By Helen DePuydt
Prairie Poet 

Prairie Prescription

 

February 6, 2019



Those hardy individuals homesteading on the northern plains of Montana never expected the services that society now enjoys: There was on exception, though: doctors’ house calls.

Living an austere life 40-plus miles from the nearest town was handled readily – that is, until illness struck. This happened in our family during the late 1920s. My only sister, Hazel, was struck by a mysterious malady.

Word was sent to Malta with a neighbor who had already planned to make the trip. A horse-drawn farm wagon could travel the distance in two days – if the weather cooperated.

Cigar-smoking Dr. Setzer made his way over the prairie trails to our homestead. He was always a cheerful man, even in his later years. His bedside manner gave a lift to the concerned family.

When he arrived, Hazel was in bed, feeling miserable. She was propped up on a fluffy goose-down pillow and covered with one of Mama’s colorful pieced quilts.

Dr. Setzer set his black bag on a nearby table and asked questions of the little girl and Mama. He was always sure to ask, “How are your bowels?” (One small girl, when asked that question, promptly replied, “I don’t have any.”)

Out of the recesses of the doctor’s black bag came the stethoscope. He plugged the two handles in his ears and placed the bell-shaped end on the little patient’s chest. The glass thermometer was already sticking out of Hazel’s mouth.

The doctor’s diagnosis was yellow jaundice. After all was said and done, the doctor gave the prescription – and it did not involve pills or liquid medicine. The prescription was so very simple that in later years, Hazel and I would laugh about it.


“Walk outside and gather the young, tender dandelions,” the doctor directed. ‘Wash them and cut the leaves up for a salad.”

Mama did just that, and within a week Hazel was improving. The trick is to pick the jagged, dark, green leaves before they become bitter, which happens when the flowers bloom.

Our farm site provided many a salad for our family. The lowly dandelion most likely saved my dear sister’s life.

It is April now, and it won’t be long before dandelions will be appearing around the farm. Then Dandelion Salad Deluxe will appear on our menu. Sometimes I fix it with crisp fried bacon, small amounts of vinegar and sugar. Thus prepared, it is ambrosia for the gods.

While I’m bent over, harvesting dandelion leaves, I can’t help but think of Hazel and the simple remedy of a frontier doctor out on the prairie of northeastern Montana. Life was so very simple then.

 

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