“It’s time,” she said, “it’s been sweating long enough.” I knew it too. I’d seen it macerating for hours and turn brown in the process. Before my mom cut that onion in half and poured honey on it I did not know they could sweat. In fact, they are so good at it that the expression should be “Sweat like an onion” not like a pig.
And sweat it did while I coughed and coughed. When my mom lifted the cling-wrap covering the bowl, the stinging semi-sweet smell danced into my nostrils, coming out salty through my tear canal. It smelled of Forrest Gump’s armpit when he finally decided to stop running. And now, I had to lick it.
Mom made me drink the swirly juice of onion and honey and poured more honey, wrapping it shut so tight you could barely see the film. I was to repeat the operation every two to three hours until my cough was gone. Eventually, the light of my virus went extinct and the cough with it. My mom was convinced and proud to have healed me. To be fair, she did cure me of something: of ever recurring to home remedies again (unless she made me).
However, as it often happens, my mom’s influence and my cultural load of guilt overpowered my spirit of contradiction and against my better judgment, I split an onion a couple of weeks ago and poured honey over it with a shaky hand. A terrible cough had made camp inside my chest, tickling my throat every time I tried to breathe. I had to cover my mouth when I kissed my husband good night, for he knew I’d been making out with Gumps’ underarm again.
Getting sick these days is pretty much inevitable. Usually my husband and I take turns from October until Christmas, while our kids produce snot constantly. As soon as I feel a swelling, I drink Tran from the bottle and Vitamin C in every shape and form, but by then it’s too late. My body is set for a two-week ride meant to boost my immune system (…and others’ by contagion: sharing is caring!).
Looking back, I have to admit I am grateful for the torture my mother put me through. After living seven winters further north than I could ever imagine, I’ve come to find refuge in home remedies. Destiny is wise. Knowing I would find myself in Norway without easy access to antibiotics or strong OTC pills, it shielded me with a wicker medicine cabinet containing ginger, garlic, honey and a few wrinkled recipes.
Why oh why??
While suffering is part of this culture (anything you do becomes more rewarding this way), the main reason why there is nothing between Paracetamol and your Doctor’s office is that Norwegians focus on all things natural, as this is the healthy choice. I do agree it is the best way to preserve your body from intoxicating chemicals that end up weakening your natural defenses. I find it amazing how this society is organized around this principle. I don’t know what came first: sick days or the focus on “natural healing”, but one thing is certain: you have enough (paid) sick days in a year to “sleep off” the flu (about 20 per year and some extra if you have children).
Sometimes it can get so bad that you do need to see a Doctor. Even at that point, when you venture outside in below zero temperatures, it’s not a given that you will get antibiotics. Here’s why: if your infection, flu, sickness or mucus-source is viral, antibiotics won’t help.
How do you make it through the winter-flu?
Here are a few Norwegian and non-Norwegian Home Remedies that have worked for me and/or my friends:
- Hot Vinegar Gargles (soar throat, no swelling!) – Tested by Yours Truly! Pour 1 finger of plain vinegar, 4 fingers of water and a generous pinch of salt in a glass. Heat until very warm (but not so much that you can’t drink it; don’t worry, you won’t). Gargle 3-4 times. Repeat when it hurts again. It definitely soothes the pain.
- Garlic and Ginger Tea with honey (Congestion and body ache) – Tested by Yours Truly! Peel a garlic clove, stab it and put in a cup. Peel 2-3 slices of fresh ginger root and add to cup. Pour in honey and boiling water. Let infuse for a few minutes. You can add a tea bag of your choice, anything without caffeine. Potential side effect: burping (Could be fun)
- Grapefruit seed extract (fights infections, whether viral or bacterial) in a glass of water. You can order on eBay and have it delivered in Norway.
- Propolis: a kind of “glue” used by bees to fill gaps in the hive. Good for fighting infections, and a great immune-system booster (available in pharmacies).
- Cognac (soar throat). Tequila works too and both will help you sleep. Warning: don’t mix. Last thing you want is to end up in front of the toilet with your knees on a cold tile floor.
- Alternate every 2 hours: Paracetamol (for pain) 1g 3 times a day and Ibuprofen (for swelling) 500mg 3 times per day
- Aspirin (women: only if no bleeding) every now and then depending on the pain intensity
- Vitamin C (to help your immune system) morning + lunch (total intake: 1g per day)
We are not used to trusting nature before science, so when you come from a highly medicated culture, this system could be scary. Try nevertheless to see the good in it. Your body will get stronger. Most cases are harmless and you will get better in a few days. If not, keep in mind that surrendering to nature’s process doesn’t mean giving up on your intuition. When you feel something is not normal, you should contact your doctor and insist until you get a satisfactory explanation or treatment (not happy with your doctor? http://www.legelisten.no/).
A few tips when you feel so bad that you need to see one:
- To get an appointment: call early!! Keep calling non-stop 5min before opening hours (especially if it’s a Monday). I did, and already at 8:01am I was number 5 in line.
- Make sure you get a CRP test. It will reveal whether the infection is viral or bacterial which will determine if you get antibiotics or not. Ask for your CRP levels. Below 50: not sick enough to get the stuff that works. Above 50: you go home with prescription drugs! WOhhhoo!
- If you get a fever: go to the Doctor ASAP. Your CRP level might start going down if you wait. I went two days after my fever was gone, and though I was still very sick, my CRP was of 45. I wasn’t eligible for the good stuff.
- If you have a bad, dry cough ask for cough suppressants (“Cosilan” is often prescribed but has not worked for me).
It’s easy to defend “the natural way” in retrospect, especially when everything ends well. Yet sometimes it’s bad; real bad and dangerous. You feel like lying on the floor, and melting into the parquet so you won’t ever have to get up again. The “Sleep it off, drugs are too rough”-speech doesn’t apply when you have kids (try a crawling baby and a toddler who loves to talk). So yes, while I agree to let nature do her work, I sure-as-sh*t know sometimes she needs help. Sometimes you just need to keep functioning and it’s easier when you’re pain-free. That’s when Home Remedies come to the rescue! Which ones have you tried that worked?
For more about Norwegian home remedies and other “tricks”: http://www.kjerringrad.org/about.php
I took Zoe’s advice (read her comment below) and tried Echinacea. It has saved me 4 times already from falling sick this season! I drink it as tea or as a sports drink mixed with honey and lukewarm water. Can leave an after-taste of sweaty feet but it is definitely worth it!