In Her Consulting Room: Honey, Maggots, Needles and Bob

October 30, 2009 § Leave a comment


Revolutionary War musket

I went to the doctor today, who was not in, and got his PA, who was sweet and cheery, though not as knowledgeable as my sister from PA, who would be my doctor if she had a really fast horse. She’s a vet but says that since her clients want only the best for their furry children, she’s up on the all the fancy stuff.

She didn’t say fancy stuff. She said “appropriate antibiotic.” Later amended that, on Bob’s suggestion, to honey. Honey is a good dressing for wounds (especially burns, though armpit abscesses can also use the help). If your wound is particularly nasty—and stinking—first get some maggots and use them to debride the dead skin. By the time that’s over, a honey compress will be very welcome, although you should avoid it if you’re camping in bear country.

“Debride” means remove dead flesh, and does not refer to the infamous Pennsylvania practice of luring brides from their honeymoons by filling the nuptial bed with maggots. I’m not sure they do that anymore; I’ll have to ask Kevin.

My sister’s honeymoon was worse than a bed of maggots. She went an emergency room in England on a Friday complaining of severe pain, tests were done, and she was told to stay in the hospital for the weekend. When she asked what was wrong with her, they said she had to wait until the doctor came in on Tuesday. She said she was leaving unless they gave her a good reason not to. She was on her honeymoon, remember, in Europe, which wasn’t a continent she’d ever see again. (Yet.)

They repeated that she should stay but neglected to inform her she had an ectopic pregnancy.  If you read British fiction you can imagine just the sort of nurses she had. Not any worse than bad American medical personnel; differently bad. Nothing like the nurses in war movies, guys. Try reading.
So she left, her fallopian tube burst, and she almost died. Perhaps because of this, she’s very good about not making people wait all weekend for test results, unlike my radiologist, whose name I don’t know yet, who was supposed to tell me (“He’ll call within one hour,” promised the tech) whether my ankle is fractured or not. He didn’t call. He left for Argentina with somebody else’s bride.

This is possibly not true, but I’ll say it again when I have his/her name.

Maggots were first used on Civil War battlefields. They would have been of great help in the Revolutionary War, with its thousands of wounded, limping, miserable soldiers.  George was never debrided, either; Martha came to the war with him, in Cambridge, Morristown, and Valley Forge. I was in Valley Forge a few weeks ago; it was lovely, though not as nice as Cambridge. Martha’s son by her first marriage (the one that left her a rich widow and therefore attractive to Washington, who required means) fought in the war and died of typhus. His name was Jack Custis.

I lie in bed with my ankle throbbing, my infected shin sending out little pulses of pain, and imagine suffering all this plus high fever, chills, headache and vomiting (not to mention the lice). Then having to rise and fight at dawn. I’m not sure I’d shoot a musket very well in that condition. Not as well as I usually do, anyway.


Have you forgotten yet? …
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same – and War’s a bloody game …
Have you forgotten yet? …
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz –
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench –
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”

Do you remember the hour of din before the attack –
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads – those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet? …
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget

–Siegfried Sassoon, March 1919

this next one is long, but worth it

Letters From A Father

Ulcerated tooth keeps me awake, there is
such pain, would have to go to the hospital to have
it pulled or would bleed to death from the blood thinners,
but can’t leave Mother, she falls and forgets her salve
and her tranquilizers, her ankles swell so and her bowels
are so bad, she almost had a stoppage and sometimes
what she passes is green as grass.  There are big holes
in my thigh where my leg brace buckles the size of dimes.
My head pounds from the high pressure.  It is awful
not to be able to get out, and I fell in the bathroom
and the girl could hardly get me up at all.
Sure thought my back was broken, it will be next time.
Prostate is bad and heart has given out,
feel bloated after supper. Have made my peace
because am just plain done for and have no doubt
that the Lord will come any day with my release.
You say you enjoy your feeder, I don’t see why
you want to spend good money on grain for birds
and you say you have a hundred sparrows, I’d buy
poison and get rid of their diseases and turds.


