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The novel runs two concurrent narratives: one about a scientist or doctor from present day and one about a "doctor" from the time of the Black Death in Europe. I remember one specific part where the Middle Ages doctor discovers that treating his instruments with red wine reduces the mortality rate of his patients, although he doesn't know why (germ theory).

Edit: There's no time traveling in this book.

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The Plague Tales by Ann Benson

It is history's most feared disease. It turned neighbor against neighbor, the civilized into the savage, and the living into the dead. Now, in a spellbinding novel of adventure and science, romance and terror, two eras are joined by a single trace of microscopic bacterium—the invisible seeds of a new bubonic plague.

In the year 1348, a disgraced Spanish physician crosses a landscape of horrors to Avignon, France. There, he will be sent on an impossible mission to England, to save the royal family from the Black Death....

Nearly seven hundred years later, a woman scientist digs up a clod of earth in London. In a world where medicine is tightly controlled, she will unearth a terror lying dormant for centuries.

From the book:

Alejandro washed the dirt and blood from the boy's hand and poured wine over the wound to cleanse it further. He had long known that wounds cleaned with water and treated with wine were more likely to heal without festering, although he had no explanation for the curative powers of the regimen.

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  • Yep that's it. Nice going. Feb 8, 2018 at 23:07
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This looks like it might be Connie Willis' Domesday Book. The Black Death character is actually a monk, not a doctor; I seem to remember that he starts using wine to sterilize on a suggestion by the up-time scientist that got stranded in his timeline.

I'm not sure this is the book, though, because the time travel theme is central in the book, and yet you make no mention of it whatsoever. Check out the plot on Wikipedia, see if that shakes anything loose.

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  • This isn't it. There's no time travel plot in the novel. Although reading the plot of that book did shake something lose, which I'll add to my original question. Feb 8, 2018 at 22:10

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