Survivors – Comparing the TV Series, Covid 19 & the Future Part 4 ‘Medicine’

Spoiler Alert: the following talks generally about ideas from the series, with specific information related to ‘Medicine’.

Just before the ‘lockdown’ I had root-canal surgery here in France. In fact this became necessary as I had had an abscess. And I had the abscess for about 18 months (mostly kept under control through using iodine). I went to the dentist at very short notice and it was the LAST possible moment I could have gone. The dentist saw me late in the afternoon (I was her last patient I believe) and then she was off on holiday. Well she didn’t come back after her holiday as the ‘lockdown’ intervened. It was only a week or so ago that I was able to have the procedure finished and during the interim I needed antibiotics and more iodine!

For one moment let me imagine what might have happened to me had I been a ‘Survivor’. Let’s presume I wasn’t able to go to the dentist. My abscess would have got worse. Would I have been able to get tincture of iodine in England (I called many chemists before a visit there a few years back to see if I could buy any – but no luck. Myself and my request seemed an odd anachronism!). I might have got lucky with the abscess and it could have healed (though I have read conflicting information on this) – but given that it hadn’t completely after 18 months – that would’ve seemed unlikely. The danger would be sepsis! And from this – death! When I finally visited the dentist for the completion of the treatment (removal of temporary filling and re-draining of infection from tooth/gum) – I was VERY grateful there WERE dentists and wonderful, modern equipment. I had also broken part of my tooth too which she fixed efficiently.

The condition of our teeth and their maintenance of good health generally would be a worry in a survival situation. In ‘Survivors’ they had painkillers, needles, and no doubt scavenged antibiotics. How long would these last? Antibiotics have a shelf life and would be difficult to produce in the survivors circumstances. Before antibiotics became common-place I think they used sulphur, but this wasn’t as effective. In the past ‘the poor’ would have had bad teeth – and often bad health. In France a disparaging term for those without money is ‘sans dents‘. Our oral health has an effect on our general health. And if we found ourselves in the world of the survivors and we needed treatment, how many dentists would have survived? Remember the general survival rate was 1 in 5,000. It’s one thing to read about how to do dentistry– it’s quite another to act upon it. And this dentistry would have to be carried out ‘ad hoc‘ with scavenged equipment. How would a filling be done? And how would we maintain the health of our teeth and gums? Again we’d have to consult the past for advice!

A baby is born during the series. This is somewhat played down (and I don’t think the mother plays a further part but is referred to obliquely). As with dentists, how many midwives or doctors would have survived – and where would they be found? Having a baby would be – as in the past – a threat to the life of both mother and child. We saw in various episodes that painkillers seemed available and needles to inject opiates. The first mothers and babies would be the ‘lucky ones’ – but I imagine ordinary folk (helping at the birth), would struggle with certain deliveries – such as ‘breach births’. Who would have the skill to perform a caesarean? The birth would have to be natural but assisted as best and as ably as possible. Mortality rates would revert to pre-industrialisation figures. In the late 18th Century maternal death was between 5-29 per 1,000. How many babies died? How many babies died then that would have been saved had they been born a century later?

Of course in ‘Survivors’ attitudes to sex/women of possible child-bearing ages would change fairly quickly. In the episode ‘Corn Dolly’ the group we are following (before settling down at their manor house) come across a small commune where many are mortally-ill from eating poisoned fish. Charles, the leader, administers morphine (I’m fairly sure) through injections – to aid a less painful death. It also turns out that he has impregnated most of the women at this small commune in his zeal to re-populate the world! Now, I shan’t dwell too much on the social side of this here – but it is safe to say that women would be ‘expected’ to carry babies and bring in future generations. Sticking to the medical side of this – that would mean sex would more likely result in pregnancies. Which, as discussed, carries risk. Women’s attitude to sex, especially, would surely change – and men’s attitude to women too. I’ll discuss this in a future article. Many women (and girls of course) might find themselves pregnant and at the mercy of either nature or the competence of their fellow humans. Results could be shocking. It is revealed in the last episode (of Series 1) that Jenny is pregnant with Greg’s child.

Every cut would pose a possible threat to the remaining populace. Every accident too. In one episode of ‘Survivors’ a chap has had his legs crushed beneath a tractor. Greg does his best to help him but he doesn’t know how to re-set the man’s bones. This man is eventually left for dead by the woman he is living with (in a hut in a quarry). She has no further use for him in this condition. Spoiler: he survives! And he eventually joins Abby and Greg’s commune. Those who survive any apocalyptic scenario would have to learn ‘old skills’ pretty fast. How to cauterize a wound; how to amputate limbs; how to stem blood flow; how to treat infections etc. Whereas in the past knowledge was built on and developed, in ‘Survivors’ knowledge would be taken back to a place where the ‘old ways’ would be re-learnt. Before, the skills were in place (however primitive) but the knowledge was lacking – in ‘Survivors’ or a post-apocalyptic future, the knowledge would be there but the skills would need to be re-learnt (however primitively).

