Dr. Herbert Is the Reason I Can’t Eat Popsicles

Ken Steinhoff in front of Dr. Charles T. Herbert’s office

A little white building that struck fear in my heart

Dr. Charles T. Herbert had an office in a small, white brick building at 824 Good Hope St., directly across from St. Francis Hospital. That was the place where my parents took me for all my vaccinations, school exams, Boy Scout camp physicals and for coughs and sniffles.

I was prone to sore throats, so I’d get hauled off to see Dr. Herbert and his nurse, Miss Mohr, several times a year. [Note: I originally spelled the name Moore, but consensus seems to be building that the correct spelling is Mohr. I’ll make the change, but I’m wishy-washy enough to change it back if the tide turns.]

I’d sit on this table that was covered with something like waxed paper and wait my fate. Eventually, he’d bustle into the room with the scary reflector thing on his head and reach for the tongue depressor.

Open W-I-D-E, here comes the depressor

That tongue depressor was made out of an unsanded 2×4. After about a half an hour of peering this way and that way, making “Uh huh and Hmmmm” sounds, he’d reach into a glass container that looked like a malt glass and extract a 12-foot-long cotton swab that he’d dip into Mercurochrome.

Putting all his weight on the tongue depressor which has been sandpapering my tongue, he’d jam that swab so far down your throat that I thought my toenails would be coated red. Then, he’d work it around like he was churning butter.

To this day, I can’t eat a Popsicle or anything else on a wooden stick. Some folks cringe when they hear fingernails on a chalk board. I don’t know if a tongue can cringe, but that’s what happens when mine is confronted with a wooden stick of any kind. Shivers are going up and down my spine right now just thinking about it.

Out of the Past

There was a note in The Southeast Missourian’s Out of the Past Column on Sept. 3, 2009, that mentioned the office:

25 years ago: Sept. 3, 1984

Dr. John M. Freeze, Cape Girardeau dentist, has purchased one-half of a building at 2857 Independence St., from Dr. Charles T. Herbert, whose offices occupy the other half; Freeze is relocating his office to the new space.

My mother thought that Dr. Herbert moved to Florida after he retired.

Dr. Herbert’s office in 2001

So, what’s the story about Mercurochrome?

It dawned on me that I can’t remember the last time I saw a bottle of Mercurochrome. It used to be a staple in Boy Scout first aid kits for cuts and scrapes. My grandson, Malcolm, is a walking petri dish and a spreader of Plague, but I haven’t heard his parents mention him getting his throat swabbed.

Someone else had asked that very question, “What happened to Mercurochrome?”

You’re dating yourself, pops. Few under age 30 have ever heard of this stuff. In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared that Mercurochrome, generically known as merbromin, was “not generally recognized as safe and effective” as an over-the-counter antiseptic and forbade its sale across state lines. A few traditionalists complained: Whaddya mean, not generally recognized as safe? Moms have been daubing it on their kids’ owies since the Harding administration! But the more reasonable reaction was: It’s about time.

For many years the FDA, faced with the task of regulating thousands of pharmaceuticals and food additives, many of which long predated federal oversight, has maintained the so-called GRAS (generally recognized etc) list, originally compiled as a way of grandfathering in products like Mercurochrome that had been around for ages and hadn’t hurt or killed a noticeable number of people. Recognizing that from a scientific standpoint such a standard left a lot to be desired, the FDA has been whittling away at the unexamined products on the GRAS list over time. Mercurochrome and other drugs containing mercury came up for scrutiny as part of a general review of over-the-counter antiseptics that began in 1978, and for good reason–mercury in large enough doses is a poison that harms the brain, the kidneys, and developing fetuses. While no one’s offered evidence of mass Mercurochrome poisoning, the medical literature contains scattered reports of mercury toxicity due to use of the antiseptic, and these days the burden of proof is on drug manufacturers to show that their products’ benefits outweigh the risks.

I sure wish the FDA had come to that conclusion about 55 years ago and saved me from a lifetime of Popsicle deprivation.

