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Category Archives: Medical History

In the 1800s, Wagon Train Travel Could Be Deadly

Wagon Train

Many brave souls headed West during the 1800’s, often by wagon train. They fought weather, disease, starvation, hostile folks of all types, and potentially deadly injuries. Medicine was crude, basically non-existent, and many died along the way.

Check out my latest Q&A on the Suspense Magazine Blog:

Could Death From Bleeding Be Delayed For Several Days After a Frontier Wagon Wheel Accident?

Read the answer and listen to the expanded audio information here:

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2017/07/01/could-death-from-bleeding-be-delayed-for-several-days-after-a-frontier-wagon-wheel-accident/

This was one of the many clever questions included in my first Q&A book—MURDER & MAYHEM

M&M 200X300

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Q&A with Expanded Audio Discussions Now on the Suspense Magazine Website

Q&A with Expanded Audio Discussions Now on the Suspense Magazine Website

Check out the new posts John Raab of Suspense Magazine and I put together. Read the Q&As and listen to the expanded discussions. Hope each proves helpful for your crime fiction.

Can DNA Be Used To Identify Multiple Assailants In a Three Decade Old Rape?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2016/12/20/d-p-lyles-forensic-file-episode-1/

In 1863, Could An Autopsy Accurately Determine the Cause of Death?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2017/01/09/in-1863-could-an-autopsy-accurately-determine-the-cause-of-death-d-p-lyle-answers-this/

Can My Female Character Cause Her Pregnancy To Become “Stone Baby” By Shear Will?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2016/12/31/can-my-female-character-cause-her-pregnancy-to-become-stone-baby-by-sheer-will/

More to come.

Want more cool questions from crime writers? Check out my three Q&A books.

M&M 200X300

More Info and List of Included Questions

F&F200X302.jpg

More Info and List of Included Questions

MF&F 200X320

More Info and List of Included Questions

 

King Henry the VIII’s Brain Injury and Behavioral Changes

henry_viii

King Henry VIII was often a bad boy. I mean, he had two of his many wives executed, for starters. But he was an historical giant—-he took on the Pope and established the Church of England—no small feat in the 1500’s.

But he also developed erratic behavior later in his life. Many date his significant personality change to a head injury following a fall beneath a horse in a 1536 jousting match. He apparently remained unconscious for two hours.

But could a blow to the head cause a dramatic personality change? Absolutely.

There are many types of brain injuries that could lead to such an outcome: Concussions (usually multiple such injuries are needed before personality changes would occur—if at all); Cerebral contusions (brain bruises); intracerebral bleeds (bleeding into the brain tissue; and subdural hematomas (bleeding in the space between the brain and the skull). In Henry’s case, I suspect the later might be the case.

subdural

Subdural Hematoma

Subdural hematomas follow blows to the head and here blood collects in the dural space—between the brain and the skull. It can be small and inconsequential or larger and compress the brain. It can occur immediately or be delayed by hours, days, weeks, and even months. The increased pressure on the brain can lead coma and death. Less dramatically, it can cause headaches, visual impairment, weakness, poor balance, sleepiness, confusion, and, yes, personality changes.

 

Dr. Frankenstein Lives. Sort of.

Dr. Sergio Canavero wants to be the modern-day Victor Frankenstein. Create a human from parts. Two parts anyway. A head and a body. Yes, he wants to do a head transplant. His proof that it works? Stimulating the nerves of the spinal cord to test his efforts.

Remember high school biology? That poor frog with his head cut off? Yet applying a current to its spinal cord made the legs jump. It’s what nerves and muscles do when stimulated. It’s not life; it’s a parlor trick—-for lack of a better word.

So, could Dr. Canavero’s experiment work? This head transplant? Maybe, anything is possible. But smart money is on not a chance.

What of the original Frankenstein? Art and life often intertwine and had it not been for a volcanic eruption on the other side of the world Marry Shelly’s classic might never have been written.

frankensteins_monster_boris_karloff

I’ve blogged about this before:

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/frankenstein-and-creativity/

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/more-decapitation-and-reanimating-the-dead/

 
 

Maybe Columbus Wasn’t “The Father of Syphilis” After All

 

Columbus

 

It has long been believed that the sailors who crewed Christopher Columbus’s ships in his famous 1492 voyage contracted syphilis from the natives and transported the deadly disease back to Europe. But was this disease already in Europe long before Columbus was even born? According to a recent article in the Journal of Biological and Clinical Anthropology that just might be the case.

Of course, now most cases of syphilis are treatable and curable with antibiotics, but in 1492 things were a bit different They didn’t know what caused it and indeed that bacteria even existed. Antibiotics? Still centuries away. So syphilis was often deadly, and, if not, it was very disfiguring and incapacitating.

The real culprit is a spirochete called Treponema palladium. And it might have been in Europe as early as 1320.

 

syphilis

 
7 Comments

Posted by on January 19, 2016 in Medical History

 

The Plague—Yes That Plague—Is Alive and Well

Black Death

The Black Death. It hit Europe in the mid 1300s and killed millions—-some say 100 million or between 1/3 and 1/2 of Europe’s population. It changed history. It altered mankind’s view of religion. It disrupted travel and trade. It helped bring on the so-called Dark Ages.

The Black Death marches through Europe

The Black Death marches through Europe

In truth there were several plagues. caused by several different diseases, but the Black Death was especially destructive. Though it has been challenged by some, the Black Death was in all likelihood caused by a nasty little critter called Yersinia Pestis.

But that was centuries ago. Now we know what causes plague and we know how to treat it. It’s passed to humans by bites from infected fleas and can be eradicated with antibiotics. At least in most cases. So like small pox, isn’t it a relic of the past? Not really. The bug is out there and every now and then it raises its head as if to say—-Remember me?

