Bryson City Seasons — Tanned Feets (Part 1)

This is from the seventeenth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Seasons, which is the sequel to Bryson City TalesI hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.


Susannah Truitt, the first patient of the afternoon, was a forty-six-year-old woman who looked much older than her confessed age. Mitch said this was a common observation—especially in the “old days.” He had recently told me, “A woman in these woods had a difficult life. It aged a woman faster than a man.”

Susannah had come from hardy mountain stock—reliable, hardworking, self-sufficient, and honest folks who would do about anything they could before asking for help. Thus, many of the medical problems we took care of were fairly well developed when they presented.

However, Susannah’s problem was of a more minor nature. She had a case of bronchitis that was “movin’ down in the chest,” and she was worried—now that she “had the fever”—that a case of “the walkin’ pneumonia” might not be too far behind.

Although pneumonia was incredibly easy to treat, given the advent of modern antibiotics, the older locals remembered the days when one out of three adults and most children with pneumonia would die. Because of this memory, even the thought of pneumonia would strike fear into most folks. So we tended to see upper respiratory infections even more frequently than our big-city colleagues.

What intrigued me about Susannah was not her medical case—the diagnosis and treatment were fairly straightforward. The chest X-ray showed no pneumonia, so I diagnosed pneumonitis and wrote a prescription for an inexpensive antibiotic. But looking at her sandal-clad feet, I saw something that piqued my interest. The toes, the soles, and the sides of the feet—about an inch up—were a dark yellow-orange color. It almost looked as though she had been stomping on some carrots. Yet the rest of the skin looked normal.

“Susannah, did a new pair of shoes stain your feet?” I asked.

She gave me a half-toothless smile and then let out a full-barreled laugh. “Why, naw. I tanned ma feets.”

“You what?”

“I done tanned ma feets.”

She went on to explain that she had been born with a condition that had been passed down on her mama’s side of the family—sweaty feet. Not only did her feet sweat incessantly—even in winter—but also the constant sweating would cause her feet and shoes to smell and lead to frequent foot infections. So her family had picked up a “tanning the feet” technique from Bryson City’s original doctor, Dr. West, in the 1880s.

She described it to me, and the technique sounded as simple as it was ingenious—and made simpler with the advent of tea bags: Just boil six tea bags in a teakettle of water. Allow them to steep overnight as the water cooled. Put approximately one inch of the tea solution into a container large enough to soak the feet. Soak the feet in the tea solution for fifteen to twenty minutes twice daily for three days. The tannic acid in the solution discolors the soles and apparently causes the sweat glands of the feet to go into hibernation.

I smiled to myself at the ingenuity and planned to store this “mountain trick” for future use—and, as it would turn out, publication in the American Family Physician journal over ten years later.

Nevertheless, for obvious reasons, I do not recommend this technique for sweaty palms.


  1. The Murder (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  2. The Arrival (Part 1)(Part 2)
  3. The Hemlock Inn (Part 1)(Part 2)
  4. The Grand Tour (Part 1)(Part 2)
  5. The Interview (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  6. Settling In (Part 1)(Part 2)
  7. First-Day Jitters (Part 1)(Part 2)
  8. Emergency (Part 1)(Part 2)
  9. The Delivery (Part 1)(Part 2)
  10. The “Expert” (Part 1)(Part 2)
  11. The Trial (Part 1)(Part 2)
  12. Shiitake Sam (Part 1)(Part 2)
  13. Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  14. Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4)
  15. White Lies
  16. The Epiphany (Part 1)(Part 2)
  17. Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1)(Part 2)
  18. Monuments (Part 1)(Part 2)
  19. My First Home Victory (Part 1)(Part 2)
  20. Fisher of Men (Part 1)(Part 2)
  21. Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
  22. Something Fishy (Part 1)(Part 2)
  23. A Good Day at the Office
  24. An Evening to Remember
  25. Another New Doc Comes to Town
  26. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1)(Part 2)
  27. A Surprising Gift
  28. The New Year (Part 1)(Part 2)
  29. The Home Birth (Part1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  30. The Showdown (Part1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  31. The Initiation (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  32. Home at Last (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

This entry was posted in General Health. Bookmark the permalink.