Winter Blues

I loved winter until our kids, no matter how carefully I cared for them or bundled them up, got sick. I don’t remember any sick summers but plenty of cold days with colds. Eventually well-intentioned relatives usually badgered me into taking my children to the clinic, after which we usually returned with nothing more than expensive advice to “keep doing what you’re doing.”

I’m not sure how our tried-and-true methods will hold up against coronavirus, but I think it’s time to share my best tips from my doctor, my pharmacist and other mothers. Our children now range in age from 11-24. When fevers struck our oldest as a child, my doctor advocated letting them burn. His nurse urged fever reducer for even a few tenths of a degree above normal. I remember trembling while rocking various children through the night, wondering if I should listen to my doctor or my nurse. Without the moral support of my sister-in-law, I don’t think I would have persevered. I’m quick to watch for dehydration and offer small, frequent amounts of however much liquid a feverish child can keep down, particularly a nursing child, but I’m now a firm believer in my doctor’s method to incinerate germs.

Our children generally bounce back to health fast, but during our last bout of “flu-like illness,” the priceless advice of our pharmacist came into play. One day long ago in the medicine aisles, as I tried to decipher the over-the-counter ingredients, our pharmacist came alongside me and offered a brief tutorial that has seen us through more than two decades of childrearing. I already knew that sleep is necessary for recovery, but my pharmacist taught me that stopping a troublesome cough or runny nose with a decongestant like psuedoephedrine can bring on a sinus infection or pneumonia. Alternatively, a cough suppressant like dextromethorphan with an expectorant like guaifenesin can give relief and hasten healing. Similar to a fever, a cough is there for a reason and must be worked with rather than against.

I also use a warm salt water gargle or drink vinegar water (2 teaspoons per cup) to tame a cough, along with lots of fluids. Honey is good for promoting respiratory health; vinegar is good for about anything. For a really stubborn cough that wakes me during the night, I peel and eat a whole orange, drinking a cup of warm honey lemon water afterwards if necessary. It rarely is.

To stop an illness in its tracks, we first turn to a dropperful of astragalus root three times a day, usually before meals. Next, throughout the day we drink three glasses of vinegar water (preferably homemade apple cider vinegar with the mother), usually one glassful after each meal. When worst comes to worst, we gargle those glasses down with two long gargles per hour which we then swallow. Since vinegar is very acidic, I use it conservatively, like the other remedies (and often followed by brushing or a milk chaser unless I’m dealing with coughs and congestion). Very young children, of course, can’t gargle at all.

When backed into a corner, my last resort is colloidal silver, 10 parts per million, a teaspoon 4 times per day (1/2 tsp. for children 12 and younger) for 10 days. This is a natural antibiotic and must be used with some form of acidophilus like yogurt, kefir or pills to replace the good intestinal bacteria that will be killed (along with the bad intestinal bacteria). I am usually terrified into using this, much like the mother who first recommended it to me. She said the first time she gave it to her son, she stood in the dark at the foot of his bed, knowing that in the morning she would probably be bringing him into the doctor for pneumonia, again. After trying silver, she never made another routine morning trip to the clinic. Neither have I.

We love our doctor but rarely pay to see him. Instead, we use poultices for skin infections, vitamin D to compensate for reduced winter sunlight and the freshest, most natural local sources we can find of milk, eggs, sweeteners, fats, meats, fruits, vegetables and flour. We hardly ever eat out, and baking together is the highlight of our celebrations, along with eating our creations. We put a premium on Bible study, fresh air, exercise, sleep, kefir and our own organic garden produce. I feel better than I did in my 20s. My husband just turned 60 and looks forward to it being a little easier to win in his new decade category in our town’s annual 5K run.

Twenty years ago we used to get strep throat as a family each fall, with all of us going on antibiotics. Since the vinegar gargling treatment, not one of us has gotten it again. When I mentioned it to my uncle, he said, “Oh, Grandma Tillie’s hooch.” It warmed me to think we were using one of my favorite grandma’s home remedies. I didn’t even know she used any. I don’t go around telling everyone that I do, either, but I’m so thankful others have shared their best tips with me so that I could pass them on, too. And these days, I even love winter again.

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