Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Medical Question: Life Threatening Condition 1830's

This medical question for a current work in progress came to me via Facebook. Remember, I am always looking for those pesky medical questions to answer to make sure your medical stuff has the ring of truth... even if it is fiction.

Question: Is there a life-threatening condition that twins could have that could be fixed with minor surgery in the 1830's?

Answer: This question sets up a very difficult scenario for the author to work through. First conundrum is the "life-threatening", " minor surgery" and "1830's". First of all, most life-threatening conditions require a fairly extensive surgery to fix. One life-threatening option that might easily be fixed would be to have a severed artery that could be tied off. But, this doesn't fit with the twin scenario. Next problem is that surgery wasn't all that advanced in this time period. No OR's... etc.

Secondly, a condition that affects the twins. First thought that came to my mind was a congenital heart defect present in identical twins that would require surgery. But again, limited by the chosen era. Not a good solution.

Then, I thought of the post I did on milk sickness A good idea for this time era would actually be a medical condition that the local doctor could figure out and treat. Something along the lines of a toxic plant poison passed through the mother's milk or a metabolic disorder that could be managed by diet. It would take a very crafty doctor to figure out and would be a plausible option given the constraints of that time period. Here's an extensive list:

Any other thoughts for this writer?


  1. Migh help to know the ages of the twins the author is working with. Is she nursing them? Are they toddlers? What nationality? Lead poisoning? Salmonella?

  2. These are great questions to consider, Anne. Thanks for your comment.

  3. If the author's still looking for something, or anyone else is interested, I tried to think of some minor but lifesaving surgeries that might have been possible in the 1830s. To be honest I couldn't think of many early 19th century surgeries besides amputation, which is neither particularly minor nor particularly interesting, nor can I think how it might have to do with twins.
    I came up with tracheotomy. Would they have done that then and is there any way it might fit with the twin scenario?