Way back in the last century, when I was a child, my brother suffered from boils. Unfortunately, for him, our dad had also suffered from boils in his childhood and, despite certain significant medical advances (like antibiotics), he knew all about treating them.
‘No need for a doctor,’ Dad would say. ‘We’ll use Bates’ Salve.’
Bates’ Salve was a small, brown lipstick sized remedy that Mum kept in the bathroom cabinet. At the first sign of a boil my brother would brother would be made to lie on the bathroom floor and submit to its treatment. Why the bathroom floor? God only knows. It was the scene of many such family operations. I spent many a nose bleed with a wad of tissues in hand and my back pressed flat to the floor. The ceramic tiles had a delightfully cooling effect and, as most of my nose bleeds were heat related, it seemed to do the trick.
Anyway – back to the salve.
Picture this scene:
My brother writhing and sobbing on the bathroom floor. Dad striking a match and holding the salve up to a flame. The Salve ‘hubbling and bubbling,’ molten globules dropping onto a clean white bandaid.
‘The hotter the better,’ Dad always said while mum held my screeching brother down.
(Somehow in my memory Dad always rubbed his hands together cackling gleefully, at this point, though he really was the mildest of men).
Personally, I’m surprised my parents weren’t reported for child abuse. My brother’s shrieks must have been heard all the way down the street. But those were the good old days and such things went unnoticed. Besides, looking back, I’d have to say in some strange way the Salve seemed to work (probably due to a significant amount of lead oxide in the preparation). Within hours the boil would develop a horrible mustardy yellow head. My brother would then be forced kicking and screaming onto the bathroom floor again.
Cleaning the boil was always Mum’s job. She’d been a nurse before having children and didn’t mind a bit of puss. After she’d squeezed and disinfected the area, Dad would light a match, smearing the next lot of salve onto a bandaid, and the whole process would start over, until, in the end, there was absolutely no possibility of life beneath my brothers scalded skin.
Why am I telling you this? Because I too have developed a boil. It started Thursday, as a tiny infected hair follicle (yes, a nasty hair has taken to growing on my cheek). On Friday, I remarked to a colleague. ‘I’ve got horrible blind pimple on my cheek.’ I went to bed early. A firm adherent to the cult of beauty sleep.
Saturday, I woke to a swollen left cheek.
‘Face infections can be quite serious.’ The Doctor said. ‘I’m glad you made an appointment.’
He prescribed a course of antibiotics. I followed his instructions precisely. Sunday brought no relief. By Monday my face resembled a scene from the Elephant man. Another Doctor. Another set of antibiotics. Still no joy. My cheek looked like Kilimanjaro. Tuesday, my daughter had an appointment at Centrelink. An important, employment related appointment that couldn’t be missed. I applied foundation and hoped no one would notice the volcano forming on my cheek.
‘Gee thanks for coming,’ my daughter said, her eyes full of sympathy. ‘If I had that on my cheek, I wouldn’t have left the house.’
On my next doctors appointment the GP called a plastic surgeon.
‘I have a forty-seven year old woman with a boil on her cheek.’ The Doctor said. ‘I think it needs incision and drainage.’
‘No point ringing me,’ the surgeon’s crisp, no nonsense voice echoed down the line. ‘Send her to Accident and Emergency. If it’s not better in a few weeks, I’ll clean it up properly.
‘But…’ I tried not to wail. ‘I’m going to the UK in a month.’
The doctor gave a horrible bland non-committal smile (I think they learn them in medical school). ‘Let’s hope it’s cleared up by then, Mrs Corbett.’
So, there you have it. This blog is a world-wide internet appeal for a warm, brown, sweet-smelling stick of Bates’ Salve. I know there have been medical advances since the 1940’s. But they don’t appear to be working on me. If anyone has a stick in their bathroom cabinet, please let me know.
Otherwise, I’ll see you tomorrow in Accident and Emergency.