Saturday, July 24, 2010

Resources for Writers #27: How to Kill a Character

Feeling well today? Read no further. But if you are strong of stomach and engaged in writing a historical in which a character isn’t going to make it to the end of the story, then check out these websites.

The best by far is Cyndi’s List   If you follow no link except this one, you will find a wealth of information related to medicine and health in the good old/bad old days.

This site, a great quick reference, has several broken links at the bottom, so I added the ones that do work.  Old Disease Names

Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms

Old Disease Names Frequently Found on Death Certificates

While some of the old causes of death sound amusing to us, the tragic fact is that people died of relatively minor illnesses that are quickly curable today. Women, infants, and children were at high-risk for death by disease. Men died from disease, too, as well as from occupational accidents and by violence.

The scourges of tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and pneumonia took their toll. Childhood diseases such as measles often meant a death sentence for children. Diabetes and kidney disease were known but not really understood and certainly untreatable.

Most early doctors had only limited, rudimentary training. Added to the lack of medicine, especially antibiotics, and inability to aggressively treat disease, they could only see lives into the world and, sooner or later, see them out again.

Children born with (survivable) defects were often hidden away and, later, warehoused in unspeakable conditions. The same ‘solutions’ surrounded those with mental illness. Until Dorothea Dix’s crusade for more humane treatment for these unfortunate souls, they suffered without mercy. (A good book about her work is Stranger and Traveler: The Story of Dorothea Dix, American Reformer by Dorothy Clarke Wilson.)

Life wasn’t easy in the good old/bad old days, nor was it long. Here are two links to life expectancy charts specific to the United States.

Life Expectancy in the U.S. 1900-1998

Life Expectancy by Age, 1850-2004

So the next time you go to the doctor and are asked to fill out one of those endless (often redundant) ‘patient information’ forms, have some fun. Write that the reason for your visit today is ‘crop sickness’ or ‘foeter oris’. Unfortunately, you may not get the last laugh, because I don’t think anyone ever reads this so-called critical information anyway!

1 comment:

K9friend said...

Some very interesting illnesses here! Some of the names I recognize from 19th century novels. It's good to know what they mean.