Medicine, Now and Then

I enjoy history, which is one reason I wrote a historical mystery novel. But when writing fiction, the author has to dig into the life of her characters. One aspect of that is health.

In the late 1800s, when The Vanishing Kidnapper takes place, what was it like to get sick? Was it a death sentence? In my research and reading, I have come across the term ‘poor constitution.’ What would that mean today?

We often discuss the extent of how deadly the flu – otherwise known as influenza was even a century ago compared to today. But, what about how people felt when they got sick? This tends to be the question I contemplate. When I have a cold, I want something that will help me feel better. We have drugstores that have rows of shelves with all sorts of medicines just for the common cold, or allergies, or coughs, or sniffles. What did they do in 1870?

Perhaps the question is a broader one. Did they just rest, nursed by a loved one? We are such an on-the-go society, we seem to have a hard time with that concept. Perhaps some of the old wives tales of medicinal cures really worked.

But that still doesn’t address how the sick person coped. It is that question that a writer must ask. When a 1870s character catches a cold, how does she get through it? If you lived then, how would you?

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