97 Replies to “Dr. Herbert Is the Reason I Can’t Eat Popsicles”

  1. I was a patient of Dr Herbert’s and do remember having my throat swabbed. It may not have felt good at the time, but sure saved me from problems associated with rheumatic fever. He loved all of us kids, four of us, and we knew it.

  2. Dr. Herbert called me his little angel
    He saved my life when I was a small child.
    He correctly diagnose my Rheumatic Fever
    Which caused a heart murmur.
    I will always be grateful to him.

    1. Cynthia, he also correctly diagnosed me with rheumatic fever. I, too developed a murmur. He had me on penicillin through high school. I didn’t do physical education from 3rd grade until 7th grade.
      He was a scary looking fella, but he had a heart of gold and he truly loved and worried about all his patients.
      I had to have blood drawn monthly and that was when they reused needles that looked like you were going to stick a horse. They had to be resharpened. Mom has to wait til the morning of an appointment before telling me, because I feared going there to see how they were going to hurt me.
      I, too, feel he saved my life.
      My mom said the bench in his office cane from the ship he served on when he was in the navy.

      1. I had forgotten that he said I had a slight heart murmur when I was a kid, too. I’ve mentioned it to doctors over the years, but none of the others have remarked on it, Maybe I outgrew it. I was also slightly “knock-kneed” and had to wear corrective shoes with a light buildup in the arch to correct it. That, too, was something that I outgrew.

  3. Dr. Herbert scared me to death as a child and I didn’t much care for Ms. Moore either. Unfortunately, she had the task of giving me shots. Years ago on a shopping trip to St. Louis, my family stopped to have dinner before heading back to Cape Girardeau. According to my dad, who loves to tell this story, Dr. Herbert entered the same restaurant and I quickly scurried under the table to hide from him.
    Needless to say, I totally understand your popsicle phobia!!

  4. I was also a patient (strep throat, mostly) of Dr. Herbert. He saved my life by making me stay in bed for 8 months, saving me from rheumatic fever and heart damage. My brother, Kerry, was also saved by the Wonder Dr., when he massaged baby Kerry’s stomach until the toxins in his kidneys was released. Shots? I thought I held the the Cape Girardeau record! But, please one must not forget that Dr. Herbert’s nurse also made those delicious horehound suckers! Loved them!

    I went looking for Mercurochrome, when my mother’s supply ran out after 50 years. I was shocked to hear that it had been taken off the market. The reports that I read indicated that the problem was not so much the mercury poisoning, but the long and arduous process that would be needed to get a thumbs up from the FDA wasn’t worth the $1.95 price that the substance brought at the time. My main problem which this situation is that the “feel good” medicine that I used for years and years (can you imagine how much poison could have been absorbed in that much time from that tiny bottle, was no longer available to soothe the minor scratches. Merthiolate and Iodine, the alternatives, stung awfully. So since the red medicine didn’t kill my mother or her brother and sisters, their children, and their children’s children, I really wish there had been a waiver on this wonder drug!

      1. I love this site as well and would love to join. I have many memories of Dr. Herbert, not fond ones I may add, but he was the best!!! His son was a dentist that later shared the building with his dad.

  5. He was a legend. Doctors today should be like him.
    he told me one day to call him any time day or night. He said he or I was not suffering, but, the little one was. He scared me as a child and as an adult, but, he was the best!

  6. The first time Dr Herbert got out the swab I popped him in the nose. His nurse got the nose bleed to stop and with cotten sticking out of his nose he sat on me and swabbed my throat. i probably wouldnot be here today if it wasn’t for them.

  7. Dr. Herbert diagnosed me with Cerebral Palsy at a very early age, which Barnes hospital denied. He made it clear to My parents that he would be my only Doctor and the must do everything he required. Spent a lot of time with Mr Richie in physical Therapy at the old Saint Francis hospital. I had a life expectancy of 40 yrs. I am 66 now and give Dr. Herbert full CREDIT. He loved his kids, but was tough on the parents. Mom left his office crying sometimes, but I was told he didn’t care as long as you did what he wanted.

