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The Effects of a Sword Wound to the Side and Dagger to the Back of the Shoulder
rhapsody89 wrote in little_details
The setting is in Nottingham Castle, England, in 1196 during a siege. A character receives a slash to the side, just below the ribs, with a sword and has a dagger thrust into the back of his shoulder nearly simultaneously. Is it possible to survive an attack like this and if so how would the wounds be treated? What would the damage be?

I’ve googled ‘sword wounds to the side’, ‘surviving a sword wound’, ‘treatment of sword wounds in medieval times’. I’ve gone through the tags on here that I thought might provide answers but I didn’t see anything particularly specific to what I needed. Maybe I’m just bad at google-fu.

EDIT: Woops! The character in question is wearing a light leather jerkin. The sword I believe is a broad sword (not for certain but I think its right) and the blow would be a glancing as someone shoves the frontal assailant before they can get a full hit and would be directly under the ribs (the fleshy area on the side).

The Dubious Quick Kill (see also part 2) may be of interest.

A lot of data is missing here: Is your character armored, if so what kind of armor?What kind of sword is it?how strongly are the weapons driven?is it a direct or a glancing blow?Where on the side(i.e. upper/lower ribs, stomach, etc)?

At that date it would be mail or leather; plate armour came in later. In the first case a direct blow would cause heavy bruising and likely internal bleeding. If no armour, a direct blow would cut right into the body and would not be survivable (experiments with pig carcases have cut right through the ribs)

Here's a Q&A on modern shoulder stab wounds

Some of this is pretty applicable. I'd say, based on that and removing the modern surgical stuff, that it may be the worst of the two wounds. A lot of permanent damage there that mediaeval surgeons probably wouldn't be able to treat.

Of course there is a lot of bone around the shoulder too, so if you wanted it superficial(ish) you could just say it hit the bone and skittered off. Be a nasty wound still, and prone to infection, but would be survivable with not much worse than a nasty scar. You can play the shoulder one either way depending on what you need.

I agree though, more info would be helpful.

How deep is the side wound, and how low? The shoulder wound is likely to cause chronic problems and be slow to heal, but is survivable if he avoids serious infection. If the shoulder wound is deep, they might try cauterizing it, which may help ward off infection but will further damage the shoulder. A cut to the ribs or a shallow cut to the side that doesn't penetrate the abdomen will be painful but also shouldn't cause massive damage.

On the other hand, serious gut wounds in a pre-modern era are generally fatal. If your character avoids slowly bleeding to death, having fatal damage to internal organs, or dying of infection (either from punctured intestines or from external contamination of the wound), he might live. If so, it's a combination of an iron constitution and sheer luck, and everyone will be extremely surprised. Treatment is likely to be focused on keeping the character comfortable, because everyone will assume he's going to die.

The wounds you describe can be as deadly or minor as you need them to be. Either could potentially cause direct damage to organs if they're deep enough, or merely cut into superficial muscle & fat without doing any serious damage at all. Penetrating wounds to the abdomen that pierce the viscera would be fatal in 1196. A punctured lung might be, but not inevitably. If major blood vessels are cut, he bleeds to death (with or without a lot of visible blood, depending on which blood vessels). Heavy bleeding that's not immediately fatal could be survivable if he gets good care & rest. Infection is a major threat, and a serious infection is likely to be deadly (in a timeframe of days to weeks) if it occurs -- treatment options were pretty limited in 1196 (cauterization a favorite, also "pus about,let it out").

Treatment would probably be what is now termed "supportive" -- clean obvious debris/bits of cloth from the wounds (water is optional), stop the bleeding, apply dressings, pray. To rebalance the patient's humors after all the blood loss, feed him hot & moist food -- red meat & meat broth, red wine, etc. (Mutton is more warming that beef, so a better restorative.)

Edited at 2013-02-08 06:25 pm (UTC)