Times Staff Writer David J. Griffin
Often, simple ideas work really well! The hot water bottle is a good example. By the way, that handy helper is experiencing a resurgence in popularity.
Containers for warmth in bed were used as early as the 16th century. The earliest versions contained hot coals from the dying embers of the fire, and these bed warmers were used to warm the bed before getting into it.
Last week, for some unknown reason, I awoke with a stabbing pain in my lower back. I did what most everyone does for similar pain and took some over-the-counter pain medicine.
After 24 hours, the pain was growing worse, and my wife suggested that I get out the old hot water bottle to see if it would relieve the nagging pain. I decided to sleep with the warm, soothing bottle against my back. To my surprise, I awoke the next morning with my pain completely gone.
This incident reminded me of my grandmother’s, Mommie Katie’s, hot water bottle. She was of the “old school” concerning home medical remedies. In her opinion, the hot water bottle would cure a surprising number of illnesses.
Living on a very small farm in Rockcastle County, our house was heated by a large Warm Morning stove in a center room. For this reason, most of the bedrooms were quite cool in the winter months. On extremely cold nights, Mommie Katie would quietly slip the warm bottle wrapped in a towel into her bed to keep her feet warm.
Her bottle normally hung in the bathroom just over the bath tub, where it was ready at a moment’s notice. Mommie Katie always used the bottle when one of us complained of an earache or some muscle pain. Her idea was that heat would relieve the pain. Whether it was used for aches and pains, to keep her warm on cold nights, or simply for comfort, she would not be without her hot water bottle. She loved it!
Since those days, we have learned that hot water bottles can actually relieve pain by improving circulation to the muscles, which decreases spasms and reduces inflammations. Heat also decreases sensitivity to pain, relieves joint stiffness, and increases blood flow to the skin.
My grandfather (Pop) also understood the value of using the trusty hot water bottle to relieve pain associated with aching muscles. He was a very hard worker on the farm and always pulled his rocking chair alongside the stove to keep warm in the winter season. When he suffered aching muscles, he held the bottle on the muscles that were hurting and occasionally fell asleep cuddling the bottle as he sat next to the fire. I can hear him now, “Katie, will you fill this bottle again with hot water?”
My mother (Bee) used her hot water bottle for some of the same reasons. When it was extremely cold, she filled that old red bottle to place in my bed next to my feet so I would stay cozy during the night. I can remember going to bed and being surprised to find it there and my bed warm from the radiant heat of the bottle wrapped in a bath towel.
Bee also thought the bottle helped to relieve her arthritis. She wrapped it in a towel and held the bottle next to her affected joint that was in pain. In addition to the hot water bottle, she always considered regular aspirin to be the best of pain medications.
I specifically remember one week when I was very young and had severe flu-like symptoms. Bee proceeded to treat me with the “tried and true” methods that had been taught to her by Mommie Katie. First, she emphasized that I should drink as many fluids as possible, get plenty of bed rest, and stay warm. She tucked me into bed with heated bricks wrapped in towels at my feet, and the trusty hot water bottle against my aching ear. Then she placed a “dollop” of Vicks salve on my tongue for my sore throat and explained that she would be back in a little while with home-made chicken noodle soup. The fact that I was warm and being treated with such love and affection made me feel better even before the healing had time to take place.
I believe that some of the old time therapeutic measures are simply the best way to treat nagging pain and suffering. One thing that I will never forget is that old hot water bottle hanging in our bathroom. The fact that it was always ready to be used was some comfort in itself. At any rate, it took care of my recent back pain, and I am grateful for its healing powers.
(You can reach me at email@example.com or you can drop me a line at P.O. Box 927 – Stanton, KY 40380. I appreciate your suggestions and comments.)