How Health and Medicine Impact World-Building
Laughter is the best medicine. Or is it? Could you really create a culture where laughter heals all ills?
Of course you can! Because this is creating and we do things like that.
Medical care care and health care is a critical part of any culture. From how people treat the sick, to what is considered sick, to the ways of preventing being sick, there are plenty of things to consider, and plenty of ways to expand this area of culture to allow for more growth and opportunities for tension.
Now, of course, if your race is humanoid and you don’t want to focus on this, then go ahead and move onto the next chapter. However, consider carefully whether you want to give health and medicine a quick skim. You never know what could inspire a plot twist!
Medical help often comes in two flavors: traditional and scientific. For the fun of it, we’ll also toss in magical.
Traditional deals with what a culture has historically done for health and wellness. This can include folk or herbal remedies, as well as food or drink tonics. If it was passed down from generation to generation or made with a secret recipe by a great-grandma, it falls under traditional. This is also where healing techniques can overlap with religious beliefs.
Scientific deals with the advancements a culture is making in the field of medicine using the scientific method and modern technology. This often involves labs, microscopes, pills, technological devices, and paperwork. There is often a clash between traditional and scientific medical treatments, but there doesn’t need to be. Finding a way to have the two intermingle would be a fresh take on the material!
Magical deals with how magic interacts with the other two systems. It can stand apart as its own specialty, or be an aspect of another category of healing. Usually magic is intermingled with traditional healing methods, but there are possibilities to mix it with scientific. For instance, if magic on your world is defined as a neutral energy force that can be used for good or evil, then why can’t it be used to power modern medical technology? If your story defines magic as purely witchcraft, the bending of nature and creation to personal will apart from the divinely-appointed order, then that will take medicinal use in a different direction. Using magic for healing will likely mean some nasty side effects–or magic could even be the cause of the ailment.
Chronology is another important factor. Most histories have traditional methods come first, followed by scientific, following a natural sense of technological progression. However, it is also possible to have a technological regression. This is common in post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories. Scientific methods are a thing of the past, perhaps even equated with magic, and traditional medicine is the only possibility. You could also have a scientific society choose to explore traditional methods out of nostalgia or a desire to connect with a more spiritual, natural force of healing.
Preventive Measures involve what a culture does to prevent various ailments from occurring. This can be anything from vaccines, taking oil of oregano, or wearing certain colors. Note that preventative measures do not have to be particularly effective to be valued in the culture, and there is often controversy over which measures are more effective. In addition, preventative measures can move from being health-based to having other socio-cultural roles. One example is the wearing of surgical masks in some Asian cultures to combat poor air quality and the spread of airborne illness. Now masks have also become a way of avoiding contact with others, similar to putting on earbuds or headphones. There are even decorative masks featuring upscale designs or licensed pop culture characters.