Home Remedies From the Shtetl

May 15th, 2017 § 0 comments

Following the example of President Roosevelt, daring fighter pilots, baseball players and, yes, doctors, HG began smoking cigarettes in 1942 at the age of 13. Puffed as many as three packs of Marlboros daily (they were the healthy choice because they had a filter). No surprise, HG was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1992. Saved by a brilliant surgeon, Dr. Victor Schramm. Arduous recovery. Stopped smoking on day of diagnosis. Now celebrating 25th anniversary of being smoke free. However, the 50 years of smoking did create problems. HG has COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). However, due to advanced pharmacology and technology, HG functions nicely. Walks (slowly), swims daily, does gym work (light weights) and cardiology exercises (treadmill, bike, steps). It helps to have a vigilant and caring family. BSK is a diligent supervisor of diet, vitamins, exercise. And, of course, much is owed to SJ who discovered a lump on his Dad’s neck 25 years ago. Urged immediate diagnosis. Probably, saved HG’s life. From the very beginning of HG’s life, bronchial disease was a problem. Recurrent bronchitis every winter. HG’s Mom believed in the folk remedies of Plestyanitz, the “Shtetl” in Belorussia where she grew up over one hundred years ago. “Shtetl” is the descriptive of the small towns where Jews lived within the Russian Pale of Settlement. Sanitary and sewage facilities were primitive, Health care was medieval;. However, HG’s mom treated HG’s bronchitis the way she was treated in Russia. Basis of the cure was a “shvitz” (a sweat). Many blankets were piled on little HG. Then he drank a glass of “gugel mugel” (a glass of hot milk, honey and rye whiskey). This was followed by numerous hot cups of tea and honey. And, more blankets. Yes, little HG sweated in this Jewish version of an Indian sweat lodge. If this remedy didn’t work HG’s Mom took the drastic step of summoning the “bynkes” man. A “bynke” is a shallow glass suction cup. The “bynkes” man arrived with a leather case of the cups and a heating apparatus. An old little fellow with a long beard, he smelled strongly of whiskey and cheap cigars. Mom was forgiving. “Alteh shikker muz machen ah leben”. (an old drunk must make a living). The suction cups were heated to a robust temperature. Then they were applied with pressure to little HG’s chest and back. Ouch!! The belief was that the heat and the suction would draw out and ultimately destroy the disease. Surprisingly, it worked. It was infallible. The suction cups led to a Yiddish saying describing an ineffectual maneuver: “Helft vey toyten bynkes” It helps like dead (cold) bynkes.

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