my head hurts

Businessman voodoo doll

It is just a matter of time until Medicare recipients are forced to wear a bell around their necks like Biblical lepers. Already, in some doctors’ offices, Medicare patients are as unwelcome as dog poo on a white Sunday shoe. Even some TV faith-healing evangelists no longer treat senior citizens.

There have always been some who loathed and despised poor sick people – not only Republicans, but many medical professionals who chose the wrong line of work. (And they know who they are.) But, getting sick is a fact of life and for some, it starts early. According to my mother, my first complete sentence was, “My head hurts.”

I don’t remember this incident, but this is the story I was told by my parents, numerous times.

In 1940, when I was about six months old, I developed such a severe case of “thrash,” that I couldn’t eat or suck my milk. Thrash, also called “thrush,” is a severe, painful inflammation of the lips, gums and mouth. I was losing weight and crying all the time because I was hungry and in pain.

The family doctor gave me some medicine that didn’t help a bit. I was getting smaller and smaller. And the inflammation in my mouth was getting worse. I couldn’t even drink water without crying.

There was an old conjure woman/root doctor who lived in a remote cabin up on the Tallapoosa River. She was well-known in the area. Finally, in desperation, my dedicated Methodist parents, accompanied by my grandfather’s sister, who knew the woman, took me up there to see the old crone, considered by many to be a witch.

According to them, this is what the ancient sorceress did: First, she took off my diaper. Then, after removing a small, silver razor from her apron pocket, she nicked the base of spine and let the blood flow into a tarnished old table spoon. She then took the spoon and squeezed enough milk from my mother’s breast to almost fill it. Then she sprinkled some powder from a small clay bottle into the blood and milk mixture, stirred the concoction with the tip of the razor, and made me drink it.

They said I choked, gagged and sputtered, but she held my head in her firm grip of her gnarled, wrinkled hand until I had swallowed the spoon’s contents. Within three days, the thrash had completely vanished and I was eating like the little pig I was born – and genetically disposed — to be.

Eating has not been a problem for me since. The thrash never came back. Many folks explain a conjure/root doctor’s successes as nothing but the power of suggestion. That may be part of it, but I don’t think “suggestion” would work with an infant whose mouth and gums are a solid, inflamed blister. A baby that young doesn’t have the world experience to be psychologically manipulated, like the folks who join the Tea Party.

Those herb and conjure folk knew a few things, evidently. I once had a cold that almost turned into pneumonia. I had been hacking and coughing for weeks with no relief. I had missed a few days work and gotten so far behind on my paper work, I had to work over after quitting time to catch up. The black cleaning lady, who was cleaning the offices after hours, was down the hall and heard me. She finally came in where I was and said I needed see the doctor for that cough. I told her I had already seen the doctor, twice. She said, “Then you need to go see Cooper.”

Cooper was an old black fellow who drove a mule and wagon around the mill village. He did yard work, plowed gardens, did odd jobs, cut firewood, etc. He must have been 90 years old and weighed about 100 pounds. Whatever the season, Cooper always wore a long-sleeved shirt, buttoned at the wrist and neck and a worn Sunday hat. Cooper had been an abiding presence on the village for all of my life, and long before.

The blacks said Cooper was a root doctor, too. Many of them used Cooper in preference to a traditional physician. I told her I didn’t know where Cooper lived. She said she would tell him about me and he would come to the mill.

The next day when I got off work, Cooper’s mule and wagon was parked across the street from the mill. In his usual fashion, he was sitting bolt upright on the wooden seat, with the mules reins resting across his lap, waiting for me. Seeing me descending the mill steps, Cooper raised his hand to get my attention.

When I approached him and asked if he had something for me, he pulled some small sticks out of his shirt pocket. They looked like those cross vine twigs we used to smoke as boys. Cooper had the twigs tied into a miniature cross with some sort of slender vine, or grass.

After effortlessly lowering himself off the wagon seat, Cooper touched my chest seven times with the tiny cross. He told me to “bile” the sticks in hot water until the cross came apart and the water turned dark. And then drink the water after it had cooled, but was still warm. Cooper added that I should recite “The Lord’s Prayer” before drinking the concoction.

I gave him $2. He had asked for a dollar. I was desperate for relief and I did as he instructed, even though my wife thought I had lost my mind. Not for the first time. Or the last.

The cold was better the next morning and was totally gone in two days. I wish Cooper was still alive. Damned if I wouldn’t use him for my medical issues. He lived to be a 100 taking his own medicine. And was still plowing a mule, and his bearing as straight as a cadet’s.

Besides, I don’t think Cooper had a problem accepting Medicare patients. Since he seemed ageless himself, age meant little to Cooper.

Image: Photo of Businessman voodoo doll by fergregory and licensed by at
  1. If only today’s doctors were of the same vein as Cooper. Another great story, JL. If you ever have a dud, I’ll keep quiet. cheers

    1. JL Strickland

      Thanks, David. I’m trying to lead a dud-free life.

  2. Great story!

    I told Jordan he needs to figure out when you and Maw and Nathan can come to our house one afternoon for some burgers and dessert. We’d love to have y’all over.

    1. JL Strickland

      Sounds like a plan — let’s do it!

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