Friday, April 21, 2017

Where Did Mercurochrome Disappear To?

I've seen plenty of treatment modalities go from widespread use to complete and total extinction. Things like scultetus  binders, Phisohex, French eye suture needles,  hypodermoclysis, and last but not least; Mercurochrome which was a local antiseptic nick named "monkey blood" because of it's unusual color. When applied to skin it dried to a lovely orangey-is that a word?- red color. Worryworts used to fret that the coloration obscured inflammation, but infection cleared so quickly (hopefully) that this was a moot point.

An add from 1952 touted the child friendly nature of this first aid miracle solution: "Mercurochrome is one of the best antiseptics for first aid as  children do not hesitate to report their injuries promptly when mercurochrome is the household antiseptic because they know it will not hurt."

Every kid's mother had a bottle of this stuff readily available in the home medicine cabinet as an over-the-counter antiseptic. In the hospital it was mixed with Maalox and applied to decubitus ulcers and in the OR,  the final step after a Phisohex and Zepharin  prep was to paint the surgical site with Mercurochrome. Everyone knew when it was time to start a case because the Mercurochrome painted skin would almost glow in a radiant reddish-orange hue beckoning the awaiting team. What a beautiful site that glowing orange belly rhythmically rising falling with the Airshields ventilator chugging away. Everything seemed right with the world...It was great to be alive. Like Dr. Slambow used to say, "IT's TIME TO HIT IT."

In 1998, sourpusses at the FDA declared that "Mercurochrome was not generally recognized as safe and effective as an over the counter antiseptic," and interstate sale of "monkey blood" was prohibited. Maybe the science was lacking, but anecdotally, Mercurochrome had been around forever and did not kill or injure an appreciable number of people.

The hysterics over the medical use of mercury finally caught up with and doomed the use of  mercurochrome. What the heck?? Mercury was everywhere back when I was a nurse. Amalgym dental fillings-I have a mouthful.- thermometers to insert in an assortment of orifices, Thimersol preservative in multi-dose vials, syphgmomanometers, and every floor had a big brown glass bottle filled with mercury to inflate Miller/Abbot intestinal  tubes. These 10 foot long python like hoses tubes were filled with 45cc of mercury after the tube was in a patient's stomach and used for gastric decompression. Peristalsis moved the mercury filled balloon and tube through the GI tract like a whippet chasing a jackrabbit. Where that mercury filled balloon went, the tube was sure to follow. I heard stories about how one parapetic Miller/Abbott  tube made the complete GI tract  journey exiting from the anus. Anyone up for a round trip?

When on call,we used to play with mercury on the same table we dined from.  Dumping a glob of that marvelous silver liquid out of the brown glass bottle  and then corralling all those little BB sized  silver spheres and getting them back in the bottle could while away the time. We also thought getting squirted by an errant arterial bleeder was a badge of honor. Ahh.. the ignorance of youth when thoughts of mercury toxicity or hepatitis were far away. Dumb, but happy!

We knew nothing of the facts that mercury in sufficient doses is indeed toxic to the brain and kidneys. Although the mercury in Mercurochrome was negligible, the FDA required manufacturers to prove the benefit of their product outweighed the risk. This was never accomplished and Mercurochrome has disappeared for good.

My original title for this post was going to be: "Mercurochrome: Malicously Maligned for Malevolent Mercurialism."  Something about this aging business has attracted me to alliteration and I'm even starting to think in alliterations. Perhaps a long nap will help with some of this nonsense.  Thanks for journeying into my bottomless pit of eternal foolishness. I still worry about all you folks reading my posts so late at night. Lots of unpleasant things used to happen when I worked nights and I hope you are getting along with more grace than I did back in the day.

2 comments:

  1. Oh yes ~ I remember Mercurochrome in the family first aid box...
    But we didn't use it with Maalox ~ our 'recipe' was Maalox and Silvadene for decubiti. And a heat lamp.
    Ick.

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  2. That reminds me of how they used mercury to treat constipation back in the days of Lewis and Clark. You could track the route they took by finding mercury that was deposited in latrines.

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