Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the category “Health Issues and Tragic Complications”

Bee Sting Allergies

Stinging Insect Allergy page from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (linked provided by MedlinePlus) – http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/stinging-insect-allergy

Often people will refer to being stung by saying, “I was stung by a bee,” so “bees” or “honeybees” tend to get a bad rap.  Just as likely they may have been stung by a yellow jacket, hornet, or wasp.  They also have different kinds of venom, so if one were allergic to honeybees, they would not necessarily have a reaction from a wasp sting.

Representative questions that can be answered by this resource:

  • What are the differences between bees, wasps, and hornets?
  • How do you identify different insect nests?
  • What is the best way to treat a sting?
  • What are the symptoms of a severe reaction?


Overview on insect stings including identification of insects, prevention, treatment, and link to finding an allergist/immunologist.

More links on this subject:

Medline’s Insect Bits and Stings page – https://medlineplus.gov/insectbitesandstings.html
ees, Wasps and Hornets Brochure by the NJ Beekeepers Association – http://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/pi/pdf/beeswaspshornetsbrocure.pdf
edline’s Allergy Shots page  – https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000405.htm


Images from the History of Medicine (National Library of Medicine)

Images from the History of Medicine – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/ihm/

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What did quarantine signs look like in the 20th Century?
  • Where can I find examples of AIDS posters?
  • How did the US Armed forces encourage soldiers to use their mosquito nets during World War II?
  • Where can I find health posters in Chinese?


From the website:

Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) provides access to over 70,000 images in the collections of the History of Medicine Division (HMD) of the U.S National Library of Medicine (NLM).

The collection includes portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine dated from the 15th to 21st century.

The records from the Images from the History of Medicine database are also searchable in LocatorPlus.

This database assists users in finding and viewing visual material for private study, scholarship, and research. This site contains some materials that may be protected by United States or foreign copyright laws. It is the users’ responsibility to determine compliance with the law when reproducing, transmitting, or distributing images found in IHM. Please note that some content in this database may contain material that some viewers may find to be challenging, disturbing or offensive. Viewer discretion is advised.

Strangely, it does not appear to be possible to do a straightforward date search in this resource. Using the faceted browsing on the left hand of the screen may help in your search. This database can be browsed as a single collection, by category, subject or geography. It may also be searched by the following fields:

  • Appears In
  • Call Number
  • Cited in
  • Contributor
  • Contributor (Conference)
  • Contributor (Organization)
  • Copyright Statement
  • Creator
  • Creator (Conference)
  • Creator (Organization)
  • Language
  • Manufacturer Information
  • Physical Description
  • Publication Country
  • Publication Information
  • Publisher Information
  • Series
  • Series Statement
  • Series Title
  • Subject (Conference)
  • Subject (Genre)
  • Subject (Geographic Name)
  • Subject (Keyword)
  • Subject (MeSH Term)
  • Subject (Organization)
  • Subject (Person)
  • Subject (Title)
  • Title
  • Title (Alternative)
  • URL

There is a very small subset of images from this library in Flickr Commons.

MedlinePlus page on Genetics/Birth Defects

MedlinePlus page on Genetics/Birth Defects – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/geneticsbirthdefects.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Could someone live a mostly normal life and not know they had Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease?
  • What is the tallest a human dwarf can be?
  • What are some of the effects of a man having an extra X chromosome, like in Kleinfelter Syndrome?


Links to specific conditions including:

  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease
  • Dwarfism
  • Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
  • Fragile X Syndrome
  • Friedreich’s Ataxia
  • Gaucher’s Disease
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Klinefelter’s Syndrome
  • Leukodystrophies
  • Maple Syrup Urine Disease
  • Marfan Syndrome
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Neural Tube Defects
  • Neurofibromatosis
  • Osteogenesis Imperfecta
  • Phenylketonuria
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome
  • Rett Syndrome
  • Sickle Cell Anemia
  • Spina Bifida
  • Spinal Muscular Atrophy
  • Tay-Sachs Disease
  • Tuberous Sclerosis
  • Turner Syndrome
  • Usher Syndrome
  • Von Hippel-Lindau Disease
  • Wilson Disease

Unconsciousness – First Aid

Unconsciousness – first aid – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000022.htm

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are some questions to ask if a person seems confused after being unconscious?
  • What are four things you should NEVER do with an unconscious person?
  • Why is breathing an issue with an unconscious person?
  • How is unconsciousness different from sleep?


This is a first aid guide from the MedlinePlus encyclopedia on what to do with people who have experienced a period of unconscious. According to the article, emergency services should be called in the following situations:

  • Does not return to consciousness quickly (within a minute)
  • Has fallen down or been injured, especially if bleeding
  • Has diabetes
  • Has seizures
  • Has lost bowel or bladder control
  • Is not breathing
  • Is pregnant
  • Is over age 50

Coma (MedlinePlus)

Coma – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/coma.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How long do comas commonly last?
  • What are the signs of locked-in syndrome?
  • What are the causes of diabetic coma?
  • What can laypeople do for diabetic coma patients while waiting for emergency services?
  • What is the difference between stupor and coma?


