Tag: Old West Research

OF BROKEN BONES & BONESETTERS

Welcome to Wildflower Junction and another year of chatting about wonderful books and the Wild West. Looks like we have a great line-up of guest authors coming our way on Fridays this year!

To start the year off right, I am offering a give-away at the bottom of this post, so keep reading!

I am currently writing the OAK GROVE SERIES which is shared with Lauri Robinson. It started last May 2017 with MAIL-ORDER BRIDES OF OAK GROVE. A complete listing of all the books in the series can be found at http://kathrynalbright.com/about-the-books/oak-grove-series/

My newest book in the series, THE PRAIRIE DOCTOR’S BRIDE has just been released. (YAY!) Since the hero is a doctor, I had to portray him doing doctorly things. In books or movies about the Old West, someone with a broken leg or arm will often have their injury splinted with sticks for immobilization. Usually this is “out in the bush,” and although Doctor Nelson Graham could certainly do this method I wanted him showing off his education a bit. Doc Graham was not a lay doctor or a bone-setter (a barber or in a pinch the local blacksmith.) He attended a prestigious school in Boston, and then had several years of experience, employed by the Kansas-Pacific Railroad Company to attend the men building the railroad. He had his own home-office in Oak Grove, Kansas. So, I had to find about a little more about the history and care for fractures.

Hippocrates

HIPPOCRATES

The earliest known care for a broken bone (after resetting) dates back to the early Egyptians of the 5th Dynasty (2400 B.C.) Hippocrates, a physician of the 4th century BC, wrote about immobilizing the bone to let it heal and also having the injured person do specific exercises to prevent atrophy of the muscles. His writings spoke of using cloth soaked in resin and wax. A little later on, starch was added to assist with quicker hardening. Throughout the next 1500 years, different solutions and pastes were used, such as egg whites, clay, and gum mixtures. If a person had a broken bone, they did a LOT of laying around.

Plaster of Paris had been used as a building material for centuries, but in the early 19th century, it became widely used for immobilizing broken bones. The injured limb would be reset and placed inside a wooden box and then the plaster poured over it, encasing the leg or arm in a rigid sleeve. This was heavy and made it impossible for the injured person to move.

Then in the 1830s, Louis Seutin, a doctor in the Belgian army, used strips of linen and carton (or pasteboard) splints that were wet and molded to the limb. The limb was then wrapped in bandages and coated with a starch solution and allowed to dry.

GAUZE COATED WITH PLASTER OF PARIS

Building on Seutin’s work, Antonious Mathijsen, a medical doctor in the Dutch army, found that strips of coarse cotton cloth into which dry plaster of Paris had been rubbed, could be applied and then moistened with a sponge or brush. The cast would harden as it was rubbed and would dry in minutes. Another version of this would be to very carefully dip the dressing or cloth into a bucket of water, so as not to dislodge the plaster of Paris already rubbed into the cloth, and then apply it to the limb. This lighter-weight, smaller cast made it possible for a person to move about while a bone healed.

WALKING CAST

Mathijsent wrote about his method and it was published in 1852 in a medical magazine, Repertorium. This became the standard for setting broken bones until 1950 with only a few minor changes—ie: the use of shellac to make the cast water-resistant. And alterations such as this picture–with a stub to enable walking and yet keeping the cast dry and clean.

So – knowing this – I could finally write the scene where Doc Graham took care of Wally Brown’s arm and actually used a plaster of Paris cast! Since I was a nurse in my past life and the history of medicine has always fascinated me, I had to be careful not to “talk technical” as I wrote the medical passages but to remember to use regular words. Instead of “new, granulation tissue” I described the skin as reddened, a bit puffy, and without any sign of purulence.

If you are interested in finding out more, here are a few links to check out:

http://hankeringforhistory.com/history-of-the-cast/
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5420179
http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2010/10/08/setting-a-broken-bone-19th-century-medical-treatment-was-not-for-sissies

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Now for the Giveaway!

How about telling me what book you are reading this first month of the year!
Those who comment will have their names put into my Stetson for a drawing for my new release!

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THE PRAIRIE DOCTOR’S BRIDE

Nelson Graham has had every advantage in life.
Is it possible for this Boston-trained doctor and a woman who “lives off the land”
to find any common ground?

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“This book was a pure delight.” San Francisco Review of Books

 

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