One day I’ll set a novel in the waiting room of a rural Southern hospital. That way I can use the language I grew up hearing whenever illness was the subject.
Two dominant traits emerge when my people speak about being sick:
1. Extreme exaggeration of one’s actual condition (gruesome details are a plus) and
2. Mispronunciation of words related to health.
So here’s what my characters in the waiting room might well say…
“Lord, I can’t believe Buddy’s back in the hospital. Just last week they drained 6 quarts of fluid off of his neck.”
“I know. Hospitals will kill you fast. Remember when that foreign doctor took a knife to Jolene Sugg’s back? When they saw what was inside, all they could do was just sew her back up. She was eat up with the cancer. And you know once that air got to it she was dead within a week.”
“Me-Maw, when did you start having so much trouble with your eyes?”
“Oh, I’ve had Cadillacs on my eyes for ten years now. I can’t get ‘em fix-did ‘cause you know Crazy Aint Carrie will steal my pain pills. She’s already been banned from the pain clinics in a three-county area. I caint let her get me in trouble. Bless her heart—I think she got hooked on the Oxycondoms after they gave her that croat-a-zone for her bron-i-cal tubes.”
“I just hope Scooter don’t have another tumor. That last one was the size of a grapefruit.”
“I know it. I still can’t get over the trouble LaDonna went through. I mean, they said her uterine fibroid was the size of a broiler chicken.”
And so it goes. My own Me-Maw relished poor health more than anyone. She embellished her angioplasty to become open-heart surgery. But when asked about the “surgery,” she gave the most succinct description of angioplasty that I’ve heard: “They went in down here by my right grind (groin)—down here by my privates—and undid that clog in my heart.”
She also had a sinister explanation for her robust appetite. “Now you can believe this or not, but there’s something inside of me that’s eating my food besides me.”
I still have family members whose first-aid kits overflow with the ingenuity of poor folks. WD-40 is relied upon to ease stiff joints, and our time-honored solution to all dental problems and deep cuts is Super Glue.
Healthcare professionals in these rural areas also engage in the melodrama. They have told my then-fifty-eight-year-old mother that she had the bones of a ninety-five-year-old. That if she risked having a colonoscopy she’d leave the hospital…feet first, through the back door, and in a body bag. They actually said “feet first” and “body bag.” (The colonoscopy proceeded without incident.)
It does please me that a few old superstitions and home remedies still exist. The most bizarre comes from the late Lily George of Centenary,
. She swore that if you’re bitten by a snake, it causes a real snake to “hang off your liver.” The cure is to cook a mess of greens and stand over the boiling pot with your mouth open—that will draw the snake out. Dr. Freud would’ve had a field day with that one. South Carolina
I think I’ll go ahead and work the waiting room scene into my current novel. I can’t resist it. But I have to go now. I feel a little peaked and need to see what I have in the medicine cabinet. After all, it takes 1,000 milligrams of anything to work on me.
Lauretta Hannon is the author of The Cracker Queen--A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life. Her book was recently named one of the Top 25 Books All Georgians Should Read. Later this year she'll be offering her popular writing seminars through her Down Home Writing School. You may learn more at thecrackerqueen.com.