Relief for Cement Burn: Why I Still Live in a Small Town

Half the time, I hide the fact that I still live in the town I grew up in. Mostly, to save conversation time for more important things. (Yes, it takes me almost 3 hours to get to the airport…no, we have no Starbucks…yes, Cabela's is headquartered here…that's why you've heard of Sidney – with an "i" – not the one in Australia.)

Sometimes when someone asks where I live, I'll simply respond, "Sidney" and leave off the Nebraska part. It makes me instantly more interesting. 😉

What about Cement Burn?" you ask. I'm getting to it.

Last week, while working on what my dad used to call an "over-do-it-yourself" project, I made the amateur mistake of applying a showerful of grout with the assistance of my bare hands. Doh!

Portland cement (the active ingredient in grout) burns you with a strong alkaline pH level. You won't notice the burn until it's too late. By supper time, my hands were red. By bed time, I had about 5 sores that were burning like a soldering iron was resting gently on the surface of my skin. (20 years in radio taught me what that feels like too.) I didn't sleep much that night. In fact I spent the night Googling for remedies for this particular brand of stupidity.

Next morning, I decided to cash in all my life-lines in an effort to find relief for my hands. I texted my sister, the doctor. Waited a few minutes. No response back. I went over to my neighborhood Safeway in search of some kind of "emulsifying" lotion that was recommended on a web site. I asked the pharmacist there about it. He recommended finding some Johnson and Johnson First Aid Cream, which Safeway no longer carried. He suggested that one of the local pharmacies might have some.

I drove over to my pharmacy, Western Drug. I didn't go there first because Safeway was more convenient, at 4 blocks away. You see, Western Drug is clean across town from here…almost 15 blocks, with 2 stop signs and 2 traffic lights between here and there. You city-dwellers laugh, go ahead.

Photo I walked in and started looking for "First Aid Cream." Tom Birner (the pharmacist who owns the place) asked me what I needed and then told me that Johnson and Johnson had discontinued the stuff years ago. He asked what the problem is and I told him. "Wait right here," he said as he disappeared into the back.

He returned carrying this medicine bottle with a hand-written label that simply said, "Western Lotion."

"We've got a lot of construction workers that swear by this stuff. We've been making it in batches for as long as I can remember. It's got a lot of ingredients…antiseptic plus witch-hazel plus (a bunch of other stuff that I can't remember) and it's in a glycerin base. Just keep it on your hands and you'll be fine."

He didn't charge me because he only had half a bottle on hand and someone in the office had used a bit. I'd have gladly paid anything for relief. 

Sounds like snake oil, eh? Well, it worked! My hands were still raw, but feeling much better. I applied that stuff 6 or 8 times that day, a few times overnight and I was on the road to recovery.

Western Drug has been in Sidney for about 120 years. In the early part of the 20th century they even operated out of a tent in the middle of the street while a new building was built. Joel Birner, Tom's dad, bought the place in the mid-1960s. He was our pharmacist when I was a kid and he was a good friend and client of my dad's radio stations. I don't know if the Western Lotion recipe pre-dates Joel or not.

Bottom line is you'll never find this stuff or anything like it at your Walgreens, Wal-Mart, or other corpo-box store. But, in my little town, the local pharmacy still cares, still has the recipe and is carrying on in the shadow of the giants…even though they are way across town.

P.S. My sister finally called. When I told her about the lotion, she wanted to get the recipe because she's had patients who could use it. She practices in an even smaller town, way up north in the Sandhills.

P.P.S. Right now, Western Drug doesn't have a web site. If you want some of this stuff, drop me a line and I'll see what I can do.

6 thoughts on “Relief for Cement Burn: Why I Still Live in a Small Town

  1. Bruce Christensen

    I grew up in Cool, California and then raised our 5 children in that small town.

    I miss the “good neighbor” feel and simple solutions to some of life’s biggest challenges.

    I hope that you heal quckly… Next time, wear the gloves!

  2. Christy Campbell


    I work on a construction site and could really use some of the western lotion. Could you find out how I can order this product?


    Christy Campbell

  3. Dave Young

    Best I can do is tell you to call Western Drug at 308-254-2032 and see if they’ll ship you some.
    Good luck!

  4. donna edmunds

    Wow, really wish I could get some of this, for some reason I thought I could cement around a window in the basement without gloves on and I now find myself with pain andred swollen hands! I just soaked them in vinegar and water, I’ll have to check with my local drug store in the morning!


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