Rheum officinale; Rhubarb
It was the most auspicious event of the decade: the long awaited family reunion. Which coincidentally, fell on the weekend of Rheum’s 7th birthday, and was hailed as the Birthday Trip, in one particular household. The whole tribe had not been in the same country let alone the same house for over 12 years. Siblings, unlike most of their peers on New Zealand’s, South Island, scattered the globe, branches of the family tree spread far and wide.
Rheum’s first introduction to her, never seen before, blood relatives unfortunately set the precedence for the whole trip. The flight went without a hitch much to Rheum’s mothers surprise; they were first off the Quantas 747. They collected their new matching, blue leather luggage from the conveyor belt loaded it on the awkward to push airport trolley, declared nothing, and walked through the automatic doors and into a sea of waving arms and hugs and wet kisses from their clan. Rheum played no part in the display of emotion, she stood back, aloof, unnoticed for a moment or two until her mother reached for her hand and gently pulled her towards her. All the relatives ‘oohhed and ahhed’ kissed and patted her head like you would a dog and Rheum in response; scowled and refused to utter a greeting. Rheum was a child that was not inclined to talk much and asked for nothing.
The journey back to the house in the mini bus was loud. Pretending to be asleep, leant on her mothers arm in the queerest position in order to rest a while on the back seat, while everyone chatted around her, Rheum already felt bored,
Rheum’s two cousins, her mother’s sister’s girls, had spent the previous 2 days tidying their bedroom in preparation for their guests’ arrival. Beds were swapped into different rooms and much to Rheum’s horror the three girls were to share a king-size bed. The young cousins had planned the fun and games down to the tiniest detail - midnight feasts, video games, movies in bed, board games, the proud list was pinned to the backside of their bedroom door. But unbeknown to the intricate planners, Rheum did not like to play with other children, She was a child that demanded her own way in everything and did not compromise consequently she had no friends. She desired many, many things, primarily from her mother and she was difficult to satisfy the majority of the time. Basically she was an indolent, lazy child, she barely did anything except, watch her favourite cartoons on videos uninterrupted for hours on end. She was content with her own company.
The first night, the usual household bedtime curfews were wavered. Adult sisters chatted for hours catching up on each others lives - four sisters, two with
children, two without, three married, one divorced. In the sitting room, the cousins watched videos satisfying only Rheum. The two young sisters went to bed bored, Rheum still refusing to speak spoke nothing as the sisters bid their good nights and left Rheum glued to the screen. The adult sisters chatted in softer tones and made endless cups of tea and it was almost midnight when Rheum was carried up the apple and pears to bed fast asleep.
The first night was dreadful, and was whispered about in the morning amongst the reunited family bar Rheum and her mother. The sisters spoke in hushed tones and asked each other if they had noticed Rheum’s convulsive twitching of her eyelids that they thought was very disconcerting and that her eyes were swimming full of water especially in the open air whilst they waited for the eldest sister to go to the airport car park to retrieve the parked mini bus to drive them all home. And as for their newly acquainted nieces crying, my goodness they had never witnessed anything like it. PQRS- Rheum cried all night long for absolutely no reason. No sooner was she placed on the bed than the uproar began. She woke her already sleeping cousins and kept the whole household awake, her mother could not pacify her, no one or nothing could appease the crying child not even her treasured teddy bear (toy). She seemed to downright dislike her much loved teddy bear. Allowances were made: strange house, strange bed, but after the second sleepless night for the household, the excuses wore thin. Not long before bedtime on the second night Rheum rubbing her belly complained of stomach ache and once in bed she seemed, judging by her behaviour, to become worse. Doubled up with COLIC pains, she cried and tossed and turned and rolled all over the bed, kicking her innocent cousins who eventually abandoned their bed and slept top to tail on the green leather Monks couch in the lounge downstairs. Never satisfied, Rheum vehemently shrieked insisting on extra blankets, she shrieked and shrieked until she got what she wanted. She was worse for uncovering any part of her body and getting cold and all the rolling about left many a body part uncovered. All the extra blankets were being used for the guests, so her aunt sacrificed her own light weight quilt insisting Rheum have it, anything for a bit of peace, quiet and sleep, she kept her thoughts to herself, not wanting to upset her sister who she could see was exasperated with her daughters behaviour. She went back to her own room plonked herself on the bed, covered herself with a king-size bath towel and desired nothing more than slumber. Rheum’s mother feared to go near her daughter incase she aggravated the situation and so sat on the corner of the bed and with a cotton flannel and wiped the dripping sweat from her daughters face and head when she rolled in her direction. All the motion in fact made Rheum very anxious which added to the pandemonium. Rheum’s head was sopping wet with perspiration –sour perspiration, which much to her mothers horror, stained the new white Egyptian cotton sheets yellow, salty liquid dripped from her upper lip Pavlov’s dog sprung into her mothers mind. Rheum was a sweaty child, whether awake or asleep she sweated profusely from her face, scalp, forehead, nose, wherever there were pores on the upper part of her body perspiration poured. Desperate times called for
