Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The curative value of pork

Howard Fischer
Uppsala, Sweden

The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.
— Voltaire

Photo of a Swedish pig farmer. Gustav Heurlin. From Allers Familj-journal. 1909. Via Wikimedia.

My mother told me the story that when I was a few months old I developed some sort of respiratory illness. The problem distressed my parents so much that they called the family doctor to our apartment. He offered no specific treatment, and the disorder persisted. It may have been croup, respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis, or something else. A visit to a pediatrician—uncommon in 1947—produced no cure.

My paternal grandmother, who lived on the lower east side of Manhattan, and spoke only Yiddish, decided to find help from a different type of “healer.” She went to seek advice from some sort of Jewish curandera. This “wise-woman” suggested that I would be well if I slept for one night with a piece of pork in my crib. With this advice, my highly-observant, non-English speaking grandmother, who had probably never been within fifty yards of pig meat (living or dead), knew what to do. She found a non-kosher butcher, surely not within her familiar neighborhood, bought the potentially curative cut, and gave it to my parents. The meat was placed in my crib, and as the story goes, the next morning I was cured.

Was it coincidence? How could it be anything else?

HOWARD FISCHER, MD, was a professor of pediatrics at Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan.

Summer 2021



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