What was the "naughty medicine" I was given as a child?
December 5, 2017 10:23 AM   Subscribe

I grew up in the 1970s in London in a draughty and cold flat. When I was about seven I developed a habit of what I called "holding myself", not going to pee until my bladder was absolutely bursting. My mother noticed this because I would sit there wriggling and fidgeting, and although I don't recall being taken to the doctor, I do remember being given what she called "naughty medicine" if she caught me holding myself.

It was a gooey pastel pink or sometimes yellow liquid that tasted acrid and sour, and I absolutely hated it. It was served from a small unlabeled plastic or glass bottle with a spoon. If I didn't cry or complain when my mother gave me the medicine, I was allowed a Polo mint afterwards to take away the taste. If I was really defiant at being "caught", I would get the medicine but no mint.

It wasn't given to me because I actually had a urinary infection, because I didn't; the very clear implication from my mother was that it was a punishment for holding myself. This went on for at least a year.

I doubt this was actually prescribed for me, but I would really like to know what it was. I've since tasted Pepto-Bismol and Milk of Magnesia and cod liver oil, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't any of those.

Was there a generic feel-good "medicine" that my parents might have thought would work? Would I be able to access my medical records in England from that long ago?
posted by vickyverky to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it possible that it's something your mother simply mixed up herself? Maybe something with vinegar in it?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:35 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Earlier formulations of Kaopectate (anti-diarrhea etc) used kaolinite (a clay, basically) as their activate ingredient. I remember versions in American 1980s that were green-ish and some that were pinkish. And some were truly thick and clay-like. I don't know what the brands would have been there, but it may give you some Google image search hints.
posted by skynxnex at 10:39 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Looking at this online chat about British medicines of the past, it sounds as if there were "banana", "cherry", and "strawberry" (quotes as I believe they didn't actually taste anything as nice as these) flavored medicines all for constipation treatment (often flavored cod liver oil). Is it possible that your mother didn't realize that your need was for a #1 rather than a #2? They also talk about something called "California Syrup of Figs" (also for constipation) which I don't think is made anymore, ditto for a "kaolin & morphine" (!!!) mix also given to children for constipation.
posted by pammeke at 10:43 AM on December 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ipecac is usually a dark or honey brown, but it reportedly does have a bitter, sour taste to it, and it used to be incredibly common in home medicine cabinets.
posted by muddgirl at 10:44 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had the same problem as a child. I was given a nasty pink liquid antibiotic called Bactrim, not as a punishment, but because I did develop UTIs. Is it possible that you did once get this prescribed to you, and your mother kept it and used it later as a preventative/punishment? No doubt the name is different in the UK, but the medicine is probably more or less the same.

I’m sorry this happened to you. The problem was bad enough on its own.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:59 AM on December 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

Looks like Bactrim was called Septrin in the UK, and came in cherry or banana flavo(u)r.
posted by pammeke at 11:09 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's been a tradition of parents punishing children by giving them castor oil, which is described as colorless to pale yellow. The Wikipedia entry has info on this, including that it was used by colonial officials in the British Raj to punish servants in India, so there's a UK connection.

From your description, I doubt very much that this was a real medicine that would be listed in your records - though maybe it would be mentioned that your mother was using something to punish you.
posted by FencingGal at 11:41 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Was it calpol?
They used to give it to us for everything in Dublin during the eighties. Thick gloopy (orangey?) stuff with a horrible bitter taste.
Some kids loved it, strangely enough.
posted by drugstorefrog at 1:42 PM on December 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also came in to suggest the kid's cure-all, Calpol, which I remember as being pink. That link doesn't have pics of the stuff itself, but if their branding's anything to go to by, pink it is.
posted by penguin pie at 3:06 PM on December 5, 2017

Thank you for all the suggestions so far. That's a really interesting discussion on British medicines, pammeke!

The liquid wasn't transparent like castor oil -- it had a texture and appearance like runny Angel Delight. It definitely wasn't pretending to be banana or strawberry or any other flavour. I don't remember it being Calpol, but maybe it was a generic kaopectate.

I know I didn't go to the doctor to have it prescribed, so this must have been over the counter from the local chemist. And it didn't have any effect on me apart from making me want to puke from the taste.
posted by vickyverky at 4:10 PM on December 5, 2017

Would I be able to access my medical records in England from that long ago?

It looks as if they would have been discarded when you turned 25 or 26. But you could always ask.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 9:50 AM on December 6, 2017

My mother is quite open that she used Buttercup Syrup as a placebo/barometer of whether or not I was really unwell as a child (UK, 80s), because that stuff was vile. That would fit with the yellow, but not the pale pink.

Calpol was and is pink, but also came in orange colours as well. Of note is that between me and my brother, sugar-free calpol was introduced. I loved calpol, and hated sugar-free calpol, which I remember being horrible. That was definitely an 80s cure-all for children as mentioned upthread.

Simple linctus might be another possibility.
posted by Vortisaur at 10:20 AM on December 6, 2017

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