Poisoned before my second birthday

When I was about sixteen months old, my stomach was pumped after having swallowed an entire bottle of paregoric. Oddly enough, I never looked into what paregoric was until just recently. It was just one of those family stories that was retold from time to time, without much thought.

After some research, I learned that paregoric is a medication known for its “antidiarrheal, antitussive, and analgesic properties.” When I swallowed the bottle in 1972, it was a Schedule V drug, available over the counter, but two years later, it would be reclassified as a Schedule II drug, available by prescription only. Why this bottle was left out for me to swallow is beyond imagination, but my wife had a guess.

It turns out that paregoric was also used as a household remedy in the 18th and 19th centuries to calm fretful and misbehaving children, often resulting in their death. It was rubbed on the gums of babies who were teething to ease the pain, but in some cases, babies were given the medication orally, even though it was not recommended. When I read this to Elysha, her response was immediate. “Your mother was totally trying to chill you out, and things just got out of hand, or you made her so crazy that she accidentally left the bottle out in the open.”

I was a difficult baby.

It turns out that she was right. I recently re-connected with my father after almost two decades of estrangement (oddly mirroring the experience of Martin in SOMETHING MISSING), and one of my first questions for him was about the paregoric. He confirmed my wife’s suspicion, telling me that he and my mother would administer it to me by the spoonful in order to calm me down.

He reiterated that I was a difficult baby and added that I did not get any easier as I got older.