View Full Version : Infected wound

05-28-2019, 01:03 PM
I'm writing a story set in Viking-age Norway, and I need a character to take a battle injury that over a period of a few days gets infected and nearly leads to his death.

The character is travelling on foot with his sister. They are being pursued by enemies and there is little time to treat the wound, and they don't have any proper equipment for it anyway. He gets weaker and sicker, until he is unconscious and close to death, and his sister resorts to making a deal with a sorceress to save his life (yes, it's a fantasy too).

I haven't started writing the story yet, since I kind of need to build the timeline around the injury, and I haven't decided on the exact nature of the wound itself. Arrow to the torso (snapped rib?), shallow slash, spear-thrust to a limb, I'm pretty flexible.

But I do need to know how an infection is going to look and feel as it develops, and what they might attempt to combat it. How long before death is he going to be able to stagger around with aid?

05-28-2019, 06:50 PM
Well, the first thing he's going to notice is heat and redness around the wound.

Later, I imagine, someone will scrape away (debride) the diseased tissue. They might employ maggots for this if you like.

I'll let the real experts chime in on the rest.

05-28-2019, 09:55 PM
If he starts getting any of this in the wounded limb then he's really in trouble - loos of sensation or severe pain, skin becoming cold & pale, sores or blisters that exude bad-smelling discharge. That's gangrene

05-28-2019, 11:59 PM
Sepsis (aka scepticaemia) is a potential complication of an infection anywhere in the body. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sepsis If you want the illness to take a few days, then the wound could start to heal normally, then get infected before it's fully healed (maybe something makes the wound open up again - infection usually happens through an open wound) and the infection starts spreading. When a localised infection starts to become systemic (i.e. spreading to other parts of the body) that's when you get sepsis. Sepsis and gangrene can both occur although you can get sepsis without gangrene. (Scroll down on the same page that waylander posted and it mentions septic shock, which is a severe form of sepsis)

One caution though, sepsis is often deadly and septic shock requires an intensive care unit. I don't know how likely it is that someone would survive sepsis without modern medicine - but I really would like to know for research for one of my own WIPs so if any doctors would like to comment further I'd be extremely grateful. Presumably as sepsis is the body's response to infection - which appears to be a "kill or cure" last ditch response at fighting infection - such a response wouldn't have evolved if it didn't result in the person surviving some of the time. But I think it fits the bill for what you're after.

Also note that sepsis and gangrene (which often occur together if they result from an infected wound) often require amputation. Roman physicians used to do amputations and they pre-date the Vikings, though I don't know whether the Vikings would've done that or not - maybe historians can answer that. Also, I don't know how often gangrene + sepsis would require amputation to survive - another question for doctors. However sepsis can occur without gangrene - though if the sepsis has come from an infected wound, I don't know how likely it would be that you'd get sepsis from the wound without gangrene.

05-29-2019, 09:53 AM
I had an injury recently and was told to look out for signs of infection like pus, increased pain and swelling in the wound, fever, and creeping redness expanding out from the wound site. The pain from an infection is usually sharp and throbbing (as pus builds up) and the resulting fever might put the patient on his back pretty quickly. The fever would become more persistent and severe as the infection worsened.

05-29-2019, 10:16 AM
pus is a terrible word.

05-29-2019, 10:38 AM
Then think of it as multiple cases: 'pi'.;)