Posted by mike on July 12th, 2007
It happened so quickly, I didn’t know what hit me. It was a typical hot summer day on my grandparent’s farm, and I was bored. I was too young to do any real work, so I usually found myself exercising one of two options: 1) build a tent out of chairs and window fans and take a nap, or 2) ride my bike.
There was a subdivision just across the street from the farm, so I would often ride several loops through those streets. I usually rode as fast as I could, of course, and most days managed to do so without incident. But I wasn’t exactly known for being a graceful child, and eventually the inevitable happened… Rounding one of the turns, I hit a patch of loose asphalt and went into a slide. My exact memory of what happened is a little hazy, but suffice to say I messed up my bike and had a bleeding knee full of gravel. I limped back to my grandparent’s house, where my grandma immediately took me into the bathroom and poured Bactine on my knee.
Bactine was introduced in 1950 to provide folks with a first aid product that was “more effective, safer, and less caustic” than the other products commonly used for first aid at the time. Whatever. I remember it stung a little, and fizzed a bit. Upon washing away the blood, I saw one spot on my knee turn white and I was sure at the time it was my “kneebone”. It didn’t stop the pain, but it mostly cleaned me up.
But that wasn’t what saved this moment in my mental archives. It was the “red stuff” that came next.
Generally known as “Methiolade” (aka Merthiolate or Mercuricom), it came in a little brown bottle with a plastic applicator that looked like a dropper, but was actually some odd form of spreader. In fact, this product contained mercury and the highly poisonous bacteriostat ingredient, Thimerosal. But this was in the pre-Neosporin days, and apparently our parents and grandparents somehow thought burning the crap out of our cuts and scrapes was a good thing. They must have thought so, because this stuff burned like something wild. Blowing on it helped slightly, but not much. The after-effect was that you had a big pinkish-red stain on your skin around your injury. One might have called it a badge of honor, but it was usually topped off with a Band-aid which hid the injury and magically made it feel better at the same time.
To this day, I’m not so sure that Methiolade had any real medicinal benefit. In fact, I’m convinced that the point of it was that, in burning so bady, you temporarily forgot about the injury to which it was applied. They could have easily sold it as “liquid distraction”. My memories of it are not fond of it to the degree of actually missing it, and though you can still order Merthiolate online, I would never subject my kids to such unintentional torture.
But sometimes I think it’s too bad that we don’t have some form of “virtual Methiolade” we can use to distract our minds from what hurts us. Whether it be physical or emotional pain, a little “red stuff” might go a long way toward distracting us, at least temporarily, from our pains and sorrows. If we could focus or minds on something else for just a moment, we might return with the perspective that things were never as bad as we thought they were. That something which once appeared as a hole in our knee was in fact just a little fizzy spot. And with our newfound perspective, we can get back on our bikes and keep on riding.