Medical science, McGyver style.

Say we live in a post-apocalyptic society, or get stranded in an island a la Lost, but we keep a healthy supply of every professional that we had before, only that we have no power, no gadgets and just bits and pieces of defective machinery. Will modern medical science be of any use. Or could these surviving doctors, and talented chemists, be able to save us from the diseases that used to kill us in the middle ages without drug factories and defibrillators?

How will the doctors treat common, well-understood diseases?

Will we revert to virgin sacrifices and bloodletting?
Please advice, I need to kidnap a doctor as part of my survival kit in preparation for the next global disaster. :wink:

First off, bloodletting actually probably had a practical use,given the awesomely fat-rich diet people often ate back then. Believe me, if you were downing milk and fat and cream and fat and cheese and meat and lard and more fat like they did in early America, bleeding would help you feel a little better too!*

Second, with a sharp blade, regular checkups, and some alchohol and salt water for sterilization, you can do a lot of minor surgery pretty safely. Humans can get by with primitive anaesthetics or none at all for many surgeries. And some sterilization and cleaning will keep most wounds fom infection or fix them if they do become infected. We understand enough to fix most major injuries beyond the extreme.

Things like deep stab wounds (a you fall on a tree branch), severe falling damage (you fall off a cliff), or blunt force impacts (a rock falls on you) will likely still kill.

Many “common, well-understood” diseases won’t exist on the island. Isolated populations quickly lose most disease-bearing organisms because the germs and viruses lose access to any larger groups. People recover or die but there’s soon no one left to infect.
*This is no joke. Historians are starting to think that many of the doctors who bled patients had a pretty darn good idea of what they were doing, at least given the state of medical knowledge at the time. It could weaken a patient, but it had several salutory effects on those with clogged arteries. Given their diet, this was pretty common even in people who weren’t fat.

Could you give me a cite as to such a diet. I doubt many had such eating patterns, mostly grains for the more advanced societies and gathered greens as the mainstay for primitive ones. Game meat is actually very lean also compared to farm raised animals.

This is not to say that such a high carb diet as I see them eating is that healthy, I believe it is much more unhealthy then the diet you mentioned and could cause the problems you mentioned.

I believe smiling bandit is referring to the diets of those people most likely to be treated by bleeding: better-off Western Europeans and Americans of the 18th and early 19th centuries, whose diets were truly appalling whenever they could manage it (read a collection of “receipts,” or recipes, from back then :eek: ). The leeches might’ve helped their gout, too.

Hmmmm, you think the anticoagulants in leech saliva might’ve entered a patient’s bloodstream and been the unintended Warfarin of the day?

Can they make equipment out of coconuts?

As dropzone said, bleeding was a pactice in early America (and England of the time) and those people snarfed high-fat meat and cheese and beer and lard like it was going out of style. Believe me, their diets would make us Big Mac-gnawers today look like delicate little lambs in comparison. :smiley:

On another note, the big worry with small isolated groups with decent medical knowledge is a lack of any way to treat the various syndromes, abnormalities, and other non-contagious ailments which occur. And of course, withut hospital supplies standing by, little things like Heart Attacks become much more dangerous.

Of course. Even if you didn’t have a high level of technology anymore (and I’m unsure why the survivors couldn’t go back to, say, a 19th century technology base at a minimum), just the knowledge of how diseases work and basic biology would be a huge benefit. Most people have a basic understanding of how diseases spread (a huge leap over our ancestors), of how sterilization and anti-biotic work, etc, that we would still be light years ahead of our ancestors.

They would definitely be able to save us from SOME of the things that killed us in the middle ages. We would probably need to relearn about risk assessment. Some of the drugs that would be available to a lower technology society would be more risky (maybe you get 1 death in every 10,000 or something instead of the 1 in a million that is considered acceptable today), but they would work better than medicine did before. Certainly they wouldn’t be able to do all the things they can do TODAY…but I think they could do better than even the medicine at the beginning of the 20th century, let alone before that.

Depends on the disease of course. Some they probably would know what they were but be unable to treat them at all…others they could probably treat fairly effectively, relative to their current level of technology.

I seriously doubt it, depending on exactly how you were planning to ‘sacrifice’ those virgins. :slight_smile:


I remember watching a documentary on Allied POW’s working on the Burma-Thailand railway during WW2. Medics were given virtually no medical supplies, yet the POW’s managed to fabricate a great many machines and equipment in secret. FWIR, they made needles out of hollowed thorns from bushes, had bicycle powered machines for separating blood and all sorts of other stuff.

I can’t seem to find any references to this on Google. Perhaps somebody else can corroborate?