A few days after entering the U.S. Navy in May 1943, I had my first harrowing experience. I was stationed at U.S. Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Illinois, along with 90,000 other sailors. Our company consisted of 150 recruits. I pulled night guard duty in our barracks, which meant standing up for eight hours. I had a high fever and could barely stand up or stay awake. Falling asleep would have been a captain's mast disciplinary action.
I could not wait until I got off duty at 7 a.m. to rush over to the sick bay dispensary. The pharmacist's mate checked my temperature and said, "You have a case of cat fever." I asked, "What's that?" He replied, "That's short for catarrh fever." Growing up in the Great Depression, my mother used an Italian word, catarrah, whenever I had nasal or chest congestion.
The pharmacist's mate gave me some type of elixir and pills, then admitted me to the base hospital. I conked out in short order and went into a deep sleep. My lights were out for 36 hours. I did not eat, drink or go to the bathroom during the entire time. The medications literally knocked me out and put me into hibernation mode.
For the next 33 months of my military service, I never contracted this flu type of illness again. This story came to mind after all these years because I was reading an old weekly newspaper I found at a recent garage sale. It was Harper's Bazaar, dated Jan. 6, 1872, or 133 years ago. There was an ad in it that mentioned cat fever: "$500 reward is offered by the proprietor of Dr. Page's Catarrh Remedy for a case of cold in head, catarrh or ozena, which he cannot cure. Sold by druggists at 50 cents." That remedy would have come in handy for me back in 1943.
The word ozena sparked my curiosity, since I have never heard of it. The librarian found a definition for it, "a late stage of atrophic rhinitis." Never too old to learn. Finally, our Great Depression "no guarantee" cure for cat fever was honey, lemon juice and jigger of white lightning (moonshine).
X Michael J. Lacivita is a Youngstown retiree. A collection of his columns, "Rag Man, Rag Man," has been published by Pig Iron Press of Youngstown.