If you don’t have Epsom salts at home, you should go buy some. They’re a cheap and versatile cure-all: Epsom salts can soothe aching muscles, relieve soreness, and transform a normal bath into a relaxing spa that smoothes your skin. The rough crystals can be used as a face cleanser, a garden fertilizer, or a pots-and-pans scrubber. And, according to the packaging, Epsom salts also work as a laxative. I’ve never used them for this purpose, but I guess it’s nice to know I have the option. There really isn’t anything magnesium sulfate can’t do.
Here’s why you should have some Epsom salts handy at all times.
When I was 25 years old, I learned a lesson in human frailty. Up until I learned this lesson, I was still not convinced that I was mortal. I smoked cigarettes. I ate cheeseburgers. I smoked cigarettes while eating cheeseburgers. I stayed up late playing video games because sleep was a waste of time. I was young and alive and too lazy to workout. It was obvious that my good health and slender-ish figure would endure forever.
Then, as I was walking to my stressful temp job one day, my lower back went out and I collapsed on the street. I remember this vividly, because I had just purchased a cup of coffee and a strawberry danish that I was keen on eating at my desk, where I spent my days incorrectly updating a vast database. The sudden, painful spasms and subsequent immobility were a surprise, to say the least. It didn’t occur to me that such agony could be visited upon me without any warning whatsoever. If you’re fortunate, the universe will send you gentle signs that you are not immortal. I was not fortunate: The universe wanted me to know that the flesh is heir to a thousand natural shocks.
I moaned on the concrete sidewalk in awe and disbelief as people hurriedly walked past and over me. One man looked at me, momentarily slowed down, and said, “You need help.” I couldn’t tell if he was asking me if I needed help or just making a totally factual observation. I did need help. I remember one woman briefly looking at me with pity, as if I was a perfectly salvageable lamp someone had left on the curb with the garbage. Unable to stand due to the stabbing pain, I decided to crawl back home on my belly like a soldier climbing under barbed wire. Thankfully, I hadn’t made it to the subway yet and was only five blocks from home. I made it back to my apartment and remembered the strawberry danish that I had been looking forward to eating. I would soon discover that I had fallen on the strawberry danish and that my body was covered in sticky, red jelly.
By the time I had dragged myself up the four flights of stairs to my apartment, I was crying in pain and fear. This wasn’t supposed to happen to immortals. I writhed in exquisite anguish on my living room floor as my back muscles contracted. I felt like that character in the movie Alien, when the little monster bursts out of his chest. Having had no prior experience with bodily failure, I quickly concluded that I was dying and dialed 911. When the EMT finally showed up, he was disappointed to find a sobbing young man squirming on the floor. Maybe he was expecting blood splatter, I don’t know. What I do know was that he was thoroughly unimpressed by my suffering and told me to take lots of ibuprofen, which is an anti-inflammatory, and to ice my muscles. I repeated “ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory” to myself through gritted teeth and then told him I didn’t have an ice pack. He found a pack of frozen peas that he said he would suffice. Then he told me to soak in a hot bath with lots of Epsom salts. Then he left. As he closed the door, he looked back at me and winked. I do not know why he winked. Perhaps he knew I was at the beginning of a long adventure known as “life.”
It wasn’t until I gently lowered myself into the warm, salty bathwater that I sighed with relief. Yes, the Advil and chilled vegetables had helped. But the Epsom salts transported me away from my rioting thews and sinews. The person I was dating at the time had come over immediately after I called her on my flip phone shrieking. From the moment she arrived, she looked like someone who had walked in on an exorcism. But she had searched far and wide to bring me Epsom salts. I would eventually convince her that an Epsom salt bath was the perfect way to treat her feet after a long shift waiting tables.
Once I was mobile, I went to a doctor. He examined me, shrugged, and told me this happens. Backs go out. They’re only human, so get use to it. His professional advice was to get some exercise, but to stretch first. He also suggested I quit smoking, eat green things, and get sleep. Decrepitude is wasted on the elderly. It took me years, but I eventually took his advice. And I still soak in Epsom salt baths. I’ve gotten pretty good at it too: I light scented candles that smell like chemical fruits and arrange them around my bathroom. I went to a fancy spa in Las Vegas once and was upset that they didn’t offer a nice, hot Epsom salt bath. There are Friday nights where I will cancel all my plans so that I can marinate in a steaming broth of magnesium sulfate.