Did Medieval Docs know...

Discussion in 'Research' started by summondice, Oct 22, 2018.

  1. summondice

    summondice Journeyman

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    ...to clean pus from an infected wound? I've been reading things about Medieval medicine for the last hour or so and while it is all fascinating (and often unexpected), I haven't come across anything that definitively points to whether they knew to do this or not. There are number of things they did that might have inadvertently cleaned pus from a wound, but I really need to know whether that was a secondary consequence or a primary one :s

    Anyone know/have a strong inclination about this?
     
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    "medieval" covers a thousand years and a whole continent, so there's plenty of room for variation. Also, "know" in what sense? That is, did they understand the biology? No. Did they recognize that wounds should be cleaned? Yes. But there again is plenty of room for variation on what constitutes "clean". If you are in the field with nothing to hand, maybe you wipe it with a shirtsleeve and put some moss on it.

    Finally, what's a doctor? By the time we can sort out the documents with any consistency, doctors were by and large physicians who dispensed medicines. An open wound would more likely be treated by a surgeon--a much lower-status and less-educated fellow--or even more likely would be treated by whoever was nearby who seemed to know what they were doing.

    All that said, people generally did know to lance an infection and drain it. So, if you're just after an answer: yes.
     
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  3. summondice

    summondice Journeyman

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    I would marry infirmation and data, if I could, so while a "yes" certainly works, your lengthier answer answers more of the underlying questions I had.

    I'm trying to help someone with soon writing and they have written that the doctor cleaned the wound, gave the boy some herbal tea, and sent them on their way. Where the characters are, I suspect it's more likely they would have seen a surgeon... But I don't know if they would have called the surgeon a surgeon or a doctor? The actual time period this might reference is veeeeeery loose - one of those historical fantasy novels that's distinctly more fantasy than history, and she's not interested in pinning down any particular timeframe other than "medievalish, Renaissanceish."

    I think this gives me the information I need to let her know, though anything you feel like sharing, I'm interested in reading, just for funsies :)

    This time period is... Not yet my forte. I appreciate you taking a minute to respond to me :)
     
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    No problem. Another thing to consider: it's one thing to be historically accurate, but we also need to be aware of reader expectations. Most people, I should think, reading a fantasy novel, would bring modern stereotypes with them. So they would picture surgeon in its modern sense. I would, therefore, use doctor and not sweat it.

    OTOH, and it's a very big hand, if the person were writing a historical novel, I'd first pin them to the wall and insist they pick a century and the very least, and then would get very fussy indeed about the distinction between doctor and surgeon depending on the era. It really does depend on the genre.

    Clean the wound ... but no poultice or salve? Not even a bandage? As a reader I might stumble over that, but it wouldn't bring me up short.
     
  5. summondice

    summondice Journeyman

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    Right now her writing is...lacking in the "show" parts. To an incredibly frustrating degree.

    I found the cleaning and just tea odd, and will probably mention it now that I'm not the only person raising an eyebrow, but found enough other things in the short paragraph to focus on that it wound up not being a battle of choice.

    I'll let the doctor thing slide, then - I like to try to make sure she's aware of things so that she can do something with the information if she so chooses, but ... my interest in doing my best work is hitting its wall.
     
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