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March 21, 1986 - Image 52

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-03-21

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Friday, March 21, 1986


They Rolled Their Own
(Pills, Of Course)


Special to The Jewish News

uring the 1920's, when I
D was
growing up on the

there were no felschers, but neighborhood
druggists were reasonable facsimiles.
Lower East Side of New. York, illnesses
A druggist, in fact, was in many ways
easily controlled by antibiotics today were
superior to both a doctor and a felscher.
serious matters. Flu, scarlet fever and
He charged nothing for medical advice. He
strep throat, for example, could lead to
was easier to talk to than a busy doctor,
dreaded "complications." Nevertheless,
and he was always immediately available.
when anyone in my family fell ill, my de-
And everyone knew the story of the drug-
vout mother put her trust in God first of
gist who had saved a man from being sent
all. If — God forbid — we didn't get well
to certain death by his doctor. The doctor,
quickly, she called for help from a panel of
according to the legend, had prescribed a
saints of the medical -persuasion — Dr.
lethal dose of a drug — belladonna or ar-
Bluestone, Dr. Wolper or Dr. Barsky.
senic possibly — and the horrified druggist
These were names to be invoked in hushed
had telephoned the doctor and called his
and reverent tones — and only if the case
attention to the error. The patient went to
seemed irremediable through prayer, ene-
shul the very next shabbos to bentsch
mas and copious glasses of hot, dried-rasp-
goimel for his deliverance. How could you
berry tea.
fail to put your trust in a druggist?
For common colds, belly aches, head-
My former Bronx neighbor, Emil
aches, twinges, cuts, sprains, bruises,
Ducker, a practising pharmacist for over
cinders in the eye, and lacerations up to
a half century, tells me that in his early
and including holes in the head, you relied
professional days it was common for pa-
on the corner druggist. Even if you fell
tients to seek assurance about their physi-
down a flight of stairs or were hit by a car,
cians' competency from the druggist. He
they took you to the drugstore.
recalls one anxious customer's monologue:
The druggist gave first aid and called for
"I had pains in my stomach, so I went to
an ambulance only if absolutely necessary.
my doctor. He charged five dollars and
Even so, many an accident victim stole
sent me to a specialist. The visit to the
away before the ambulance came. "Ambu-
specialist cost me — you hear? — fifteen
lance" meant "hospital", an object of
dollars, and he told me to see a professor.
universal fear. If the druggist had already
The professor took twenty-five dollars and
ministered to you, why risk being done to
he gave me this tsettele (prescription). Sof
death in a hospital?
kol sof — to sum up — tell me, Mr. Ducker,
In this day of universal sophistication,
you think this medicine will help me, or
everyone knows that the study of the
pharmacopeia does not qualify one for ad-
Another former neighbor, the late Philip
mission to the medical fraternity. A half
Axelbank, who ran a drugstore on the
century ago, distinctions were not that
East Side for 58 years, remembered the
fine. The druggist had fallen heir to the
faithful tenacity with which customers fol-
mantle of the felscher, an Old Country
lowed their druggists' directions.
character remembered fondly by immi-
"A woman comes into the store one day
and asks me maybe I have soniething for
The felscher was not a doctor, but he
her husband's hemorrhoids," Mr. Axel-
was as good as a doctor. Having served an
bank once recalled. "So I give her a bottle
apprenticeship as a doctor's assistant, he
of mineral oil and a dozen suppositories,
performed many paramedical services , . and I tell her that she should give her hus-
such as pulling teeth, lancing abscesses,
band two tablespoons of mineral oil and a
and leeching, and'he had the advantage of
suppository at bed time. A few days later
being -cheaper than a doctor. In America,
the woman comes back and tells me that

her husband feels much better. 'But
please, Mr. Axelbank,' she begs, 'maybe
next time you can mix a little sugar or
chocolate with the suppositories. You
wouldn't-believe how hard it was for my
husband to swallow them.' If they only
obeyed the Ten Commandments like
that!" -
Our neighborhood druggist, Mr. Sham-
roy, held court at the corner of Jackson
and Monroe Streets, about a quarter of a
mile from the ferry to Williamsburg on the
Brooklyn side of the East River. When you
opened his door, a rich aroma enveloped
you. It was a compound of camomile and
linden tea, idoform and lycopodium pow-
der, Florentine orris root and oil of cloves,
with carbolic acid dominating the lot.
Like a strong whiff of smelling salts, the
odors overpowered you until you caught
your breath. The shelves were stacked
with familiar patent medicines like Sloan's
liniment, Vicks vaporub and musterole.
There were no electrical appliances, cosme-
tics, stationery or beach chairs. You were
unmistakably in a drugstore.
A short, pale-faced, hunched man with
a fringe of mousy hair around his bald
crown, Mr. Shamroy rarely wasted a word
or a smile. When he heard a customer come
in, he waddled to the counter and said one
word, "Yes?"

"Our neighborhood
druggist, Mr. Shamroy,
held court at the corner
of Jackson and Monroe
Streets...When you
opened his door, a rich
aroma enveloped you..."

He took a case history and supplied
remedies with the utmost economy. "My
child has a cold" was all he needed to
know. "He has fever?" If the answer was
yes, out came a tin of aspirin. Sore throat?
Yellow throat mixture for gargling ap-
peared on the counter. He coughs? A bot-
tle of terpin hydrate. As he wrapped the
items, he gave a parting admonition, "If
he's not better tomorrow, call a doctor.
You hear?"
Having been put off by his gruff man-
ner, I hated being sent to make a purchase
from Mr. Shamroy until one summer vaca-
tion when I was conscripted into his ser-
vice. I became Shamroy's errand boy
through special pleading. At that time a
poolroom was considered a den of vice, and
we lived directly over one. My mother pre-
vailed on Mr. Shamroy to let me be his un-
paid flunky so that I would be far enough
from the poolroom not to be seduced into
the criminal life.

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