Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jul 18, 2007

Would You Have Survived in the Middle Ages?

Shamus Young has an interesting post up on his blog, something I think a lot of D&D players have probably considered at some point. Good role-playing really demands that you try to project what your character should be feeling when they encounter a variety of nasty situations, like the deaths of loved ones, catastrophic burns, a plethora of injuries including some very esoteric ones like disintegration.

So, the question is: would you have survived to your present age without the benefit of modern medicine. Weirdly enough, I think the answer in my case is yes.

We're ignoring the effects of things that you can't estimate, like the effectiveness of vaccines that let you give nasty diseases a miss, and only taking into account illnesses/accidents that you have actually had in your lifetime. In my case, the only life-threatening illness I've ever had was the pneumonia I contracted when I was still an infant. This, however, is survivable without medication, although it probably would have left me with permanently reduced lung function.

I have a righteously competent immune system and I recover from pretty much anything on my own. I didn't take care of my teeth when I was a kid and I've had one cavity filled because I thought it looked bad. I did get my wisdom teeth out a few years ago, but they weren't causing me any pain, I just figured it'd be better to get them out than to wait until they were.

As a side note, I read an interesting article that implies wisdom teeth may actually be beneficial if you're likely to lose many of your teeth before they come in: there's room in your jaw for them, then. That would work out for me, because I was told I would lose most of my top incisors if my jaw wasn't relocated by ortodontia.

The worst injury I've ever had was a teeny, tiny, invisible fracture in my right radius last year and the only result was that I had some restrictions on what I could do with that hand for few weeks. I had bronchitis in high school but I pretty much recovered on my own. That's it. Apparently I'm a freak.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree. I had pneumonia that wasn't nearly as bad as yours (judging by how you sounded when you breathed), and I couldn't shake it after more than a month of just rest and liquids. It kept getting worse until finally I couldn't stand it and went to a doctor for some meds. Even then, it took several days to even begin feeling better. I think you may have succumbed to pneumonia as an infant without modern medicine (lots of infants did back in the day). You had it twice, too.

Other than that, though, you have been remarkably healthy.

Jennifer Snow said...

Sh, Mooooommmmmm, you're ruining my credibility here!

It's really hard to predict that sort of thing anyway, so this thought experiment is kind of goofy. It's still fun, though. Let's assume we were a wealthy family and had a Jew or a Moor for a doctor.

Jenn Casey said...

You know what? I've actually thought a lot about this, too!

I also had pneumonia as a toddler. I don't know how severe it was, but I know my mom was scared (she had a brother who died in infancy from pneumonia). I recovered fine, except for my little penicillin allergy, which I would not have had in the Middle Ages!

So--I'd say I would have had about a 50% chance of surviving the pneumonia. If I did, I had no other major medical problems (no broken bones or evil bouts with childhood illness) as a child other than the fact that I had a wandering eye that was corrected with surgery. So I would have had funky looking eyes (and would probably have been blind in the one), but mostly very straight teeth.

What would have killed me was childbirth, at the age of 31. My son would have died, too. Don't think they had c-sections then, did they?

I also have wondered what kind of life I'd have had--if I had been sent to a nunnery as a young girl, I'd have skipped the whole childbirth thing, might still be alive at my ripe old age of 36.

Interesting topic!

Jennifer Snow said...

If you go to Shamus' site you'll see that he got an insane number of comments about this topic.

It's really difficult to predict the maybe-fatal stuff because some people will die from what you thought was nothing and others will survive just about everything. I lean on the side of saying that if you just had to take basic oral antibiotics (which I don't know about in my case, I was a baby and Mom doesn't talk about it much) your survival chances were decent, but if you needed modern super-antibiotics or IV or anything like that you were probably screwed.

Jennifer Snow said...

You know, I thought of something goofy, too . . . would poor food storage in the middle ages have meant that people would get some natural antibiotic protection from eating moldy bread?