Friday, March 06, 2015

Medical Research

Mortality rates were high back in the old days, when a simple cut could be a death sentence if bacteria took hold. For women, the risks of premature death were even greater when the danger of childbirth is factored in. After all, the existence of bacteria is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the concept of washing hands prior to assisting a woman in labor was completely unknown.

There are other considerations as well when you write about historical characters who are undergoing childbirth before the days of anesthesia and basic hygeine. Complications of labor and delivery exist today as they did in the early Nineteenth Century. Do some research on any aspect of post-partum problems and you'll find enough detail to really add some insight into a character you are developing.

So many germs, so little chance of avoiding infection
Take, for example, some historical character who features prominently in your manuscript. You read up on what is known of her life and you encounter some opinions as to the cause of her death, but those opinions are just that. What would a doctor think if such a patient presented at hospital?

The cost of such a consultation to discuss complications of delivery could make your research cost prohibitive. Unless you are lucky enough to have a friend in the medical field.

My character took leave of this earth soon after delivering a baby. Not immediately, like from hemorrhage. Several weeks later. Was there some connection? The historical record, such as it is, has her dying of tuberculosis. A common disease of her time, to be sure, but nothing in the letters she wrote at the end of her life gave any indication of consumption.

The closing chapter of the novel I am roughing out will not take the expected route. No, my conclusion is going to be based on a chance discussion I had with a friend who happens to be a doctor.

Sure my book is fiction and I could have my protagonist's husband could suffocate her with a pillow if that was a logical way to tie up the loose ends, but why not write something that could actually fit with what really happened in those weeks after a difficult delivery? The symptoms would be the same as they are now. In our modern times, there are ultrasounds to diagnose and antibiotics or minor surgery to treat conditions. That type of care was not possible in the heroine's lifetime, and so she died.

My conclusion is logically possible, but I might have not put it all together if not for the advice of an expert in the field. 

If not for a little research and a few questions I might have gone with TB and been done with it. Now there will be some fresh insight into an old story.

No comments: