy farm. If they did, it could best be summed up with “Don’t you dare get sick! And if you get hurt it was probably your fault, so don’t come running to me!” None of which kept us kids from becoming sick or getting injured.

Major medical issues were treated by Doc Scheller, our family physician. I was a clumsy kid, perpetually stepping on rusty nails or cutting myself with my rusty jackknife, so I became well acquainted with Doc Scheller’s candy jar. To this day, I will involuntarily salivate at the sight of a loaded syringe.

I dreaded injections, but was told that not getting your tetanus shot can lead to lockjaw. Sadly, medical science hasn’t yet advanced to the point where certain individuals – and we all know who they are! — could be given just a little lockjaw.

It’s hard to imagine how my parents managed to pay for healthcare for eight kids. I do know, however, that they often employed creative solutions.

For instance, when two of my sisters came down with ringworm, they were duly taken to Doc Scheller for treatment. When a third sister later acquired ringworm, Dad must have looked at the medication he had used to treat ringworm in cattle and thought, “I wonder if …”

The answer was yes: the same medication that cures ringworm in cattle will also clear up ringworm on kids. And for a lot less money!

Other expense-saving healthcare tactics included using string from a feed sack to suture cuts. This was never actually done to us, but it was broadly hinted at.

Perhaps the most formidable tool our parents used to prevent illness and injury was the words “baling twine.”

An inescapable law of farming is “if you have livestock, you will eventually have dead stock.” The deceased animal must be disposed of, but it first had to be drug out of its pen, usually by hooking onto a back leg with a chunk of baling twine. As such, the words “baling twine” came to carry ominous implications.

Say that I or one of my of siblings fell from a tree, acquiring numerous scrapes and contusions on the way down. A cursory examination by a fellow tree-climber revealed no protruding broken bones and only minor bleeding.

“This is a bad one!” the victim might exclaim through a flood of tears. “How does it look? Should we call Doc Scheller?”

“Naw, that would just be a waste of time. Here, I’ve got some baling twine. Gimme your back leg.”

The victim’s attitude would undergo a swift transformation.

“You know what, this bleeding really isn’t all that bad! I think it might stop by itself. And I think having one crooked leg is kind of cool, don’t you?”

The so-called healthcare “experts” can argue all they like. All I am saying is that hardly any cure works better than an application of the words “baling twine.”

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