Neanderthals dosed themselves with painkillers and possibly penicillin (Principia Scientific International)
Ugg walked up to the cave, and hesitated. On the wall beside the opening was a sign, in chalk, saying “Docc is IN”. The rubbed-out letters “OUT” were just visible beneath the last word.
For over a minute Ugg took a few steps toward the cave, then away from it, like a man doing solo line-dancing. Then he made up his mind and turned to walk away, but he was too late. A figure appeared at the entrance. He looked earnest, eager and way too young.
“Hi!” said Docc. “Come on in.”
Ugg looked him in panic. “Er, actually, Docc, I feel fine now,” he said. “It’s true what people say, ‘go to see Docc, you’ll feel better after it’. Thanks a lot, you’ve been great.”
“Oh, come on,” said Docc. “I won’t bite.”
“Well, of course not,” said Ugg. “I never thought that you would.”
“Not unless you’ve a snake-bite and need me to suck out the poison,” continued Docc.
“Ugh,” said Ugg. “Well, I haven’t.”
“Good,” said Docc. “Then come in.”
Sighing heavily, Ugg followed Docc into the cave.
“Have a seat,” said Docc, indicating a rock in the corner, “while I get the file.”
“I haven’t got one,” said Ugg. “I’ve never been here before.”
“Not that type of file,” said Docc.
Ugg shuddered, but sat anyway. On a small slab in front of him were a number of slates. He picked one up. It had a picture of a hand waving in the top left-hand corner, and a series of drawings showed the cave furnishings and art of a well-known couple from the village.
The slate was at least two years old. Ugg knew this because the couple were no more, thanks to a sabre-tooth tiger. Well, a sabre-tooth tiger rug, on which the woman had found the man with a younger woman.
Docc returned from the back of the cave and sat at another slab, which was plainly his desk. Ugg came and sat in front of him.
“So,” said Docc, “what seems to be the problem?”
“I have a really bad headache,” said Ugg.
“I see,” said Docc. “And do you have a really dry mouth, and a desparate need to eat something fried?”
“Yes,” admitted Ugg.
“You have a hangover,” said Docc. “You had too much Giness last night.”
Giness, shortened over time from Giddiness, was a local brew that the villagers concocted from hops, water, nettles, cayenne pepper and, to give it it’s distinctive black colour, mammoth-dung. It had a kick like a mule, and could make you fart like one.
“Well,” said Ugg, “I did have a couple with the lads after hunting.”
“Three,” said Ugg.
Docc sceptically raised one eyebrow, which, since he was a Neanderthal, was the maximum number available to him.
“Nine,” muttered Ugg. He looked up plaintively. “Can you help me?”
“Don’t worry,” said Docc. “I have just the thing.”
Ugg felt that he looked supremely happy as he said this, and in truth he was. Docc was living his dream.
Ever since, when he was aged four, his mother had made the pain in his scraped knee go away by spitting onto a small piece of fur and gently rubbing the sore spot, Docc had wanted to cure others. Early attempts had not been a great success, because of the lack of anyone to train him and the limited equipment at his disposal. His most often used tool had been a small club, with which he used to make patients forget the pain in, say, their ear, by giving them a bigger pain in, say, their shin.
Not for nothing was his business called a practice.
But over time he had improved. He had learnt, by trial and error, the uses of the plants of the area. He learnt that lemon balm helped sleep, that plantains eased insect stings, that onions helped the heart. He learnt that parsley increases urine output, though he had yet to find a situation in which this was helpful.
And he discovered that that the crushed bark of the willow tree, what we now call aspirin, helped ease pain.
So now he handed Ugg a small amount of powder and a stone mug of water. “Take this,” he said. Ugg did so, and almost immediately began to feel better, just by knowing that he was in the hands of a professional.
“Thanks, Docc,” he said. “You’re a genius.”
Docc smiled modestly. “It’s not rock science,” he said.