Today, I'm pleased to bring you a fascinating guest post by L. Blankenship. Be sure to check out her new release, Disciple, Part III.
Primitive First Aid
by L. Blankenship
by L. Blankenship
Let's say you're building a fantasy world with a pre-industrial level of technology. Let's say you don't want to rely on healing magic to patch your characters up when they get into trouble. This post aims to help get your brain burbling about what your characters will need.
What do people in your fantasy world know about medicine? What misconceptions are they carrying around? That's up to you. There are, however a number of things which it's quite reasonable for even primitive people to know about when it comes to treating injuries.
Cleanliness and health
General cleanliness is one of the easiest ways to improve one's health -- and one of the most variable aspects of a pre-industrial world. Is being clean considered important, in that culture? Do most people have access to soap and water? How long does it take to heat water, or must they settle for cold baths? Are they healthy enough to not catch a fever from taking cold baths?
Do most people get enough to eat? Is it fairly nutritionally balanced? Where can they get vitamins when fruit and veggies are out of season?
First aid kit
First aid kit
What's reasonable to put in a pre-industrial first aid kit?
• Clean bandages, whether rags, hemmed fabric, or custom-woven. Two or three inches wide and maybe two feet long.
• Curved needles and suturing thread. The thread can be any number of things. Catgut (made from sheep intestines, actually) has been used since antiquity as a naturally absorbing (though it may also be scar-producing) suture. Silk was also popular, where it was available. Wool can be used, too. Those stitches will need to be removed later, though.
• Scissors/shears. Primitive scissors tend to look more like shears.
• Scalpel. The smallest, finest blade that blacksmiths can manage.
• Tweezers. How fine-nosed they are will depend on the smiths.
• Person should know how to set a bone, pop a joint back in, lance an abscess, and stitch wounds.
• Also include a wound-cleaning method (see next point)
Simple ways to clean a wound
Whether your people even realize a wound needs cleaning is an entirely different argument. But assuming you've worked that out, bear in mind that none of these are as effective as modern topical antibiotic creams, rubbing alcohol or iodine, but they will increase the survivability of a wound. Which of these is most appropriate for your characters to have at hand depends on technology, environment, and cost.
• Soap and water
• Distilled alcohol
• Witch hazel
Should we pour boiling wine on the wound? Let's look at this logically: modern table wine is up to 14% alcohol, so it's 86% water. Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water does, so by the time wine starts to boil the alcohol content has already dropped. So then you pour this boiling liquid onto an open wound and add a burn to your list of problems. You've now definitely killed the tissue around your wound, making it more hospitable to invading bacteria -- and giving your body more healing to do. Great idea.
Which does not mean that people won't do this, of course. There's a long history of medical practices that did at least as much harm as good, out there. But the writer should know the truth, as much as possible.
There's magical healing in my series Disciple, but when the magic runs out they fall back on primitive medical techniques to keep their patients alive. Kate is a physician, so she is right in the thick of the stitching and bone-setting, but all the gore she sees is because she's there to help.
Back cover of Disciple, Part III
Kate fought for her place as a healer in the war’s front lines. Serving her homeland has been her goal since her magical gifts earned her a coveted apprenticeship with the kingdom’s greatest healer. She believes she’s prepared.
But nothing’s simple when defending a besieged capital city — or her heart.
She loves the prince, who means to protect her even though his duties as a knight keep him on the battlements, fighting the enemy’s monstrous army.
Kate’s husband is the one who checks on her, lingers over dinner, and slowly but surely charms her. She’s all too aware that her beloved prince threatened to kill him if he touches her.
As the enemy thunders against the city walls, the kingdom needs more from Kate than just her healing magic. All disciples must put aside their tangled feelings and stand in the homeland’s defense.
Kate believed she's ready for a war. She isn't.
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L. Blankenship started writing animal stories as a kid and it's just gotten completely out of hand since then. Now she's out publishing her gritty fantasy and hard science fiction adventures. L grew up in New Hampshire but currently lives near Washington, DC.