desperate measures and so Rheum’s mother searched her handbag for the carry always, first aid kit containing the Epson salts. History revealed that Rheum’s pains were worse before stool, Rheum’s mother hurriedly prepared the potion, gently but purposefully encouraged her daughter to drink the laxative eager to hurry the process along and end the mayhem. She carried her daughter to the toilet, as she knew that motion and walking caused frequent ineffectual urging to stool. Rheum sat on the toilet shivering during stool, her mother removed her own pink dressing gown and draped it over Rheum’s shoulders. Rheum was better for being wrapped up and warmth. It helped to counteract the fact that Rheum was worse before, during and after stool. The sour smell indicated the laxative had taken affect before Rheum’s mother witnessed the diarrhoea of varying colour and a frothy consistency floating in the toilet bowl. Rheum’s mother never knew what she would witness after Rheum emptied her bowel, her motto was “expect the unexpected” when she was a baby her stools were green in her diaper on exposure to air once the diaper was unfastened. When she got older and used the toilet the stool was yellow turning green on standing, or sometimes they were thin and pasty and sour smelling. It was a conundrum to her mother. Bowels emptied they were back to square one as Rheum still had the colicky, constrictive, cutting in the abdomen pains after the stool . It was going to be a long drawn out night
The next day was Rheum’s birthday. Despite the household being tired from yet another sleepless night, children and adults were up early to prepare for the birthday celebration. Rheum, however, slept late, her mother popped her head around the door when breakfast was being served but decided not to disturb her daughter for fear of her being in a bad mood and spoiling another day even though it was her birthday. Rheum slept with her hands over her head. It was peculiar for Rheum to sleep so long as she usually slept little. Hours passed and still Rheum slept. Let sleeping dogs lie Rheum’s mother inwardly mused as the memory of Pavlov’s dog alias dribbling Rheum of the night before popped to the forefront of her thoughts. The party food was prepared, sausage rolls, angel cake, jelly and ice cream, delicately cut triangular sandwiches, chocolate chip buns with chocolate icing on top and a Mickey Mouse emblem placed in the middle, a fruit salad was prepared with much discussion as to whether the greenish bananas were ripe enough to eat, the consensus was that they were, so in they went into the large Irish crystal dish along with the other fruit. Rheum’s aunt had made and iced the magnificent birthday cake. It was shaped like a star, delicately iced in white and gold with seven sparklers on the top.
The young cousins eager to get into their fancy party dresses for the special occasion, tiptoed around the sleeping Rheum organising their clothes and accessories. The youngest cousin knelt down and leant on the bed, to retrieve a fairy slipper from under it. The stench evading the sleeping Rheum was unmistakably sour. Since the day of Rheum’s birth all her bodily discharges were sour - stool, sweat, taste, nappies, brought back milk. The whole of Rheum smelt sour even if she washed or bathed every day. The smell
reminded the elder sister of walking down lemon grove lane, stealing a lemon from a tree, piercing its skin with a grubby nail, and licking the oil to generate saliva in a parched mouth on a hot summers day. One sister giggled to the other and commented that the smell suited her, and from that moment forth they referred to their cousin as Sour Rheum. The elder sister noticed and pointed to the offensive mucus dribbling from the sleeper’s mouth and there and then the two sisters made a joint vow never to drink from the same cup, glass or can as Rheum, even if they were dying of thirst in a desert. They shook hands and giggled pinching closed their nostrils. All of a sudden Rheum got up from the bed, she seemed to not notice her two cousins, she walked in a circle and then lay back down on the bed. She was sleep walking. The cousins astonished at what they had just witnessed looked at each other and giggled hands over mouths. The giggles became louder, the sshhhs longer and Rheum awakened.
The birthday feast looked spectacular all laid out on the linen table cloth. Sour Rheum even managed a smile when she entered the room to clapping and birthday wishes from her family. Rheum could not decide what to eat first, she was ravenous and desired various foods She bit into the salmon sandwich, then discarded it, she picked up a meat paste sandwich and did the same. She desired the food but after a few bites didn’t want it. Rheum felt nauseated at the first mouthful and then felt disgusted. The repulsion showed all over her face. The chatter died off and the party mongers ate in silence. Rheum ate very little, she picked only at the unripe banana from the fruit salad. And Poetic justice paid a late night call by way of explosive diarrhea that stank of lemons and after all the guests left the next day every window in the house was opened wide to air the house and life thankfully went back to normal. And one exhausted host vowed to no one but herself, that the next family reunion would not happen in her house.
RHEUM MATERIA MEDICA