Obviously, merthiolate affected me

Published 11:42 am Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It happened in a flash the way most cuts happen. I stepped back not looking and sent my foot into a sharp edge on my husband’s snare drum stand. The sting told me that I had a boo-boo. Sure enough, I lifted my foot and saw blood seeping from a cut just below my heel.

“Darn,” I whispered. “That’s gonna be sore.”

As with cuts in odd places, it didn’t want to stop bleeding. With just an hour before my Monday morning yoga class, I headed to the bathroom to find something to treat the injury.

I found some tiny Band-Aids with cute cartoon characters on them, a roll of gauze and some tape. I decided to cover the cut in antibiotic cream, wrap the gauze around my foot and secure it with tape. When I finished, it looked like I’d almost amputated my foot.

As I stood foot propped on the counter watching a red stain seep through my bandage, I thought about the times when I was a child waiting for some body part to stop bleeding so I could get back to playing. That is when the words Mercurochrome and Merthiolate pooped into my head.

“Oh that’s what I need, some Merthiolate or Mercurochrome,” I said to my aching foot. “That was what Mother used to fix things right up.”

But, which was the best choice of the two? I know which one I wanted. Hands-down for me, it was Mercurochrome over Merthiolate because of the sting factor. Every child of the 1950s knew Merthiolate burned more than Mercurochrome on an open wound. I once read a description that called it the “tincture of hellfire.“

You also got a nice orangey-brown stain (reddish-brown if it was Merthiolate) on your skin, kind of a playground tattoo. Oh and your mother or daddy blew on it to stop the burning. Wonder how many germs blew into the wound from that?

This reminiscing about boo-boos sent me searching to find out about these first aid treatments from my childhood. What I discovered was a little unsettling.

First, the FDA banned and stopped the sale of both Merthiolate and Mercurochrome in the 1990s. Seems they contain worrisome ingredients known as Thimerosal and merbromin, commonly called mercury.

The article said that in the 1950s most every medicine cabinet in America contained one or both of these topical treatments, and it said Mercurochrome and Merthiolate (and iodine preparations, too) stung when applied to broken skin and could interfere with healing. I knew stinging was not a good thing.

“When a child fell and got a cut or scrape, out came the mercurochrome in a little bottle with a glass tube attached to the inside of the cap. The tube was dipped in the solution and used to paint the mercurochrome all over the surface of the wound. Then a Band-Aid, or gauze patch with some tape went over that to keep it clean. Everyone did this,” the article said.

Yep, everybody I knew did this. I read on.

“The type of mercury in Mercurochrome could be harmful to humans if left on the skin for extended periods or if ingested.”

Yicks! What is “extended periods” because I had something painted with this stuff from the time I could walk until my late teens — so did my siblings and most of our friends.

That means an entire generation, maybe more than one, was exposed to Mercury. And you know Mercury poisoning causes you to go a little mad, a bit out of your head.

A person might be so out of it, she’d kick her foot into a sharp drum stand and then spend an hour before a yoga class searching Mercurochrome versus Merthiolate on the internet.

Hey, remember Bactine …