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.