We enjoyed your visit, it was nice of you to bring
the feeder but a terrible waste of your money
for that big bag of feed since we won’t be living
more than a few weeks long.  We can see
them good from where we sit, big ones and little ones
but you know when I farmed I used to like to hunt
and we had many a good meal from pigeons
and quail and pheasant but these birds won’t
be good for nothing and are dirty to have so near
the house.  Mother likes the redbirds though.
My bad knee is so sore and I can’t hardly hear
and Mother says she is hoarse form yelling but I know
it’s too late for a hearing aid.  I belch up all the time
and have a sour mouth and of course with my heart
it’s no use to go to a doctor.  Mother is the same.
Has a scab she thinks is going to turn to a wart.


The birds are eating and fighting, Ha! Ha!  All shapes
and colors and sizes coming out of our woods
but we don’t know what they are.  Your Mother hopes
you can send us a kind of book that tells about birds.
There is one the folks called snowbirds, they eat on the ground,
we had the girl sprinkle extra there, but say,
they eat something awful.  I sent the girl to town
to buy some more feed, she had to go anyway.


Almost called you on the telephone
but it costs so much to call thought better write.
Say, the funniest thing is happening, one
day we had so many birds and they fight
and get excited at their feed you know
and it’s really something to watch and two or three
flew right at us and crashed into our window
and bang, poor little things knocked themselves silly.
They come to after while on the ground and flew away.
And they been doing that.  We felt awful
and didn’t know what to do but the other day
a lady from our Church drove out to call
and a little bird knocked itself out while she sat
and she bought it in her hands right into the house,
it looked like dead.  It had a kind of hat
of feathers sticking up on its head, kind of rose
or pinky color, don’t know what it was,
and I petted it and it come to life right there
in her hands and she took it out and it flew.  She says
they think the window is the sky on a fair
day, she feeds birds too but hasn’t got
so many.  She says to hang strips of aluminum foil
in the window so we’ll do that.  She raved about
our birds.  P.S. The book just come in the mail.


Say, that book is sure good, I study
in it every day and enjoy our birds.
Some of them I can’t identify
for sure, I guess they’re females, the Latin words

I just skip over.  Bet you’d never guess
the sparrow I’ve got here, House Sparrow you wrote,
but I have Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows,
Pine Woods and Tree and Chipping and White Throat
and White Crowned Sparrows.  I have six Cardinals,
three pairs, they come at early morning and night,
the males at the feeder and on the ground the females.
Juncos, maybe 25, they fight
for the ground, that’s what they used to call snowbirds.  I miss
the Bluebirds since the weather warmed. Their breast
is the color of a good ripe muskmelon.  Tufted Titmouse
is sort of blue with a little tiny crest.
And I have Flicker and Red-Bellied and Red-
Headed Woodpeckers, you would die laughing
to see Red-Bellied, he hangs on with his head
flat on the board, his tail braced up under,
wing out.  And Dickcissel and Ruby Crowned Kinglet
and Nuthatch stands on his head and Veery on top
the color of a bird dog and Hermit Thrush with spot
on breast, Blue Jay so funny, he will hop
right on the backs of the other birds to get the grain.
We bought some sunflower seeds just for him.
And Purple Finch I bet you never seen,
color of a watermelon, sits on the rim
of the feeder with his streaky wife, and the squirrels,
you know, they are cute too, they sit tall
and eat with their little hands, they eat bucketfuls.
I pulled my own tooth, it didn’t bleed at all.


It’s sure a surprise how well Mother is doing,
she forgets her laxative but bowels move fine.
Now that windows are open she says our birds sing
all day.  The girl took a Book of Knowledge on loan
from the library and I am reading up
on the habits of birds, did you know some males have three
wives, some migrate some don’t.  I am going to keep
feeding all spring, maybe summer, you can see
they expect it.  Will need thistle seed for Goldfinch and Pine
Siskin next winter.  Some folks are going to come see us
from Church, some bird watchers, pretty soon.
They have birds in town but nothing to equal this.

–Mona Van Duyn





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