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PastMidnight
06-22-2007, 12:10 PM
I'm talking about pre-antibiotic days (or at least before antibiotics were widely used to treat infections).

If a person were to get a non-life threatening infection in wounds, how long might the infection last? How soon after getting the wound might the infection appear (assuming that the sanitary conditions are less than impressive)?

I am sure that there are a bunch of factors determining length and I'm not sure yet as to the type of wound I want to give my character. I'm just trying to check the timeline I've set for myself. I need to come up with a way to have my character be out of contact for a few weeks. The way I have it now, between him being shuttled around to get to a hospital, and the fever and pain, he's not able to write to anyone for about a month. But I don't know if this is too long.

Could he be susceptible to an illness while in hospital that takes him a bit longer to recover?

Basically, I need an injury that will keep him out of contact with family and friends for about a few weeks, but not be serious. I need him to walk out of the hospital with nothing more than a few scars and some general weakness.

I'm looking for him

Puma
06-22-2007, 01:49 PM
My immediate reaction is that what you're talking about isn't realistic. You'd have to have a pretty major wound to create enough fever and pain to keep someone out of the circle for a month. Suggestion: look up blood poisoning on Google. Back about 1949 my Dad got blood poisoning in a leg from a wound and wasn't able to do much for a while (I think the treatment was soaking the wound area in an epsom salts solution). I just remember him sitting in his chair for days with his angry, swollen, red streaked leg on a foot stool. Good luck! Puma

Willowmound
06-22-2007, 04:17 PM
In the olden days (gawd that's vague), a person could die from a leg infection. It happend.

Petroglyph
06-22-2007, 04:31 PM
Preantibiotic days the worst place for a person to go would be a hospital. Look up when they first figured out they should wash their hands between leaving the morgue, performing surgery and delivering a baby and see if they were washing their hands when your character exists.

Other than that, there are many factors. How big is the injury? Do they have sepsis? How healthy were they before the injury?

Is there a sympathetic person who might take him into a CLEAN home and feed him, give him fluids and not poke around in his infection too much? How about a local healer, wise woman, etc.?

Also, were there military hospitals? Did he have a choice? If he was wounded in battle, he might end up in a military facility, but you'd want to make it realistic to the timeperiod. Pre-Florence Nightingale?

johnnysannie
06-22-2007, 04:47 PM
ANY infected wound had the potential to become life threatening in pre-antibiotic days. There were - and are - herbals that can help to fight infection. Another old-fashioned treatment for an infected wound was to cut the wound to drain pus and infection.

I'm not sure what time period you're working with - pre-antibiotic days is a very broad range (!) - but until fairly modern times, hospitals were not very common and even when they began to be, many people avoided them because of the high rate of infections and deaths.

The chances of succumbing to an illness after being weakened by infection are higher than normal whether the individual is hospitalized or not.

Cath
06-22-2007, 04:50 PM
Are you also talking pre-antiseptic days? Because an untreated infection is likely to lead to sepsis, and sepsis was fatal in many cases. If you can strike a balance between post anti-septic and pre-antibiotic days, then I can well believe your character would be out of action for a month or more. (Read up on Joseph Lister (http://web.ukonline.co.uk/b.gardner/Lister.html) if you want to know about early antiseptic treatments.)

Plot Device
06-22-2007, 06:21 PM
Preantibiotic days the worst place for a person to go would be a hospital. Look up when they first figured out they should wash their hands between leaving the morgue, performing surgery and delivering a baby and see if they were washing their hands when your character exists.

(Off-topic)

I saw an off-Broadway production of the stage play Semmelweis.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semmelweis

The play showed the grim reality of the medical students who worked in the university morgue during the morning, sticking their naked hands deeply into putrified corpses to learn about human anatomy, and then in the afternoon they would go to the maternity ward--with unwashed hands--and deliver babies. The women would show up in labor in the morning, and they would pray that their baby was delivered by a nurse or a midwife before the afternoon bell rang. But as soon as the bell rang, and the doctors were making their way to the maternity ward for the afternoon maternity detail, the pregnant women would literally run away from the university maternity clinic in terror.

Semmelweis was the physician who eventually figured out the connection that the poverty-stricken women of that city (many of whom were prostitutes) figured out years earlier: the hospital records showed that those women who gave birth in the afternoon were the ones most likely to die horribly of rampant post-childbirth infection. He determined the infection came from the corpses and were passed via the unwashed hands of the doctors.

In the stage play, Semmelweis was shown as the lone voice crying in the wilderness as the establishment of pompous self-satisfied medical doctors scoffed at his insane notions of germs and contagion. They scoffed even more at the idea that hand-washing was even necessary. And besides: even if he was right, they were only prostitutes, right?

It'd make a great film, IMO. Very Capra-esque.

PastMidnight
06-22-2007, 08:48 PM
Thanks for the responses! Sorry I didn't get specific enough. Sometimes it's hard to tell if I've provided enough information.

