Thursday, April 17, 2014

Forensic Author Question: Fetal Bones

This month, Amryn has another great author question to answer.

Gloria F. asks: At what fetal age would bones show up with mom's if mom was killed & stuffed in locker for 15 yrs? The body has been above ground in a disused bldg for that length of time.

Amryn says:

It’s important to understand that there are always exceptions to every case, so the answers I give are generalized unless otherwise stated. That being said, there are a couple factors at play here.

First of all, the process of skeletonization will vary with temperature and humidity. In this case, 15 years would be sufficient time for both the mother and the fetus to be skeletonized. This process can actually take as little as a few weeks in a hot humid environment. This is the sort of research done at the Body Farm (see my previous post for more info.)

A fetus will begin to develop its skeletal system around 12 weeks. From that point forward, the bones will grow harder and more dense. Theoretically, you could find fetal bones as early as approximately 15 weeks of gestation. The problem with this is, the bones are not fully articulated and would be very easy to scatter. Also, if you consider the average size of a fetus at 15 weeks, it only measures about 6 inches long. Those are some very tiny bones!

That’s not to say they couldn’t be detected by an anthropologist or medical examiner, but I would guess it’s more likely to find them if they suspect the woman may have been pregnant. Obviously the larger the bones, the easier they’ll be to see.

Another thing to consider is the idea of coffin birth or postmortem fetal extrusion. Basically, as the woman began to decompose, gases would build up in her body and could force the baby from her uterus… almost as if she was actively giving birth. This article explains it well. It’s something to consider as the fetal bones may not be found “inside” the woman when her remains are discovered.


Amryn Cross is a full-time forensic scientist and author of romantic suspense novels. Her first novel, Learning to Die, will be released in September. In her spare time, she enjoys college football, reading, watching movies, and researching her next novel. You can connect with Amryn via her website, Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Author Question: Cerebral Hemorrhage

Carol Asks:

I know that cerebral hemorrhages usually don't show symptoms, but for my plot, I want this young character to die quickly and not of an accident. I want foreshadowing of the event. I've given him headaches and tests will show he's got the bulging artery--they're going to fix it because it had leaked (thus the headaches.) He dies before that.

Is that plausible?

Jordyn Says:

Yes, this is plausible though I don't know if I would say cerebral hemorrhages usually don't show symptoms. This IS bleeding on the brain. Blood, where it shouldn't be, tends to be very irritating and will show up in symptoms (things that only the patient can tell us) and signs (things that we can measure.)

I did a post on the difference between signs and symptoms that you can find here

That being said, it also depends on the size of the bleed and the location of the bleed. With a very tiny bleed-- the patient may not experience any symptoms. I would say on the continuum that this would be more rare. If this aneurysm has started leaking already they may not want to postpone surgery. So, I think finding the bulging aneurysm is sufficient enough.

Other signs and symptoms of cerebral hemorrhage are:

  • Seizures
  • Weakness and/or numbness in an extremity
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Changes in vision
  • Hard to speak/Understand speech
  • Balance Issues

Don't forget the FAST acronym for stroke:
  • Face: Is their smile equal? If they stick out their tongue-- does is stray to one side and not stay in the middle?
  • Arms: Have the person lift both arms and hold them out with their palms up. If one hand turns inward or a whole arm drifts down this is called pronator drift and signals a neurosurgical emergency.
  • Speech: Have the person repeat a simple phrase. Is it clear or slurred and strange?
  • Time: If any of these are present call 911. 
In the hospital setting, I use this exact tool as a quick screening method for stroke (which can be either caused by bleeding or a clot.) A negative test doesn't mean something didn't happen-- it just means something isn't happening at that moment.

A friend of mine was recently on the phone with her father (who lives in another state) when he confessed to her that one of his arms had gone completely numb. She instructed him to call 911-- which he did and his symptoms completely resolved by the time he got to the ED. However, he did have a transient ischemic attack (or TIA) or mini-stroke which increases his risk of a bigger event happening in the future.

For more information about cerebral hemorrhage (or stroke) you can check out this link.  

Also, these You Tube videos have a very nice, simple explanation of the genesis of stroke.


Give Carol McClain a challenge, she’s happy. Her interests vary from climbing high ropes to playing the bassoon to Habitat for Humanity and to stained glass creation. If it’s quirky or it helps others, she loves it. Significant Living, Vista, and Evangel have published her non-fiction articles. In her spare time, she coordinates the courses for ACFW, is team leader for The Christian Pulse, and has written four novels. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, a retired pastor, and their overactive Springer spaniel. You can read her work at

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Up and Coming

Hello Redwood's Fans!

What's everyone up to? Me-- burning the midnight oil. Literally-- I am just writing this post and when it does post-- that will be the actual time I finish. This one is on the fly. I seriously feel like this dog's ears.

This week there are two very interesting author questions.

You know I love these!!

Tuesday: Author question dealing with cerebral hemorrhage.

Thursday: Forensic author question that Amryn Cross will be handling dealing with fetal bones. Super interesting stuff.

They are expecting snow here tomorrow. Bummer. Was loving the sunshine.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Medical Treatment in Medieval Times

I got a very interesting e-mail from a writer (at least I hope it was an actual author-- sometimes I'm not so sure.) about swords. In it, she describes and includes photos of three different types of swords and queeries about what type of "blunt-force" injuries these might cause-- particularly with such and such kind of armor.

Honestly, this is not my strength but I could tell her sword type injures are "blunt-force" trauma. Blunt for trauma is like hitting your chest on a steering wheel or getting punched in the face. Swords are sharp, are meant to impale so these would be termed more like stabbing, impalement, laceration . . .

But, it did get me thinking about treatment of sword injures in medieval times. I guess it is the curse of the medical nerd so I found a few link and some interesting facts but cannot necessarily speak to the medical accuracy of them but they make for interesting reading.

And some links from Google books about medieval medicine but they likely don't include the whole text.

1.  Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice

2.  Medieval Medicine

3. Visualizing Medieval Medicine and Natural History, 1200-1550

Do you have other sources for medical treatment during Medieval Times?