Alcohol would need to be distilled to produce high-grade alcohol for cleaning, and food and herbs would have to be grown to be eaten for good health or applied to the body as treatments. A variety of food would not just be pleasing – but would also help people feel good mentally as well as physically. Survival would be dependent on many things: supply of good fresh food; a varied diet; new medicinal products (including food/herbs); fresh water; salt; bodily and oral hygiene; the ability to foresee ailments and to treat effectively before blood poisoning or the worsening of the condition. People would need to be physically fit. It would be a young man and woman’s world, though aided by the wisdom of those with necessary skills. Eyesight would be dependent on youth and inherited traits. Folk would need to raid opticians for glasses of various prescriptions – if available. If you had one pair of glasses left and those were damaged or lost then you would be left with your natural eyesight. This could cause problems for normal existence (depending on the state of the eyes). Some conditions could worsen and without treatment might cause blindness, including: macular degeneration; infections of the cornea or retina; glaucoma; diabetes AND simply the inability to find suitable glasses.  

Mental health might well be a problem too. The challenge of everyday living would focus and occupy the mind and that would be conducive to good health. But the situation itself – the lack of food, the struggle to survive, the realisation of the post-apocalyptic world and the LOSS of loved ones would surely take their toll. Would some just ‘give up the ghost’? Again I would like to discuss this further when I’ll talk about social interaction/change and religious/spiritual responses. It’s certainly true to say that the survivors would be like a hapless lot in a leaky lifeboat in the middle of a vast ocean. Occasionally other life boats would be seen and connected with. And some would pose a threat. Threat would be a constant.

Diseases could become rife and in the face of some horrific ones, thought long gone, how would the survivors fare? How would their primitive medicinal skills and (initially well-stocked) medical supplies cope? As with all these thoughts I have had – there would have to be an adjustment. Humans are very good at adapting. Our survivors would need to do so fast! Fortunately for the commune they eventually take in a young woman who is a medical student. She is able to treat Greg’s wounded arm. Obviously for the purposes of future episodes our group needs more than a touch of ‘luck’.

Doctors and dentists would become as gods in this post-apocalyptic world. They would in themselves command power but could also find themselves held hostage (as it were) for their skills – a strange symbiosis perhaps within a commune. Whichever commune a doctor or dentist belonged to would have immediate power and influence. I presume there would be an inclination (probably prompted) for any doctor or dentist to pass on their skills. Hopefully these skills would also be written down with relevance and reference to their current situation so that others could learn. It would be a matter of ‘application’. At what point, I wonder, could the survivors check out hospitals (full of dead/decaying/disease-ridden bodies) and dental surgeries. At what point would ‘safe’ chemists become emptied?
People would need to be able to diagnose diseases/illnesses or damage to the body and treat these as far as possible. They would need to formulate a prognosis too and ideally make others aware of prevention. Already in ‘Survivors’ we have seen violence and death – for a remaining population of about 10,000 that is unacceptable both morally AND in terms of survival. Such a small population would need to expand as quickly as possible.

In the end it would be down to ‘survival of the fittest’. Survival of the healthiest, the luckiest. Those who are young, fit and have healthy ancestry will survive. It would be down to them to procreate; do the bulk of the physical labour; learn new skills – and for some to learn the particular skills of medicine. They would also act as the fulcrum between the past and the future. In fact, that generation would either keep the human race alive or not – it would be as dramatic as that. Their health and knowledge would produce, and then rear, the first post- apocalyptic generation. That generation would have no empirical knowledge of the ‘safe’ world of their parents – the reasonably safe world we now enjoy. Their knowledge of the old world would come through their parents and older survivors. Their attitude to medicine would also be key to their future survival. And again I stress the connection between knowledge and its application. This would be the great test in all skills. There would need to be veterinarians too to control diseases in animals and treat any problems. Those working with animals would have to learn animal-medicine FAST!

The world of  ‘Survivors’ and any future post-apocalyptic survival of the human race would rest on a number of things, the most important of which being individual survival. Every man and woman (and child) would count. Every animal used by the communes would count. In the abandoned towns and cities, animals would teem and reclaim lost land. The future would be fashioned in the countryside. The future would be a marriage of intellect and brawn. As the years roll by perhaps shamanic figures would once again rise in communities – with their knowledge of medicine being paramount. Maybe ‘wise women’ would once again dispense herbal knowledge and remedies. As I write these words I can envisage a very different organisation of human affairs. Maybe a very different kind of human. A strange new world indeed.

by Tim Bragg
Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of ‘Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life’ available from Amazon

2 Comments »

  1. An excellent review. Watching (or, I think, rewatching) this series is definitely on my to do list. I’ve often thought that in past ages I would already be past the stage where reading would be open to me as a source of pleasure and information. That section of your piece also reminded me of a fine old Twilight Zone episode where a man with a nagging wife dreams of nothing more than to have the time to read. He dies, and apparently goes to heaven, alone in a world with an endless supply of books. Then, his glasses fall to the ground and smash against a rock, leading to the realisation that he is not actually in Heaven. He is in Hell.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s a great twist – as ever – from the Twilight Zone.
    Thanks for your comment.

    Like

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: