This might sting a little…
When I was a child, I was often painted orange with Merthiolate. My grandmother, like every good grandmother, kept a bottle handy at all times. Merthiolate was an antiseptic, containing Mercury, that was marketed for cuts and scrapes.
A fall on the gravel, a slide on the pavement, a run through the briar patch and you’d be sitting on the kitchen table while grandma colored you orange with the magical elixir, which incidentally burned like fire!
On a recent emergency department shift, we were colluding about the general state of drug-seeking in America, which has been enabled by our ‘nothing should hurt’ ideology. One of my dear friends, Nurse Nancy, had a realization; an epiphany, really.
‘It all went downhill when we stopped using Merthiolate and changed to Neosporin. Neosporin doesn’t burn!”
We reminisced about the hot summer days when we all played and were injured, sought care from parents or grandparents, and ended up covered in orange. It hurt, sure, and our loved ones tried to ease the pain by blowing on the Merthiolate while it settled into our disrupted tissues.
But despite the pain, we lived. We returned to play, we were injured again, life moved on in its normal cycle of play, injury, rest, play, injury, rest.
Indeed. Neosporin doesn’t hurt. No conditioning to minor discomforts. No acceptance that things, in their normal course, would hurt. Maybe it’s the loss of summer as a time of free play, a time of exploration. Perhaps it’s the tendency to play virtually; no abrasion on X-box.
I’m not that saying illness and injury can’t be exceptionally painful. I’m not suggesting we allow misery, or deny appropriate medications. I’m saying, things sometimes hurt. We live in a time when sturdy carpenters want Percocet for minor finger injuries. When teens want Lortab for ankle sprains. When young women with sunburns want something to ‘put me to sleep.’
Is that what we want for our children? Is that lack of endurance, that distance from reality, what we desire for our future?
Maybe, if we could just go back to Merthiolate…