High Blood

A long time ago, I read a book about rootworkers in Detroit. Don’t quote me on this, but I think it was called Walking Over Medicine. But in it the author talked about how a problem with getting people healthcare can come when people who practice folk medicine and recognize folk ailments talk in those terms to people who went to med school.

One such folk ailment was “high blood,” which, when people complained about having high blood led the doctors to be very confused because often the people didn’t have high blood pressure at all. But “high blood” was a folk ailment. (I tried to look up “high blood” on Google, but it still seems like most scholars are linking it to blood pressure and I remember this author talking about high blood, low blood, thick blood, and thin blood and other types of blood. It wasn’t some cutesy way of talking about blood pressure.)

I’m fascinated by folk ailments, some of which seem completely social–like, if you don’t live in that community, you will never have this ailment–but others seems like a name for a constellation of symptoms that otherwise might not have a name. We talked about this before with having a cold in your eye or a cold in your back.

I don’t remember what the symptoms of high blood were. But I woke up in the middle of the night because the sound of my pulse in my ear was so loud. I don’t know if it was the front bringing rain pushing through or a minor cold or what, but my ear is stuffed up. Eventually, I found a way to lay that let it drain and the sound lessened. I went back to sleep.

But, when I woke up, there in the middle of the night to that loud sound, my very first thought was “This must be high blood.” It’s right there, in my head, high up.

But since I never understood what high blood was, I don’t know if I have it now. But I did think it was funny that that’s what came to mind, rather than, “Oh, shit, I better not be getting a cold.”

5 thoughts on “High Blood

  1. I found descriptions of high and low blood here (warning, pdf), from The Quarterly Journal of – Case Western Reserve University. The book you are thinking of is Walkin’ Over Medicine.

    I’ve been told that in Britain, they don’t recognize strep throat as a common ailment — people see it as a constellation of separate symptoms. Isn’t that odd?

  2. According to my grandmother is is 93 and whose parents were from Portugal and who still employs a few “Old World” remedies, says that “thin blood” means someone who is frequently cold and might also exhibit a lack of stamina. The remedy for this is eating liver because obviously they are low in iron and might also need some protein.
    “Thick blood” is someone who feels lazy and sluggish, they need to drink more water, preferably with lemon in it, and also get up so your blood doesn’t gum up your veins. Thick blooded people are always warm and thin blooded people are always cold. You can be thick blooded without being lazy but thick blood leads to laziness because if your blood is thick is moves around more slowly and makes you disinclined to get up early in the morning.
    But these things exist separately from blood thinners and issues like blood clots and cholesterol.

  3. nm, that article is really interesting. I never thought of “spells” as being linked to dementia, but of course! I imagine young people with epilepsy or some expressions of autism also get put under that umbrella term.

    S., that also is super interesting. I definitely had thick blood this morning.

  4. I remember my great-grandmother who was born in 1891 having a similar description of thin blood and the remedies to Saraphina’s grandmother. I also remember a relative saying they were anemic and my great-grandma saying, “Oh, you have thin blood,” like that was the real root cause of it.

    Her parents came to the upper Midwest from Maine and North Carolina. They were French Canadian and Scottish. She also worked as a nanny in Baltimore and Boston so who knows when or where she picked up the thin blood information.

  5. That’s so fascinating. My grandfather was definitely someone who would fit that “thick-blooded” description, although he wasn’t in the least lazy, just very deliberate about everything. But he didn’t have a folk descriptor for it, although he was born in 1892 in Ukraine. He just said, “I’m slow as molasses in January.”

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