This is a MedlinePlus topics page on coma and has links to articles on coma and specific conditions such as diabetic comas and locked-in syndrome. This last condition is can be very frightening for a character because they will be aware of their surroundings but be unable to communicate that awareness to the world except through eye movements. Captain Pike in the episode “The Cage” of Star Trek TOS seems like he had locked in syndrome.

This section also links to guides to determining brain death.

Shock from MedlinePlus

Shock from MedlinePlus – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/shock.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are the various kinds of shock?
  • What is the Lactate Test and when might a doctor order one?
  • What are the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome?
  • What is basic first aid for shock?


Overview of shock from MedlinePlus. Offers general information of the diagnosis and treatment of shock and links to information on specific kinds of shock.

Septic shock (Caused by infections in the bloodstream)

Septic shock (Caused by infections in the bloodstream) – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000668.htm

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Who are most at risk for septic shock?
  • What is the prognosis for septic shock and what factors contribute to possible survival?
  • What are the symptoms of septic shock?
  • Where can I find in-depth information about septic shock?


This Medline Encyclopedia article is structured like the one on hypovolemic shock and notes that septic shock most often occurs in the very old or the very young, but are also associated with other diseases.

The “causes” section of this article states that the following conditions place someone at greater risk for septic shock.

  • Diabetes
  • Diseases of the genitourinary system, biliary system, or intestinal system
  • Diseases that weaken the immune system such as AIDS
  • Indwelling catheters (those that remain in place for extended periods, especially intravenous lines and urinary catheters and plastic and metal stents used for drainage)
  • Leukemia
  • Long-term use of antibiotics
  • Lymphoma
  • Recent infection
  • Recent surgery or medical procedure
  • Recent use of steroid medications

Story ideas

All of these sound like good character problems to me. Even the characters with these conditions who don’t actually get septic shock can spend pages being terrified of it. Maybe a discussion of septic shock scares a highschooler into not doing steroids.

Hypovolemic shock

Hypovolemic shock – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000167.htm

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How much blood can a character lose before they go into hypovolemic shock?
  • What are the symptoms of hypovolemic shock?
  • How would you carry someone with hypovolemic shock?
  • What are some pre-hospital treatments you can try with someone going into hypovolemic shock?


Hypovolemic shock is caused by internal or external bleeding which results in you losing more than 1/5 of your blood. People who are shot and who take more than a flesh wound may suffer this kind of shock, as may stabbing victims.

This page is from the MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia which is more textually focused that the list of lists of the MedlinePlus topics page. The article is divided into the following sections:

  • Causes
  • Symptoms
  • Exams and Tests
  • Treatment
  • Outlook (Prognosis)
  • Possible Complications – include kidney damage, brain damage, Gangrene of arms or legs and heart attack.
  • Alternative Names
  • References

The references section includes:

Tarrant AM, Ryan MF, Hamilton PA, Bejaminov O. A pictorial review of hypovolaemic shock in adults. Br J Radiol. 2008;81:252-257.

This reference pertains to CT (“Cat”) scans of hypovolemic patients and could help in hospital/emergency room scenes. An abstract is available from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18180262.

(What Is) Cardiogenic Shock? (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)

(What Is) Cardiogenic Shock? (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute) – http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/shock/shock_what.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Who is most at risk for cardiogenic shock?
  • What are the symptoms of cadiogenic shock?
  • What is a left ventricular assist device and how can it be helpful in cases of cardiogenic shock?
  • What are some tests used to diagnose cardiogenic shock?


Cardiogenic shock is caused by the inability of the heart to pump blood effectively. This article from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute is organized into the following sections:

  • What is
  • Causes
  • Who is at risk
  • Signs and Symptoms
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatments
  • Prevention
  • Clinical Trials
  • Links

The most common cause of cardiogenic shock is a heart attack, although according to this article, only about 7% of heart attacks lead to cardiogenic shock.

Anaphylaxis (Anaphylactic shock), caused by a severe allergic reaction

Anaphylaxis (Anaphylactic shock), caused by a severe allergic reaction – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000844.htm

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are the causes of Anaphylaxis?
  • What are symptoms of Anaphylaxis?
  • What are three things you should NEVER do for someone experiencing Anaphylaxis?


This is the shock that your peanut and bee allergic characters get to experience. Like the other MedlinePlus Encyclopedia articles here, it is structured like the article on cardiogenic shock described elsewhere. The symptoms section lists some items I wasn’t expecting like diarrhea and vomiting.

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