Several cases have cropped in Colorado in the past couple of years, with two recent deaths: high school athlete Taylor Gaes and an as yet unnamed adult. Last year there were other cases of this infection.

And now another case has occurred in California–a child camping in Yosemite National Park.

So the plague is not just of historical significance, but rather is still with us.

I’ve blogged about this before and here are the links to those posts:

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/black-death-bug-identified-again/

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/the-plague-kills-researcher-maybe/

 
5 Comments

Posted by on August 7, 2015 in Medical History, Medical Issues

 

Q and A: What Happens When a Person Is Exposed to the Vacuum of Space?

Astronaut

Q: What sort of damage does the human body suffer in the vacuum of space?  How long can one survive and what will happen to the person who does survive?  My scenario involves an astronaut whose faceplate blows out, but not before he depressurizes his suit sufficiently to prevent immediate death.

A: First of all the victim would not explode as was the case in the movies such as Total Recall. But some very bad things do happen internally and they happen very quickly. Whether he depressurizes somewhat beforehand or not, his survival once he reached zero pressure (vacuum) would likely be measured in seconds.

Space decompression sickness is similar to that of a scuba diver that rises too rapidly after a prolonged exposure to the pressures of the deep. In this case the diver is going from excess pressure to normal pressure. In space the victim goes from normal pressure to zero pressure. Same thing physiologically.

In diving, the problem is that the excess pressure causes excess nitrogen (N) to dissolve in the blood. This N will come back out of the blood as the pressure is reduced. This should happen slowly to prevent decompression sickness or the bends. But, if the diver rises rapidly, the pressure drops rapidly, and the N comes out of the blood quickly, forming N bubbles in the blood stream. This is similar to popping the top on a soft drink. Here the release of the pressure allows the carbon dioxide (CO2), which was placed into the liquid under pressure, to come out of the liquid and form bubbles. We call this carbonization. A good thing for your soft drink, but not so good for your brain and heart and muscles.

In space decompression basically the same thing happens. Apparently the culprit is water and not N in this situation, however. With the sudden release of pressure, the water in the blood “boils,” becoming a gas, and bubbles form in the system. I should point out that in chemical and physical terms boiling simply means the changing of a liquid to a gas. This can be accomplished by adding heat (boiling water on a stove) or by lowering the ambient pressure (popping open a soft drink). In the case of space decompression it isn’t that the blood gets hot, but rather that the pressure that keeps the water in its liquid state is removed and the water changes to its gaseous state, or boils. Doesn’t sound very pleasant does it?

Though studies on the effects of exposure to a vacuum have been done on chimpanzees, there are no real data on what happens to humans exposed to zero pressure except for a couple of incidents where an astronaut or a pilot was accidentally exposed. Of course, rapid decompression has caused deaths in both high-altitude flights and in June, 1971 when the Russian spacecraft Soyuz 11 suddenly lost pressure, killing the 3 cosmonauts on board, but survivors are few and far between.

On August 16, 1960, parachutist Joe Kittinger ascended to an altitude of 102,800 feet (19.5 miles) in an open gondola in order to set a world record for high-altitude parachute jumping. He lost pressurization in his right glove but proceeded with his ascent and jump. He experienced pain and loss of function in his hand at high altitude but all returned to normal once he descended via chute to lower altitudes.

In 1965 at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center near Houston, TX, a trainee suffered a sudden leak in his spacesuit while in a vacuum chamber. He lost consciousness in 14 seconds, but revived after a few seconds as the chamber was immediately re-pressurized. He suffered no ill effects—due to his very brief exposure—but stated that he could feel water boiling on his tongue. This was actually the above mentioned boiling scenario in which water (in this case saliva) becomes a gas on exposure to zero pressure.

A case of partial, prolonged exposure occurred during an EVA (space walk) in April 1991 on the US space shuttle mission STS-37. One astronaut suffered a 1/8 inch puncture in one glove between the thumb and forefinger. He was unaware of it until later when he noticed a painful red mark on his skin in the exposed area. It appeared that the area bled some but that his blood had clotted and sealed the injury.

So, what happens to a human exposed to zero pressure? Since there is no oxygen in such an environment, loss of consciousness occurs in a matter of seconds. Also, if the victim held his breath (don’t do this during scuba diving when coming up from depths either), the air in his lungs would rapidly expand and his lungs could be damaged, bleed, or rupture. Better to open his mouth and exhale the rapidly expanding gas from his lungs.

Water in his blood stream would immediately begin to “boil,” filling the blood stream with water vapor (the gas form of water) and stopping his heart. Bubbles might appear in the blood stream and cause damage to the body’s organs, particularly the brain. As a result, the brain and nerves cease to function. As more and more gas formed within the body, the entire body would swell but it would not explode.

Exposure to heat or cold or radiation might also occur but it will do little harm since the victim would already be dead.

But what if the exposure were brief and the person rescued? Treatment would be to immediately return him to a pressurized environment and give him 100% oxygen. He may survive unharmed or may have brain and nerve damage which could be permanent.

For your scenario, whether he partially decompressed or not, he would be in trouble very quickly. When your victim’s faceplate ruptured he would hopefully begin to exhale air to prevent the expanding gases in his lungs from rupturing them. As air, and thus oxygen, flowed from his lungs and into space, the oxygen content of his blood would rapidly drop and he would lose consciousness in 10 to 20 seconds. He would then die in short order. If he were quickly rescued, he would be returned to the spacecraft, which would be pressurized, and would be given 100% oxygen via a face mask. He could survive intact or with brain damage. It’s your call. Either way works.

 
 
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