Q is for Quacksalver #AtoZchallenge

Posted by : | April 19, 2014

I’m pretty much focussed on the horror of no medical care (which I know is actually a reality in various parts of the world), but of all the things that I think I’d worry about dealing with, there are actually very few of them that you can plan for.  Food can be stockpiled, medicine can in some ways too, but there will be less people – less chance that these people will be doctors, or nurses.  And while we can first-aid train, I think it’s going to be one of the major sticking points for the survivors.  Not just knowing which medicine to use, but knowing what to do when sick.

When I started looking into this, to write one of my novellas set in post-apocalyptic Britain, I wanted to call my doctor’s Snake Oil’s.  Y’know, like ‘snake oil salesman’.  Turns out that there’s an even better word for it – Quacksalver.

Here comes the fun linguistics

A quacksalver derives from the word Kwaksalver (Dutch) which means, broadly, hawker of salve – it’s also, colloquially where the word ‘quack’ comes from.  These people might have been qualified as an apothecary, or they might just be frauds.  The problem is the standardisation of dose, the knowledge of anatomy etc.  It’s not to say that all apothecaries are quacks – but the fact of the matter was, without normalized care, medicine was ‘practices’ in a remarkably more dangerous way.  And I think that’s what’s going to happen post-apocalypse.

Apothecary – the lost trade

One of the major reasons I think we can consider apothecaries as a ‘lost trade’ is because they’ve been supplanted, for the most part, by standardized medicine.  And while there are apothecary style shops and real homoeopathic medicine support (in the UK at least),  I think we’re going to see the rise, especially after the first generation knowledge is cut down or even lost, quacksalvers, and those without real medical knowledge (and possibly a stash of opiates etc.) will probably become the new norm.  And yes, there are people that sell remedies (homoeopathy etc.) already, but it’s specialised knowledge in some ways – the same as doctors and other ‘learned’ professions.
So, if you’re writing a post-apocalyptic story, remember the doctors – more than that though, remember the ‘lost trades’.  It will add texture to your story – and problems for your survivors to solve.

And the book?  Still writing it.  It’ll be a WA exclusive launch though, so watch the blog!

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One Comment

  1. Posted April 30, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I had Quacksalver for my Q as well.

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