JQA, Lead-Water, & Lindsey Vonn

By Jeremy Dibbell

John Quincy Adams’ tweet for today, 15 March, has generated lots of questions from his followers. He writes “Rode out. attempted to write. Instead of lead-water use fresh butter. Inflammation increased. Evening Chess.” He expands on this slightly in his long diary entry: “I ceased this day using lead-water to disperse the inflammation of my leg, finding it altogether insufficient to check its progress; and substituted in its stead an application of fresh butter.”

What’s lead-water, why replace it with butter, and what’s Lindsey Vonn got to do with this?

The OED defines lead-water as “dilute solution of acetate of lead.” At the time this liquid was used as a treatment for inflammation (Benjamin Rush suggests a poultice of “bread moistened with lead water” to treat sore legs); in other cases it seems to have been used directly on inflamed areas. It is, of course, extremely poisonous – don’t try this at home!

The lead-water having proven ineffective, JQA switched to butter, another commonly-suggested remedy for drawing down inflammation (along with various other things, like oil). And that’s where Lindsey Vonn comes in: as treatment for her pre-Olymipics shin injury she told Sports Illustrated that her physical therapist prescribed an unusual remedy: “He’s been wrapping cheese on it, and I know that sounds funny, but it seems to work. He’s been rubbing castor oil on it.” She even tweeted about it.