I wander into second hand stores when convalescing. I have too many books, but never mind. I go in to a favorite and the owner's face lights up. "Look," he says, "Come here."

He has a whole amazing collection of old medicine bottles, many with medicines. They are fabulous. Many have skulls and crossbones. Opium. Mercury. Digitalis. Plus they are fifty years old and more. "I will give you a bulk deal." he says.

I return when I have more time and go through them. I want the really poisonous ones and the ones with wonderful labels and the ones that just are comic history of medicine. Since I am an "old doctor" and have my own private clinic, other doctors drop stuff off as they retire. I have some really fun classic medical equipment. Sometimes with the original receipt, 1954. I have a home first aid book from 1915, put out by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. CPR was a bit different then: you pumped people's arms.

Anyhow I buy the old drug bottles and take them home. I pick a few for display in an old jewelry case for our clinic open house, but most are in a box. Then two friends with a two year old and six year old move in for three weeks and I put the poisons out of sight up high. Kids can and do climb, but the box is too heavy for either of them. Besides, there is enough other stuff in the house to keep them busy.

I am telling a friend about the bottles. "Are they poisonous really?" he says.

I think. "Um, well, they are fifty years or more old, who knows? Probably."

"Would you sell one?" he asks. "Let me know how much."

I think about it some. The practical part of my brain points out that my fingerprints are all over the bottles. And for what? To poison someone?

No. The answer is no. The doctor part of my brain is firm and overrules everything else. The scientist notes that we have both foxglove and poison hemlock here: who would use an antique medicine that might or might not work? Hemlock is extremely effective.

Must be some sort of stupid ethics test, really, and I am so literal that I believed it.....

Poi"son*er (?), n.

One who poisons.



© Webster 1913.

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