View Full Version : Treatment of Head Wounds/Concussion in 1850s

02-18-2014, 10:25 PM
Anybody have any resources with details on how head wounds were treated? My copy of The Family Nurse addresses bleeding wounds and headaches, but not sure how aware they would have been about the complications of a head injury. Found some things on Phineas Gage, but that was more about how it established that brain trauma can cause distinct personality changes.

The one treating the head wound is a ship's captain's wife, both spouses from a whaling community so they'd have some experience with treating injuries onboard a ship.


02-18-2014, 10:38 PM
but likely no formal medical training, which I believe would not have included concussion anyway, from what I have seen in the past on medicine researches. The concussion was recognized back as far as the Greeks, but no real understanding of effective special treatment is mentioned.

They'd have treated it, probably by cleaning any wound, and cold compresses. Aftermath of a concussion would have been observed rather than treated. They certainly would have no dedicated equipment or drugs to utilize.

Outside of the medical community, as primitive as it was, probably the most recognition would be that bloke was still a bit daft from being knocked on the bean.

02-21-2014, 03:06 AM
So I asked one of my nurse friends, who collects medical quarkery this question. She said the best thing someone in the 1850's could have done is wrap their head in a bandage and keep them in bed. Hand washing, and even equipment cleaning didn't come into routine existence in American until after the Civil War.

02-21-2014, 04:47 AM
Well what else could be done anyway, short of major surgery? They probably wouldn't even have any ice on board unless they were in arctic waters anyway.

Maturin in the O'Brian series famously performs a trepining operation to relieve the pressure of a depressed fracture, so that kind of thing was presumably well understood at the time. But of course such an involved and dangerous operation would require a physician's intervention, not likely to be found on a whaler. An ordinary ship's surgeon would probably have no skills to offer at all.

For pain, though, they might well have laudanum or some other form of opium, which would be a poor choice of medicine for a serious concussion, but would I suppose not do much harm if the injury was merely painful and not actually dangerous. In the absence of an opiate, they'd probably let the victim drink himself to sleep, which would be just as dangerous if it was a serious concussion, but par for the course otherwise.

02-21-2014, 09:02 AM
Thanks for the input! Someone else mentioned the brown paper and vinegar treatment for bleeding wounds and that seems appropriate in this case.

My character is actually female (they pick her up from a shipwreck) and I guess I was curious about how much of her strange behaviors afterwards would be blamed on the head injury. It's actually because her friend who was killed in the shipwreck is still with her as a ghost, and I'm playing around with how to push it and still be believable.