Centuries after the apocalypse, this humanitarian group, called O.R.E, (Organization Rebuilding Earth), is running a hospital out in a place called Des (Former Des Moines). They’ll help anyone who comes to their doors, and will accept any volunteers.

Their problem is that most medicines from the old days are long, long gone, and so is the ability to make new medications. The world is stuck back with 1680s technology, and so my question is: what could they do to make the needed materials listed below?

  • Antiseptics: They need some antiseptics to sterilize wounds and such.
  • Painkillers: It’s hard to place back on bones when the patient is screaming louder than a hyena. They need painkillers.
  • Stitches: They need a material that can be used to stitch up patients.
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    $\begingroup$ cannabis seems to be a decent painkiller. and it grows like weed, so no trouble obtaining it $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    May 18, 2018 at 8:16
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    $\begingroup$ If you're going to do that, you should do some research on medical history, e.g. how the first real painkillers were obtained - beyond what people might write here. This is just a friendly recommendation. It's easily available information that you clearly lack and a lot of it is kind of common knowledge, you should really be as knowledgeable as e.g. 50 % of your readers - or whoever encounters your world $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    May 18, 2018 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ Why 1680? What made the apocalypse so fierce that after CENTURIES people are stuck at 1680? $\endgroup$ May 18, 2018 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ Painkillers are a luxury, anaesthetics are a necessity. Chloroform is not that difficult to make, and historically it was the first anaesthetic used on a large scale. Antiseptics are quite easy -- alcohol works, carbolic alcid works, autoclaves work very well are still in use. Catgut has been in use for surgical sutures since the antiquity. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 18, 2018 at 9:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Talos6 describing the apocalypse would be good. There is no reason for any APO do push us technologically more than end of XIX century. And Centuries to remade knowledge and know how is enough. (it take 3 of them to move from 1680 to 1980) $\endgroup$ May 18, 2018 at 13:33

3 Answers 3


I'm not a doctor, but here are some ideas for post-apocalyptic medical supplies: A lot of this is going to be dependant on how much knowledge has survived the intervening time period.

  • Silk thread for stitching up injuries
  • Boiling water for disinfecting instruments
  • Alcohol! get a still going for a steady supply of high proof liquor. Can be used for antiseptic, painkiller, disinfectant and fundraising
  • Willow bark is good for ache and fever
  • Depending on climate and location - opium can be harvested from poppy seeds for a painkiller
  • Quinine - isolated from the bark of the chinonoa tree. Helps treat malaria, which could be a major problem
  • Proper hygiene, wash your hands before operating. Sounds simple, took a surprisingly long time to sink in.

Bonus: If there's a chemist available, they may be able to reverse engineer penicillin. It was extracted from bread mould after all. Still, it's a complicated process.

Edit: @Ronjon mentioned soap, which is very important

Edit2: @Xenocacia brought up honey - very good point. Natural antibacterial properties when applied to wounds. Also, something else to sell for fundraising!

Also, maggots! Maggots grown in a sterile environment can be used to clean wounds because they only eat dead flesh. Can also use a small pool of guppies for the same purpose

If I think of any more I'll edit it in. Hope this helps

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    $\begingroup$ Edit: Anyone with a chronic condition is screwed though. Diabetics, Cancer patients, organ failure, yeah. Without modern tech, they're screwed. $\endgroup$
    – MnIce
    May 18, 2018 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ BTW: your alcohol statement about fundraising was hysterical. Yet, also great for world building. Yes, they're a charity, but they also sell the booze. $\endgroup$
    – MnIce
    May 18, 2018 at 0:28
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks! All these medical supplies don't grow on trees. 'Cept for the willow bark. $\endgroup$
    – Chromane
    May 18, 2018 at 0:29
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    $\begingroup$ Mr. J, you literally just pluck them out with tweezers. It's actually pretty simple. $\endgroup$
    – MnIce
    May 18, 2018 at 2:07
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    $\begingroup$ I believe penicillin was discovered because moldy bread was helping with various things, so even if they don't manage to extract it, just keeping some moldy bread on hand may be helpful $\endgroup$
    – Josh
    May 18, 2018 at 12:54

Your Post Apocalyptic Doctors Have an Advantage

Knowledge. In the 1680's people didn't know a lot of basic scientific theories we now take for-granted. For instance, up until the 1700's people didn't know that the heart circulated blood, they thought it somehow created it to be dispersed to the body where it would be absorbed and used up, obviously if your body was producing too much blood you'g get sick so that's why we better drain the extra with leeches and razors. They didn't know what germs or viruses were, let alone why handling a cadaver then helping deliver a baby was a bad idea. If the mother died it was just the will of god, the influence of the devil, or because some "bad air" got into somewhere it shouldn't have, so lets keep some religious icons on hand and sprinkle the room with lavender oil to ward away the miasmatic air.

Your ORE may not have the high tech equipment that their more advanced fore bearers did, but they still have knowledge in the books that were left behind. They understand why sanitation is important and can diagnose and treat illnesses beyond a vague "you got the consumption, breathe clean air and drink lots of snake oil then purge the bad blood with leeches." Primitive lower purity medicines can be derived from chemistry books. For instance they would know that aspirin can be extracted from willow bark. At great expense they have acquired and cultivate opium poppy seeds from which morphine can be extracted. They would understand that extracting Nitric Acid from ammonium nitrate and sprinkling it over iron filings would produce nitrous-oxide. They would understand that blood types are different and how to safely perform blood transfusions.

You now have antiseptics, light and heavy painkillers, anesthetic, safe blood transfusions, and an understanding of human anatomy. You can now perform basic surgeries and medical diagnosis and safely attempt treatment on many many illnesses beyond a vague remedial guess and a prayer. I'm envisioning a group with a near religious devotion to knowledge and science struggling to recreate the mythical wonders of the old ones with their more-primitive tools. When they cannot treat something then their function in society is to help ease the person's discomfort and ease their passing.


Washing hands, boiling tools and bandages and alcohol cover antiseptics.

Any of the illegal drugs can work as pain killers or even more alcohol in a pinch

Your issues are the antibiotics which is the problem.

Instead of modern antibiotics, many of which are currently failing due to resistance, a hospital could grow phages for phage therapy

Without a proper lab, it could be a bit hit and miss but in theory could be run in a relatively low tech environment.

Issues requiring constant treatment such as cancer and diabetes will most likely be fatal if a low tech treatment doesn't work (ie diet and surgery).


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