Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sara K Joiner: Medical Historical Fiction

Historical nursing display at a Houston hospital.
Last month my mother underwent shoulder surgery. While the procedure went well, there were some slight complications afterward that were blown out of proportion. As I sat in hospital rooms and listened to a parade of medical professionals ask the same questions over and over, I wondered about the distinctions between her care in the 21st century and the care she would have received 50, 100 or even 200 years ago for the same injury.

The emergency room visit was certainly enlightening. After X-rays and CT scans, we were told her upper humerus was fractured. Although no one told us her shoulder was dislocated, it apparently was. Many shots and sedatives later, the ER doctor worked to set her arm. Except for the drugs, this procedure has probably changed little over the years—pull and push the arm back in place. The doctor even had to climb up in bed and use her foot to help set Mom's arm. I have no doubt that would have been unbearable for anyone without drugs.

But what has changed in medicine?

cover of In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Some progress has been and is still being made in eradicating disease. In the novel In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, readers learn about various and sundry treatments for the Spanish Flu. The main character is living in San Diego in 1918. The city is in crisis because seemingly everyone either has the flu, had the flu or will get the flu. People are dying in the street. Desperation (and a lack of medical knowledge) leads people to try anything—including eating onions multiple times daily or even trying sugar cubes soaked in kerosene.

cover of Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
With the ease with which diseases travel now, the mere thought of coming in contact with someone who has a highly contagious illness can be terrifying. The recent Ebola scare in Texas and New York demonstrated that. The same panics have happened throughout time. Laurie Halse Anderson's novel Fever 1793 shows how Philadelphia panicked to such a degree that Congress fled the city rather than fall victim to the epidemic.

cover of Deadly by Julie Chibbaro
Throughout history, there have been countless individuals who have risked their lives to relieve the suffering of the dying, treat the symptoms of the sick or discover the causes of contagion. Doctors, nurses, scientists and ordinary people have done all these things. The novel Deadly by Julie Chibbaro creates a mystery surrounding the causes of typhus in several New York homes and the search for the woman called "Typhoid Mary."

These are just some of the books featuring medical history. You can find more at your school or public library.

Sara K Joiner is the author of the upcoming novel After the Ashes published by Holiday House. She is also the children's coordinator for the Brazoria County Library System.

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