Interesting Medical Facts to Include in Your Stories
Leandra is back with her scientist hat to provide some interesting medical situations to include in your stories! Please note that this is not meant to be taken as medical advice or opinion. Additionally, discussion does get gruesome, so please be careful if that could be triggering to you.
- Closed Pneumothoraxes: A pneumothorax is merely a fancy medical word for a punctured lung. Punctured lungs come in two types: open and closed. In an open pneumothorax, the cavity in which the injured lung rests is open to the environment and air can pass through. In a closed pneumothorax, a flap of skin, connective tissue, and/or bone has fallen back over the puncture, resulting in the punctured lung sitting in an airtight sack. This is better than an open pneumothorax, right? Wrong! Here comes the interesting part (especially for stories involving battlefield medicine). The afflicted person is still breathing (otherwise, they’d be dead), so they are inhaling air into both lungs. The good lung will then just exhale air out as it should, but the bad lung can no longer do that due to the puncture. In an open pneumothorax, the air is exhaled through the open hole in the chest cavity. However, in a closed pneumothorax, the air is trapped. Pressure builds up and starts to press on nearby organs (including the heart). The afflicted can die in minutes. An open pneumothorax isn’t good either, but there is generally time to try and fix the problem. So, if it’s necessary to buy time for a someone with a closed pneumothorax, just have a character cut away the flap closing the cavity and make an open pneumothorax!
- Esophageal Varices: Have a character you need to kill off suddenly and gruesomely? Consider esophageal varices! These occur when the liver cannot filter blood effectively (for example, in liver disease, which can be caused by alcoholism), so that blood gets backed up into the veins around the esophagus due to the way the veins are arranged. Unfortunately, these veins are not strong enough to handle this pressure and that, along with swallowing often causing force against them, can cause them to break, resulting in blood loss. Depending on the severity, a character could have anything from vomiting blood to incredibly quick blood loss (from fine to dead in a couple hours). These varices normally have no symptoms until they burst, so they can be quite the surprise.
- Polycythemia vera: Polycythemia vera is a type of cancer where the body produces too many red blood cells, which can lead to serious complications including blood clots. Symptoms include itchiness and redness and burning pain in the hands and feet (though there may be no symptoms). What makes it especially interesting for writers (especially in fantasy and historical fiction stories), however, is its treatment. This disease can be treated (though it is not the first choice) via bloodletting (which is both the medicine of choice in the Middle Ages and generally harmful). If you ever need to include a time when blood letting works in your stories, consider this.
- Brain Sand: Who has brain sand? You do! Good news: this entry on the list is not a disease. Brain sand (or corpora arenacea) is present in parts of all human brains (though there is more in older humans). It’s just calcified structures; however, we have no idea why it’s there or what it does. It’s got a cool name, a medical mystery, and involvement with the organ that makes us who we are; sounds like a sci-fi story to me!