Sleeping in the Steamy Room

When I was a kid I had asthma, although, way back then, they didn’t call it asthma. They called it having a wheezy chest.  

There were no puffers or specific asthma drugs. All there was were big yellow pills which were sulphur based. They were supposed to loosen the gunk in your chest and allow you to cough it up and thereby ease the wheeze.  

I guess they must have helped because, although I remember wheezing and spluttering away on regular occasions, I am still here to tell the story.

I remember lying on my belly on the bed with my head and shoulders hanging over the edge while my mum pummelled me on the back to help with the loosening process.  It was horrible. 

The wheezing was always worse at night when the cooler air came in.  Sleeping became difficult because of the constant coughing.  My doctor advised mum to buy a spirit stove and a big kettle. The little stove was filled with methylated spirits and the flame was lit under the kettle. In the kettle was water mixed with eucalyptus oil.  As the kettle boiled, a cloud of eucalyptus steam filled my bedroom.  The steam made breathing easier and I was able to sleep.


The bedroom door had to be closed to keep the steam in. The shadows rose large as the little flame flickered and it could be a bit scary.   I told myself stories as I lay there in the steamy room.  I would imagine that I was sleeping beside a camp fire.  Sometimes I was a cowgirl like Dale Evans, sometimes a Native American girl and sometimes I was all alone on a desert island. 

Eventually I would sleep, the spirit stove would run out of metho and the flame would die. I remember trying to stay awake long enough to see that, but I never once saw it go out.  

These days, I have my steroid spray thingy and my puffer.  My asthma is well under control thanks to modern medicine.  My back molars are full of fillings thanks to the effects of the sulphur drugs but, I guess, that’s a small price to pay for being able to take a deep cleansing breath whenever one needs to.

Do you have any memories of interesting medical or folk treatments that you received?  I would be interested to know of them.





2 thoughts on “Sleeping in the Steamy Room

  1. That wheezing in the night can be a big pain. My little sister had asthma and her strange coughing sounds would sometimes scare us! I remember mom giving her a concoction of black pepper, basil, ginger, clove mixed with honey. It used to taste bitter but it used to help her.

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