Opinion: An inherited case of dropsy

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Commentary by Ward Degler

A couple things my mother did that I have inherited: She talked to herself – all day,  every day, a running monologue about what she was doing, what she had done and what she was going to do next. I do the same thing, although I claim it’s just healthy thinking aloud.

My mother also suffered from what she called “dropsy.” She constantly dropped things – spoons, spatulas, frying pans, glasses of water, her purse.

“Oops, my dropsy is acting up again!” she would mutter when something else hit the floor.

I’m dropping things now, too, the same things my mother dropped, with the exception of a purse, of course. In my case, it’s because things are smaller than they used to be. “Those pill bottles used to be a whole lot bigger.” Ditto my car keys, ballpoint pens and paper clips.

Only recently did I discover that dropsy is an actual thing. It’s what doctors called congestive heart failure before the dawn of the 20th century. It was also a casual reference to edema, bodily fluid retention that results in swelling.

The word spilled out of a bigger word, ydropesie, which claimed roots in just about every European country, but which was spawned in Greece as having something to do with water. At some point doctors also referred to the malady as hudrops or hudropikos, which sounds a lot like something you might find on the menu at a gyro shop. “Can I get my hudropikos without onions, please?”

I’m not sure what treatments were available for dropsy back in the days of horse-drawn trams and gas lights, but Victorian literature lavishly refers to “potions and nostrums” for just about any ailment. And no woman of the age would be caught dead without her smelling salts.

There is at least one reference to dropsy in Scripture. Luke 14:2 describes a man with dropsy whom the Lord cured on the Sabbath. The Pharisees got all unglued over that, of course, so there is no mention of the poor man’s symptoms or how he got on afterward.

Heart disease treatments are abundant and effective today, and I haven’t heard a doctor refer to dropsy in years. Since I suffer from a little AFib myself, I take that as a good thing.

I’m not sure if there are any scriptural references about talking to oneself or not, only that folks back then seemed quick to throw a net over anyone who exhibited signs of lunacy, loosely defined as carrying on conversations with the moon.

I keep my conversations private. Except when I drop something. Then I might announce to anyone nearby that my dropsy was acting up again.


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