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That Dreadful Purga (de-worming medicine)

I can call this story: THE WORST EPISODE OF A CHILD’S LIFE TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO, and that is because today I will tell you the worst story of my life and I am sure it was so for all children.

If there was one thing I detested of our childhood days in San Pedro and all over Belize, it was drinking that dreadful castor oil called “purga” to get rid of intestinal worms.

Those of you who know the castor oil know that it has a horrible smell and therefore taste. Perhaps the best description I can give you is a comparison to cod liver oil or shark liver oil. Now those two really stink. Well, castor oil is three times more awful.

It used to be our parents’ almost ritualistic practice to give us de-worming medicine twice a year or more. Anytime a child was losing his good appetite or grinding his teeth in his sleep, it was “purga time”. If you were losing some weight and your face looked pale, it was “purga time”. If you easily got irritated and would lose your temper, it was “purga time”. If you complained of your tummy hurting you, it was “purga time”.

My mother announced from Friday evening that Saturday morning would be “purga time”. It was given on Saturday, a non school day, because the effect was loose bowels and you would go to the bathroom at least eight times for the day. That was the commencement of one’s turmoil. At the time of “surgery” dad would grab you and fold your arms. Mom would force open your jaws with one hand and held the huge spoon full of “purga” with the other. When she managed to pour out the “purga” into your mouth amidst cries and wailings, she would then pinch your nose forcing you to not be able to breathe and therefore you had to swallow to be able to breathe with your mouth. That was it, but it took quite some effort. In many cases, the child had to be given five good whippings before it even started. Then to smoothen it off you were given a candy, usually a peppermint to remove that horrible smell from your mouth.

Don’t ask me what happened if you vomited the medicine? You got it right- a repeat. Don’t ask me if mommy lost her patience and her temper? She smeared your face with the same spoon of “purga”. Don’t ask me what if you ran away from home for the entire day? At the end of the day you got your five whippings and then the “purga”. Or if you returned a bit too late like 7 p.m., you would be locked out to sleep outside and get your purga on Sunday morning.

Indeed drinking “purga”, the dreadful worm medicine, was an ordeal. And to make matters worse, sometimes, like once a year, the public nurses came from Belize City and visited the school to give “purga” to every single child in school. You guess it right. That day, if you found out in time, there were a lot of absences at school. Thus ends our worst episode of being a child twenty five years ago.

– by Angel Nuñez, Columnist

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