Found in a half-dozen family medicine chests were old cloths to be used as bandages, cracked atomizer bulbs, horehound candy, shoehorns, curling irons, dried sponges, packages of seeds, hair grease, mange cure, face bleach, shoe polish, empty tooth paste and shaving cream tubes, fifty different remedies for colds, combs for permanent waves, bobby pins, the remaining partners of divorced cuff links, nail polish, bath salts, and discarded sets of teeth.
The number of antiseptics found, and their efficiency, varied tremendously. One or two antiseptics were found in some cases, and as many as six different antiseptics in others, individual members of the family having their own likes and dislikes in these matters. A household remedy should be one with a certain definite action, and usually it should contain but one active ingredient. If the thing is worth keeping in the medicine chest it should be something which is used fairly frequently.
Dangerous poisons have no place in the family medicine chest. A dangerous poison is one which is likely to produce serious symptoms or death if taken in even moderate amounts. Prescriptions ordered by the family doctor for a certain illness should never be kept for the future. If any of the material remains in the bottle it should be poured promptly into a safe place of disposal. Since useful bottles are rare around most homes, the bottle may be thoroughly washed with hot water, dried, and stored away. Few people realize that most drugs deteriorate with age and that a prescription for a certain illness is not likely to be useful for the future.
The wise person will go over the family medicine chest at least once every three months and discard all materials not constantly in use. It is also well to have the family doctor take a look at the materials, offer his advice on those worth keeping, and make suggestions as to what is needed.
Let us consider now the items that really should be in any first-class family medicine chest. Most families want to keep on hand a laxative or cathartic. Under certain circumstances any laxative or cathartic may be exceedingly dangerous, most conspicuously in appendicitis. Appendicitis is at first just an infected spot on a little organ which extends from the large bowel and which, apparently, has no serious function in the human body. If this infection develops, as a boil develops from a pimple, it is in danger of bursting and spreading throughout the body. Therefore, no laxative or cathartic should ever be taken when the abdomen is exceedingly painful.
The most common laxatives used include liquid petrolatum, or mineral oil, which is a mechanical lubricant without possibility of serious harm. Other common preparations much used include, of course, the old– fashioned castor oil, Seidlitz powders, psyllium seed, sodium phosphate, aromatic cascara, mineral oil mixed with agar, methyl cellulose, and phenolphthalein.
The next most commonly used preparations in a family medicine chest, aside from the cosmetics, are pain relievers. Most of these are used for headaches, although sometimes they are used for what are called “neuritis” and “neuralgia,” for other pains of unknown origin, and for toothache, as well as to produce sleep. Most headache powders bought under patent trade-marks contain phenacetin or acetanilid. Aspirin is the safest pain reliever. Other drugs much used to produce sleep are derivatives of barbituric acid, of which some of the best examples are veronal, trional, and combinations of barbituric acids with other drugs. The family medicine chest is better off without preparations of this character, as the possibilities for harm are sufficiently great to suggest that these preparations be not used except with medical advice.