One of the most important aspects of a good story is conflict, organic and unavoidable conflict between the main characters. In Samantha’s Secret (A More Perfect Union Book 3), Samantha clashes with Dr. Trenton Cunningham over medical practices. She’s a midwife and healer, relying upon her herbs and concoctions. He is a trained doctor, having studied at the university in Philadelphia (though he would have preferred studying at Edinburgh University, but with the American Revolution in full swing, that was out of the question).
At the end of Amy’s Choice (Book 2), Benjamin Hanson had been shot. Now Samantha and Trent are called upon to heal him, but they had to butt heads over whose methods to employ. Up until this point, writing the story was easy. But now the research kicks in when I asked myself, what would each of them believe needed to be done and how could they be at odds over the final choice? And then how might they agree and work together?
I’ve seen the kinds of instruments doctors used during the American Revolution, both at the Williamsburg museum and at the encampment reenactment at Yorktown. Note the instruments on the table that the doctor would have used for whatever ailed his patient. (Also note that no women were allowed to be trained as a doctor in the 18th century.) A mortar and pestle for crushing herbs into medicine. A chisel and clamps, neither of which I want to think about too long. I’m sure he had a saw around somewhere for cases of gangrene infection, to cut off the leg above the infection. Bottles of various medicinal pills and powders. The pewter bowl with handle was used to catch the blood when bleeding a patient.
Lancets were used to cut a patient, to bleed him in an attempt to balance the body’s Four Humors. This technique was used on George Washington on his final day alive (December 14, 1799), three or four times apparently, but he died anyway from a putrid throat that had swollen shut and suffocated him.Both of those displays sent shivers down my back at the idea of using them. But that was the reality for my characters, so I had to press on.
To answer my questions, I consulted my go-to reference for 18th century medicine, Southern Folk Medicine, 1750-1820 by Kay. K. Moss. She directed the Eighteenth-Century Backcountry Lifeways Studies Programs at the Schiele Museum of Natural History in Gastonia, North Carolina, for twenty years and continues to do research as an adjunct curator. A graduate of Duke University, she is also the author of The Backcountry Housewife: A Study of Eighteenth-Century Foods; Decorative Motifs from the Southern Backcountry, 1750–1825; and Journey to the Piedmont Past.
I perused the various options Ms. Moss included in the book. Bleedings? The four bodily humors? Emetics and purges? Poultices and salves? Astronomical considerations? Ultimately I was unsure which would be reasonable and the best for strong conflict between Samantha and Trent. So I contacted Ms. Moss at the Schiele Museum, explained why I was reaching out to her, and she graciously agreed to answer my questions via email. She sent me a long, detailed response to the instruments and salves and medicines and how they could be employed and most importantly which ones my characters would be most likely to use. Very helpful and fascinating to read about. It also makes me very, very glad to live in the 21st century!
So when you read Samantha and Trent’s story, you’ll learn what those methods are based on my understanding of Ms. Moss’ professional advice. Of course, the fun part of writing the story was pitting the two against each other even as their awareness and desire grows stronger with each encounter.
What do you think? Would you care to have a doctor or healer using any of these tools and instruments on you to make you feel better?
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