This is First World War and I believe that puts me in that post-antiseptic and pre-antibiotic era Cath mentioned. He ends up at a military hospital, but it takes him a few days to get there. He was quite healthy (if a bit tired) before the fact, but I'm not yet decided what sort of injury he receives.

It's actually not that important to the story what happens to him, but I just need him to not be in a state to either physically write to family and friends or to think about writing to them. There just needs to be a few weeks where everyone says, 'Hey, haven't heard from Charlie for a while.' Any ideas?

Maybe something that happens to his hand or arm that would make writing difficult? What sort of injury would have the healing time that I'm looking for?

I can well believe that what I proposed is unrealistic, as the medical knowledge I have could probably fit in an empty walnut shell. I figured the good people on AW could set me straight and possibly come up with a few ideas that I haven't thought of!

johnnysannie
06-22-2007, 08:59 PM
By World War I (or the Great War because who knew there would be a sequel), both Lister and Koch had delved into antiseptics and use of some (although different than most used today) were common.

Rather than a medical condition preventing the character writing, you might research how quickly letters were sent out from the front. Without looking up some data, I would hazard an educated guess that mail did not travel with much speed, especially from the front lines.

Plot Device
06-23-2007, 01:21 AM
Blood poisoning???

ColoradoGuy
06-23-2007, 02:01 AM
Blood poisoning???
An old term for lymphangitis, which is actually an infection of the lymphatic system. If it actually got to the blood stream it was often fatal, depending upon the bacterium.

PastMidnight
06-23-2007, 02:24 AM
Rather than a medical condition preventing the character writing, you might research how quickly letters were sent out from the front. Without looking up some data, I would hazard an educated guess that mail did not travel with much speed, especially from the front lines.

They could be erratic in when they arrived, but didn't necessarily take that long. I've read letters where a soldier writes to his wife asking her to send a book or socks or something, and ten days after writing, he'd have the package. But this gives me an idea. Perhaps he does write to say that he's in hospital, but the letter goes astray for some reason. Thanks!

Fenika
06-23-2007, 03:00 AM
Emotional trauma? Depression? Could be fun to play with...

Tsu Dho Nimh
06-23-2007, 03:21 AM
WWI, but what location? And does it have to be a wound? Or would an infectious disease work?

What location? I can think of some diseases that would put him out of action and even out of his head.

Maybe something that happens to his hand or arm that would make writing difficult? What sort of injury would have the healing time that I'm looking for?

A broken collar bone? A fractured wrist? A few busted fingers? But tthey wouldn't tie up a hospital bed for that ... he'd be shipped to a convalescent unit. Which would further delay things.

Appendicitis?

Puma
06-23-2007, 05:11 AM
Thanks for telling me what blood poisoning was. I was too young at the time to have any idea what was wrong, but I remember very well the red streaks going up Dad's leg and the knowledge that it was very serious. Puma

johnnysannie
06-23-2007, 04:23 PM
They could be erratic in when they arrived, but didn't necessarily take that long. I've read letters where a soldier writes to his wife asking her to send a book or socks or something, and ten days after writing, he'd have the package. But this gives me an idea. Perhaps he does write to say that he's in hospital, but the letter goes astray for some reason. Thanks!

Air mail didn't begin in the US until 1918, just a few months before the war ended in November. Charles Lindbergh was the first to make a non-stop transatlantic flight and that was about ten years after the war ended.

Mail had to come across the water on ships. Even when my dad was stationed in Germany (Army) mail was not very swift.

Family members who served in World War I told of sluggish mail, slow to reach both the soldier and to go back home.

PastMidnight
06-24-2007, 12:11 AM
WWI, but what location? And does it have to be a wound? Or would an infectious disease work?

What location? I can think of some diseases that would put him out of action and even out of his head.

Maybe something that happens to his hand or arm that would make writing difficult? What sort of injury would have the healing time that I'm looking for?

A broken collar bone? A fractured wrist? A few busted fingers? But tthey wouldn't tie up a hospital bed for that ... he'd be shipped to a convalescent unit. Which would further delay things.

Appendicitis?

He's in France. It needs to be a wound initially that puts him out of action, but he can get sick while recovering from that. That would be fine for him to be at a convalescent unit rather than hospital.

I've read that French military doctors at that time would treat wounds by inserting tubes for drainage and then splinting that part of the body to keep it immobile, sometimes for weeks at a time. Could that be plausible line to take?

PastMidnight
06-24-2007, 12:14 AM
Air mail didn't begin in the US until 1918, just a few months before the war ended in November. Charles Lindbergh was the first to make a non-stop transatlantic flight and that was about ten years after the war ended.

Mail had to come across the water on ships. Even when my dad was stationed in Germany (Army) mail was not very swift.

Family members who served in World War I told of sluggish mail, slow to reach both the soldier and to go back home.

