Primitive First Aid
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
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
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 novel 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 II
The prince first kissed Kate Carpenter for fear of missing the chance if they didn’t survive the journey home through the monster-prowled mountains.
Now that kiss seems like a fever dream. It’s back to work for her, back to the fellow physicians jealous of her talents and the sneers of an infirmary director who wants her shipped off to some tiny village. Kate means to be on the front lines to save lives. She’s worked too hard to overcome her past to let them deny her the chance to serve her homeland when the enemy’s army reaches their kingdom.
The grand jousting tournament is a chance to prove she can manage combat wounded, and at the royal Solstice banquet Kate means to prove she isn’t an ignorant peasant girl anymore.
But the prince’s kiss still haunts her. Their paths keep crossing, and the easy familiarity they earned on the journey home is a welcome escape from their duties. It’s a small slip from chatting to kisses.
This is no time to be distracted by romance -- a vast and powerful empire is coming to slaughter anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical fount.
Kate ought to break both their hearts, for duty’s sake.
Disciple, Part II on sale now
along with Disciple, Part I
Disciple, Part III coming in late 2013
Disciple is complete in six parts and will make a lovely doorstop
when all 400k words have been published.