Western Medicine Circa 1890: Part 2/4

Lacy Williams is back with part two of her four part Friday series on western medicine during the 1890’s. She is running a fantastic contest so be sure to leave a comment and check out the full details posted on June 30th. Nothing like a chance to win four books!

I know I’m not alone in the fact that Janette Oke really inspired me to want to read and write inspirational fiction (waaaay back when it was just a dream for me). The next inspirational author that I fell in love with was Al Lacy, who writes westerns/western romance (I liked that his last name was the same as my first name…).
One problem that Mr. Lacy’s characters (a lot of times it was the bad guys) ran into was gunshot wounds. Mostly they didn’t survive, which I think is realistic. My issue when writing MARRYING MISS MARSHAL was that I had a main character, a marshal, who found herself trading bullets with some outlaws… What if she got shot? How bad could I make her injury and still reasonably expect her to go about her duties?
Difficult enough to treat with today’s modern medicines, I imagine treating gunshot wounds was probably something that Wild West doctors dreaded. Part of the problem was the damage that a bullet could do to a person’s insides—not pretty to put back together. Another problem was the threat of infection. If any foreign object (a piece of bullet, fabric remnant, dirt, etc.) remained in the wound after cleansing, it could cause major problems, which might lead to amputation or death for the wounded person.
Family Physician: A manual of domestic medicine (1886) suggests that serious wounds requiring surgery only be treated by a doctor, and doesn’t go into explicit detail about the treatment of these wounds, which would probably include gunshot wounds. It does share some information on treating “lighter” types of wounds. Here’s an excerpt:
The after-treatment of a wound cannot be of too simple a character. Where there is no pain or discomfort about the wounded part, there can be no object in disturbing the first dressing applied, and this should be left undisturbed for from two to four days, according to the severity of the injury. If all has gone well, it is quite possible that a skin wound may heal at once, and merely require the application of a piece of plaster over it, to protect it for a few additional days. If, however, it is found on carefully soaking off the original dressing that the wound is open and discharging, the best application will be the ” water-dressing.”…
Because I needed my heroine to be able to be active, not laid up by a gunshot wound, I chose to give her a “flesh wound”, more of a scrape. The bullet that hit her did not pierce her skin, per se. Here’s an excerpt from Marrying Miss Marshal chapter 16 that shows the hero (her husband) helping her treat the wound:
“Do you need help?” He waited for her answer before he turned around.
Danna sighed, a little huff of air to let him know she wasn’t happy about it. “Yes. It’s difficult for me to reach the wound.”
He faced her, and had to swallow hard. She wore an undershirt and had the quilt from the bed wrapped around her; only her shoulder and injured arm emerged. It was her hair that unmanned him, the dark locks falling in waves down her back. She must’ve loosed them from the braid so they would dry.
His knees threatened to knock together as he approached her. She flushed under his gaze and averted her face, pointing to the array of doctoring supplies she’d laid out across the bed.
“You’ll need to clean it out first,” she said. “The wound isn’t bad, but if infection sets in…”
“Yes, I know.” And he did know how bad infection could get. He’d met plenty of men missing limbs or on the brink of dying because of infection from injuries. “I can’t believe you went all morning with a bullet wound and didn’t tell me.”
He located an antiseptic and some clean cloths and moved in front of Danna so her crown was at his chin. He began by wiping the blood off of the inside of her arm. He was entirely too conscious of how soft her skin felt against his palm, and how she smelled sweet, even though the rain must’ve washed away any scent of soap or perfume.
“There wasn’t anything you could do, even if I did tell you.”
“You would’ve told your first husband.”
“Fred—” She bit out the one word. That was it.
He kept his gaze on what he was doing, but he could see her jaw flex from the corner of his eye, as if she’d chomped down on what she really wanted to say.
He leaned away so he could look her in the face. He didn’t release his hold on her upper arm. “Say it.”
Her gaze didn’t waver from his. “Fred would’ve known without me telling him.”
Well. Chas looked down to apply the antiseptic to a rag, pretending her words didn’t sting. He dabbed the rag against the bloody furrow in her skin—she was lucky the bullet hadn’t entered her flesh—and heard her soft intake of breath.
He hated that she was injured. Hated that they hadn’t been able to capture the outlaws. Hated that he had no control over any of this.
Copyright © 2011 by Lacy Williams. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books.
Family Physician: A manual of domestic medicine (1886) is available in the public domain on Googlebooks:
(Treatment of Wounds begins page 712)
As a child, Lacy Williams wanted to become a veterinarian “when she grew up”. However, the sight of blood often made her squeamish so she gave up that dream before her teen years. As a college student, Lacy was a physical therapy major for approximately two weeks—until she found out she’d have to take a cadaver lab to complete that degree plan. As a writer, Lacy has finally found a way she can handle blood and gore—fictionally. 
A wife and mom from Oklahoma, Lacy is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and is active in her local chapter, including a mentorship program she helped to start. She writes to give her readers happily-ever-afters guaranteed and mostly reads the end of the book first. You can find out more about Lacy at her website www.lacywilliams.net. She is also active on Facebook (www.facebook.com/lacywilliamsbooks) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/lacy_williams).

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