True, true, but he's not he's not sending mail to the U.S. :) Just sending it across the Channel.

PastMidnight
06-24-2007, 12:16 AM
Emotional trauma? Depression? Could be fun to play with...

Also some interesting ideas! Something like that could prolong a recovery.

Silver King
06-24-2007, 01:05 AM
Thanks for telling me what blood poisoning was. I was too young at the time to have any idea what was wrong, but I remember very well the red streaks going up Dad's leg and the knowledge that it was very serious. Puma
You bet it's serious. I almost died from lymphangitis by not seeking treatment fast enough for a hand wound. Now if anyone I know gets even a small scratch, I'm the first person on the scene with antiseptic and Neosporin and a bandage. I like to think I've saved countless lives. :)

Maryn
06-24-2007, 08:21 PM
Remember, too, that a person unable to physically write due to illness or injury is not a person utterly incommunicado. People in medical facilities at wartime know full well that the folks back home need to hear from their soldier or they'll worry themselves sick. Nurses, volunteers, or even other injured soldiers would allow him to dictate a letter home.

If he's delirious with fever or suffering PTSD, then called "shell shock," he might not be able to dictate.

Another thing to play with is the possibility that he's been gassed, with chlorine or mustard gas. WWI used this type of warfare extensively, and if he inhaled gas, he'd have respiratory damage that might make him unable to speak, or if he was burned by it, he could be in such pain that he's kept sedated 24-7.

Maryn, anti-war

PastMidnight
06-24-2007, 11:00 PM
Maryn, I'll double-check that gas was being used where the character is in France, but that's another interesting angle to take.

I know that they were able to dictate and he is a person who would do whatever he could to stay in contact, which is why I was looking for some physical or mental hindrance.

Thanks everyone for so many great ideas to consider!

TsukiRyoko
06-24-2007, 11:14 PM
Try breaking a few bones or something. I don't know of any infections that last for a month or so without being life threatening. Even without medicine, most infections can be treated with draining, plants, water and salt, alcohol, or just plain luck. In the WWI period, they usually had enough medicine to keep infections from lasting a month. Now, a broken bone or two could be treated without an infection and easily keep your character out of the way for a while. Try breaking his hands or his arms, so he has no way to write.

But, even if you did that, the audience may ask, "Why didn't he ask someone else to write/contact the family for him?", which makes this very tricky....

Tallymark
06-25-2007, 12:59 AM
Break his hand so he can't write and his jaw so he can't dictate. XD

Fenika
06-25-2007, 06:43 AM
But his ears stay!
Your ears you keep and I'll tell you why. So that every shreik of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out "dear God, what is that thing?" will echo in your perfect ears. That is what "the pain" means. It means I leave you in anguish. Wallowing in freakish misery forever.
Sorry, I just watched the Princess Bride last week.
...I'll just let myself out, shall I?
:D
Christina
PS- Well, maybe that quote will somehow spark some insiration for you Midnight. Just meditate on it a bit...

Tsu Dho Nimh
06-26-2007, 07:01 PM
He's in France. It needs to be a wound initially that puts him out of action, but he can get sick while recovering from that. That would be fine for him to be at a convalescent unit rather than hospital.

Hows this: A minor wound to put him in hospital for cleansing and stitching, then he crops up with typhoid fever to keep him down and make him delirious. He'd have been vaccinated, but it's still possible to get it, and based on the incubation period, he caught it in the field and it shows up in hospital by coincidence. Characteristic spots and fever are first signs ... hard to miss.

He'd have a milder case because of the vaccination, but he's still in for several days of fever and delerium, ice packs, followed by several weeks of feeling like roadkill in the convalescent center. He'll be sleeping 23 hours a day for the first couple of weeks, and still be recovering his strength a couple of months later. He can lose his hair if you want.


I've read that French military doctors at that time would treat wounds by inserting tubes for drainage and then splinting that part of the body to keep it immobile, sometimes for weeks at a time. Could that be plausible line to take?

If it's a deep wound, yes they would have to do that (insert latex drain tubes) to keep it from abcessing, and he'd be bedridden.

PastMidnight
06-27-2007, 01:31 PM
Hows this: A minor wound to put him in hospital for cleansing and stitching, then he crops up with typhoid fever to keep him down and make him delirious. He'd have been vaccinated, but it's still possible to get it, and based on the incubation period, he caught it in the field and it shows up in hospital by coincidence. Characteristic spots and fever are first signs ... hard to miss.

He'd have a milder case because of the vaccination, but he's still in for several days of fever and delerium, ice packs, followed by several weeks of feeling like roadkill in the convalescent center. He'll be sleeping 23 hours a day for the first couple of weeks, and still be recovering his strength a couple of months later. He can lose his hair if you want.

If it's a deep wound, yes they would have to do that (insert latex drain tubes) to keep it from abcessing, and he'd be bedridden.

Thank you taking the time out to share all of the great ideas and info!