  8. I also was a patient of Dr. Herbert’s. We lived in Alton at the time and my mom and dad would drive to Cape to Dr. Herbert. I was loaded up in the car in my PJ’s as I was sick most of the time and they would stop at the Purple Crackle for me to change my clothes and I screamed all the way to Good Hope St, as then I knew where I was going. Ms Mohr was his nurse and I was just as afraid of her as I was Doc!!! I had my tonsils out at old St. Francis Hospital. He did move to Florida after he retired. I was backed up against the wall and my throat swabbed every time I went to see him, but he was an awesome Dr.

  9. I too can not eat Popsicles on a stick! I cut them off into a small cup and enjoy. Dr Herbert taught my Mom how to do the dirty deed at home. My Dad would hold me down on the floor while she swabbed my throat. He really was a special Dr. We even took my oldest son to him with a sore throat. Would drive to Cape from Carbondale just to see him. I love reading your posts!!

  10. It seems several have fond memories of going to see Dr. Herbert. That’s not the case for me and my brother. We would start crying as soon as the car turned the corner on Good Hope Street. Several throat swab bingo and shots are all I can remember. My brother has a clown phobia to this day, and I have tetracycline staining to my teeth from being prescribed liquid tetracycline at such a young age. A very embarrassing condition I’ve suffered with my whole life. Not great memories.

    1. Wow maybe that’s what stained my teeth also. My Mother said it was because of medicine I took. And yes Dr Herbert was our pediatrician , and also scared me to death!
      Did anyone else go to a dentist in the H&H bldg.- the first elevator I was on. But I think he scared me even more than Dr Herbert. I can’t remember his name, but I thought he looked like Frankenstein! Those offices were so kool though, with the windows along the hallway and glass doors.

  11. This multitude of comments are several years old but I believe Dr. Herbert “broke the Internet” before we knew about such things lol! I took my first baby to him in 1979 at the insistence of my mother in law, who took her three to him in the 50s and 60s (from Marble Hill, no less). I still have his handwritten notes about EVERYTHING in my daughter’s baby book!

  12. He was great . He would come into his office on Sunday to treat my daughters respiratory problems. Felt heartbroken when he moved to Florida. He would send a script into the pharmacy when my son was teething and not sleeping . Bill would mix up Paregoric with some other meds and the baby slept for hours. He used a lot of common sense treatment.

  13. I remember Miss Mohr fishlipping a cigarette the whole time, and she really disliked children – working for a pediatrician was perfect.

    We got the double torture-after the mercurochrome and shots, we got sent across the hall to Herbert Jr for the dentist….

    1. I could tell you a lot, he was my dads closest friend and golf partner. I too was taken to see him frequently, never liked that part, but he was a great doctor.

  14. Dr Herbert treated my younger sister who had pneumonia when she was around 6 weeks old, prescribed hot lemonade and whiskey. My Mother was very upset at that suggestion and said whiskey was not allowed in her house and what would the neighbors think. Dr Herbert had it delivered by drug store just like any other prescription. My sister full recovered and Mother became a believer in what ever Dr Herbert had to say after that.

  15. Oh good ol’ Dr. Herbert. I was so terrified when I had to go to his office that my mother would promise me a new Barbie for each visit! I had ear infections about once a month so my Barbie collection was enormous. Watching Ratched on Netflix brings back memories of Dr. Herbert’s nurse! EEEEK!

  16. I didn’t really like the tongue depressor either, bit I don’t ever remember being swabbed though. I always thought it was funny though because I remember him always saying Open Wide, Like Your Mother!

  17. I was a patient of Dr. Herbert. He wore that shiny round thing on his head with the hole on the middle. He caurterized my nose many times. Ouch! I think he may have taken my tonsils and adenoids out across the street at St. Francis. I remember the nuns and the gift shop. Those were some scary days for a young child. Not much bedside manner either. Kind of cold and hard. It definitely wasn’t modern medicine.

    1. I had pneumonia when I was very little. It was serious enough that they suggested that I get baptized “just in case.”

      I survived that and many, many colds and sore throats before eventually having my tonsils out in early grade school. I know that Dr. Herbert was a caring and hard-working physician, but he was my vision of the Devil when I was little.

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