Wednesday, January 18, 2012


WASH UP, BABE?. An amusing portrait of Kapampangan baby, Zenaida Gonzales "edad de 8 meses y 24 dias" (8 age 8 months and 24 days), in her wash basin. Babies were posed in the most unusual manner to accentuate their cuteness--some posed inside large shells and dressed in outlandish costumes. Dated 24 May 1924.

Babies have often been thought of as delicate creatures, dependent on adults for their welfare and protection. Which is why, many Kapampangan parents love coddling their newborn, and will not think twice in giving him his undivided attention—providing him with the best milk, the most advanced medicines and the most experienced pediatricians to make him go, grow and glow!

This was not so during the Spanish times. When the Americans arrived in our islands, they were appalled at the state of our public health. Apparently, the Spaniards did not pay much attention to children’s health in the early years that they were here. It was only in 1805 that a scientific expedition headed by Dr. Francisco Javier de Balmis, arrived in Manila for the purpose of implanting the newly-discovered method of vaccination against smallpox. One other step was the creation of the positions of “medico titulares”or district health officers.

What the Americans found however, was a weak and feeble race, prone to suffer from tropical diseases like cholera, typhoid, colic and other plagues. A sweeping sanitary reform was implemented, ranging from an educational campaign to change the personal habits of Filipinos, as well as national rehabilitation programs that included wholesale disinfection, fumigation, construction of waste disposal and sewage systems and the erection of hospitals and provincial health centers. Cholera epidemic deaths dramatically decreased by 1903, and clearly sanitary progress was on its way.

Two decades after, babies and toddlers were being brought up healthy with doses of nutritious milk and supplements. Enlightened parents supplied their kids with commercial powdered milk brands like Bear Brand. The Swiss-made milk was made available to Filipinos as early as the first decade of the 20th century, distributed by Sprungli & Company. Kapampangans called this nutritious milk “gatas oso”, in reference to the brand mascot showing a bear nursing its cub with a bottle. Although more expensive than the readily available ‘gatas damulag’ that was prone to spoilage, Bear Brand was the milk of choice for convalescing kids—“the best by test” as one of its ads says, touting it as the purest, safest and richest milk there is. So much for marketing overclaims!

Menzi & Co. imported Lion Sterilized Milk, described as a pure, clean, wholesome natural milk made in Germany. It did not catch on, however, with parents settling for Milkmaid Evaporated Milk instead. Sweetened and sterilized, Milkmaid was cheap and versatile, that not only was great as a drink but also perfect for cooking, good enough to enrich puddings, pastries, soups and sauces.

Children’s vitamins and supplements were being sold over-the-counter as the number of farmacias and boticas grew all over Pampanga. One medicine I dreaded taking was the noxious-smelling Scott’s Emulsion that was imported and distributed by Muller and Phipps as early as the first decade of American rule. By the late 1920s, this “food tonic of special value to Mother and Child” was a staple in many Kapampangan households, a bone-building food for baby that was digested as easily as milk. I remember taking this supplement after having a serious bout with pneumonia, which was indicated for weak lungs, debility and lack of nutrition, coughs and chills. I had to take a spoonful of it every day, often retching at its fishy, greasy ‘malansa’ taste. Botica Boie had its own Boie’s Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil fortified by Hypophospites that claimed to have double the amount of vital vitamin element than the more poular brand that had only 25% cod liver vitamin content.

Other children’s conditions like common worm infestation were treated with Watsonal Vermicol, proven effective in eradicating worms from the intestinal tracts of children. For regulating the stomachs and bowels of infants and children, there are various Castoria products prepared by farmaceuticas from ‘opium-free’ vegetable compounds. For catarrhs, colds, and skin ailments, a jar of soothing Mentholatum was used, an indispensable sanative cream. Bayer and Cafiasfirina had children’s aspirin tablets to reduce fevers and pains. Asthma, bronchitis and respiratory problems were treated with Asmakol that was available from Botica Boie, supplemented with Asmol—an incense powder which, when burned, emitted fumes that gave asthma relief.

For babies’ personal care needs, there was Mulsified Cocoanut Oil Shampoo specially made for children’s fine young hair and tender scalps that cannot stand the harsh effect of ordinary soap. Postwar, there was of course Johnson & Johnson and its array of talcum powder in tins that expanded to include oil and shampoo. Mennen, ‘baby specialists since 1880', was the chief competitor of J&J, which soon branched into bandages and wound dressing to guard against cuts, scrapes and bruises sustained by hyperactive kids.

In the 1930s, Kapampangan doctors recognized the need for specialized medical skills as opposed to just being a general practitioner. By the 1930s, there were several pediatricians around like Dr. Victorino P. Calilung of Sta. Rita and Dr. Luciano C. Dizon who had a clinic and a pharmacy along Azcarraga (now Recto) in Manila. The latter doctor described himself as “manulu ya qñg mialiwang sakit lalu na qñg sakit ding anac”. One popular doctor I had the privilege of knowing in the 1960s was my very pediatrician, Dr. Rolando Songco, who went on to found the Hospital of Infant Jesus along Dimasalang St., now operated by his doctor-children.

One can’t really say that caring for babies and children today is easier. Sure there are advanced infant formulas, potent vaccines and various supplements to increase his height, improve his visual acuity, strengthen his resistance and sharpen his mind. But with more mothers having careers, the picture has changed. Many kids are left with their yayas and lolas, reared on TV and computer games. Even doctors seem too busy to personally care for their baby patients.

In the good old days, the aforementioned Dr. Dizon gave free consultations and did home visits—“babie yang consulta qñg cayang tucnanangan qñg nanu mang oras. Magvisita qñg pibale-bale ra ding masakit”. Now one has to run after a doctor to get an appointment, then wait for hours to be seen by him. One thing has not changed, however—where health, safety and welfare are concerned, Kapampangan parents will do anything for their babies and kids, always the apple of their eyes, the cynosure of their attention, the joy of their lives, around whom their world revolves.


Anonymous said...

One of the popular old home remedies was "manzanilla" given to colicky babies. I think this is a herbal known here as chamomile.
Rolando Songco with Pampango roots was indeed one of the more capable pediatricians of his time.

alex r. castro said...

He was my pediatrician from age 4 to 16!! At that age, I was already embarrassed to go to his Dimasalang clinic with my parents in tow!