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Chilblains: a blast from the past

The old days were all very well but some things, like chilblains and the traditional remedies for them, are best consigned to the history books, says Jane Bates

The old days were all very well but some things, like chilblains and the traditional remedies for them, are best consigned to the history books, says Jane Bates


Picture: Alamy

What a strange profession we belong to. All you are expecting is a coffee and a chat and suddenly your companion – whose piece of Victoria sponge you have been diving into on the premise that shared cake has zero calories – divests themselves of an item of clothing.

On this occasion, it was a sock. She wanted my opinion about her toes, which were sore and covered in blisters. This symptom was reminiscent of the chilblains we all suffered from as children, which is exactly what they were.

It was a blast from the past thanks to the Beast from the East. Neither of us had seen chilblains since we were young, but when we were children these small gobbets of pain were the bane of our lives.

Poorly clad

Throughout the winter months and into spring the skin on our toes, fingers and knees throbbed, itched and chafed because of chilblains and chaps, and cold damage suffered by our poorly clad extremities thanks to the unbending rules about school uniforms.

Even in the snow the boys wore shorts and the girls sported skirts and socks – it is little wonder our little limbs became so chilled. The traditional remedy was to steep the affected part in urine, the threat of which always put a stop to my whinging.

Thank goodness we have moved on and chilblains, and soaking body parts in wee, have been consigned to the history books. It seems monstrous now that children should have been unquestioningly exposed to the elements whatever the weather.

My friend and I wondered what would shock our children in years to come when they look back – sugary fizzy drinks and iPads instead of exercise perhaps? But the misery of chilblains is something they should never know.


Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire 

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