Folk medicine and clothespins

Over my three plus decades of primary care, I’ve come across some strange folk remedies. Most have a kernel of truth, or at least, a plausible origin. Some have fascinating ethic components. Some are harder to understand. And some…well, you decide.

Mrs. Peck was there to discuss her nosebleeds. She had had them several times daily for the past four three days, and while they had not been terribly heavy, they had bled long enough to make a mess each time and she was frustrated. She was generally healthy other than diet controlled diabetes, was not taking anticoagulants or platelet inhibitors, did not smoke, did not have significant upper airway allergies, and had not had a recent respiratory infection. It was an unusually cold early winter and she and her husband had been supplementing their wood stove with their back-up heat system, an oil furnace and forced hot air. Based on her history, I suspected this was the cause.

On exam, she had the expected dryness of her nasal mucosa and some prominent vessels in Kiesselbach’s plexus, a common source of winter nose bleeds, and easily managed with humidification and some topical medication for the nose. But I also noticed some unusual markings on her ear lobes. On close examination, they appeared to be bruises, which was unsettling because it raised the possibility of more serious causes of her nosebleeds. But they were strangely geometrically regular.

“I see some marks here on your ears. They look like bruises. Are you having any problems with bruising?”

“No. Those must be from the clothespins.”

“Clothespins?”

“I can’t use my computer while I’m pinching my ears to make the nosebleed stop, so I just put clothespins on my ears so I can keep typing.”

 



 

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