For an Old Grey Wool Sock


In my work at a university health center, at least 1/3 of my patients have some sort of upper respiratory infection, often with a significant sore throat.  It is crucial that my medical team members sort through the possibilities of Group A strep throat, mononucleosis, early tonsillar abscess or the rare case of potentially fatal Lemierre’s Syndrome.   Although most of the sore throats are viral infections that will resolve simply with time and rest, the discomfort caused by a sore throat, no matter the cause, is miserable. The students often could benefit from something more than the routine salt water or lidocaine gargle, pain pills and numbing lozenges, and certainly don’t need unnecessary antibiotics.

I think it might be time to bring back an old remedy that worked for me some fifty years ago as a kid with frequent sore throats.  My mother wrapped my neck in one of my father’s old gray wool socks with the red toes and tops, usually one that had been darned one time too many, and just couldn’t hold up in a work boot any longer.  She would rub pungent camphor/menthol Balm Ben Gay on my neck and chest before the sock was wrapped around and anchored toe to rim with a big safety pin.  I was always a little concerned about an inadvertent stab to the jugular while she was snugging it up to be pinned, but she never did draw blood.

The heat from the balm and the comforting wrap of wool calmed the child and the misery.  There was just something about my mother’s ministrations and my father’s large sock around my neck that made me feel completely and utterly cared about.  Maybe there was a therapeutic value beyond that, but I suspect that my immune system simply responded positively to love made tangible.

So I may stock up on gray wool socks, safety pins, and BenGay in the clinic along with the usual bags of tea, instant chicken soup broth and peppermint drops.  If the students don’t go for it (it’s not exactly fashionable to be reeking of camphor and wearing a grey wool collar) then we’ll just start making sock monkeys.  They are therapeutic too.  You can’t look at one without smiling.   You can’t hold one without feeling better.  You can’t sleep with one without having sweet dreams.  They just might cure a viral sore throat all on their own.

Maybe the new medicine is really the old medicine.  I think we have forgotten how well it works.

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