Battlefield Medicine

Table of Contents

When people think about war, most people imagine soldiers fighting for their country’s freedom. Although soldiers are extremely crucial in our lives, a significant amount of people may forget the nurses and doctors who risked their lives to ensure the well-being of our servicemen. Since World War One and World War Two, emergency care on the battlefield has greatly improved. The new methods of technology in transportation, field hospitals, cleanliness and treatments quickly revolutionized the chances of soldiers’ survival for the better. During the first World War, new methods of transportation were introduced. Nurses and doctors soon recognized how important it was to escort injured soldiers to the help they needed as fast as possible. Wounded soldiers were hastily collected and transported to “ambulances”, which at the time were mostly by horse and carriage. As trench warfare and other advanced weapons were established, horses became heavily unreliable and a major infirmity. Shortly after, railway trains became the most reliable way to transport large amounts of people and supplies. Consequently, wounded soldiers and the casualties were moved away from the battlefield where they would be treated. However, in some cases, people of higher power during the war were transported by motor vehicles. This occurred on many rare occasions, since there were only a few automobiles that were created at this time and they were extremely expensive. The people who transported wounded soldiers during World War One were called “stretcher-bearers.” An article on battlefield medicine during World War One explained, “Their job was to find the wounded soldiers – sometimes by listening for their cries – and carry them to safety. Stretcher-bearers had to be strong, very skilled in first aid, and very brave. They went onto the battlefield under heavy fire, with no weapons, and had to focus on the wounded rather than on keeping themselves safe” (Anderson, 1). Stretcher-bearers’ main priority was to save the lives of soldiers even if their own life was at risk with the dangerous war occurring around them. They traveled through some of the worst conditions in order to save as many people as they possibly could. The improvement of transportation during World War One was one major step in helping the chances of survival of soldiers for the better. Transportation further improved during World War Two. Nurses were trained to administer medicine and control the blood loss from patients directly on the battlefield. Medical air transport as well as, the first ambulances, and hospital ships became a huge part of the evacuation of wounded soldiers. Medical air transport evolved greatly over the course of the war. As technology improved, this way of disengagement became a necessity. These planes moved at high speeds over large bodies of water. However, in some cases, the planes could not travel in bad weather, and were in risk of getting attacked from enemies. The first types of ambulances blossomed only during World War Two. The horrid conditions of the landscape that the majority of the war was located made it exceptionally difficult to transport patients without injuring them further. These ambulances transported patients to the nearest air transportation units so they could return to the battlefield and escort the other injured soldiers. Lastly, hospital ships became a huge part of World War Two. These ships served the same care to patients as field hospitals did. Hospital ships were a huge advantage because many other countries had little to no long distance transportation services. These methods of transportation still serve as a huge necessity for war today and helped the chances of survival become more probable. The improvements of transportation from World War One and World War Two guided battlefield medicine for the better. The methods of transportation listed throughout World War One and World War Two evolved into what we still continue to use today. Helicopters are the main strategy of transportation used today during combat. The evolution of the technology utilized in helicopters provides a safer and extraordinarily fast response and drop off rate. Hospital trains and hospital ships are frequently used today when someone needs to be transported a long distance if their injuries are immensely critical. Currently, ambulances and other sorts of transportation are always available right at the frontlines and ready to bring injured soldiers as far away from the battlefield as possible. Soldiers have an exceedingly higher survival rate and helped make overwhelming situations manageable due to these improvements in transportation. During World War One, field hospitals became a necessity. Due to the extreme number of casualties over the course of the war, field hospitals were forced to be set up any place imaginable. For example, field hospitals were placed anywhere from churches to someone’s own home. At the time, field hospitals were generally named “Casualty Clearing Stations.” Nurses and doctors received little to no medical training and were unfamiliar with the many types of wounds and diseases. Therefore, leaving many soldiers injured and hopeless. In field hospitals, injured soldiers were separated based on the severity of their injuries. Wounded soldiers were tested for malingering which is defined as performing self inflicted injuries on oneself. This was very common during World War One, because due to the gruesomeness of the war, many people tried to avoid fighting. A surgeon during World War One named Sir Henry Souttar exclaimed, “Every now and then, without any warning, from 50 to 100, even in one case 150, wounded would be brought to our door. There was no use to putting up a notice “House Full”; the men were wounded and they must be attended to. In such a case our arrangement was a simple one: all who could walk went straight upstairs, the gravest cases went straight to the theatre or waited their turn in the great hall, the others were accommodated on the ground floor. We had a number of folding beds for emergency, and we had no rules as to overcrowding” (Saleyha, Video). Field hospitals could receive hundreds of patients in one sitting, making treatment extremely difficult. In addition to the scarce instruments for surgery, field hospitals were extremely overcrowded and unsanitary, making field hospitals during World War One in desperate need of improvement. Field Hospitals became more organized and reliable in World War Two. Nurses and doctors realized patients desperately needed to be treated as quickly as possible, so they could return to the battlefield and continue to fight as soon as they could. In addition, nurses and doctors received more medical training than ever. These hospitals were stocked with various amounts of blood and bandages in order to control blood loss and manage shock. In addition, they focused on the efficient and well-thought care of their patients. New field hospitals were spread all across cities, nearby to where the war was occurring. Although, doctors and nurses were overwhelmed with patients, the emergence of new procedures sped up the process. Each unit was composed of administration or a professional section which depended on how severe one’s case may be. Different tents were set up for specific tasks and injuries, such as the surgical tent and the shock tent. This allowed for less infections and diseases to spread since the bulk of the wounded soldiers were separated. Also, soldiers didn’t have to wait for hours in order to receive treatment. Furthermore, records were taken in order to keep track of the patient’s injury, and all information that the doctor should know about. These new developments allowed for field hospitals to evolve in the correct matter. The improvements of technology in field hospitals also helped revolutionize the chances of soldiers’ survival for the better. Today, field hospitals are almost exactly set up like the ones during World War Two, but are extremely enhanced with new technology. Field hospitals grew in size, now capable to hold a lot more patients, and are equipped with instruments and vital materials. Casualty numbers inside field hospitals has remarkably reduced. Also, the evolution of warfare still continues to transform field hospital treatments today. Nurses and doctors continue to work as fast as they can and do their best to help every soldier in need. Therefore, the transformation of field hospitals from World War One to World War Two, was a crucial aspect of altering soldiers’ survival rates. During World War One, there was a lack of cleanliness and sterilization. Since most of the war was fought in trenches, soldiers were exposed to the diseases and infections associated with the mud. Trench mouth, which caused soldiers’ teeth to fall out, and trench foot, which caused the amputation of the foot made it exceptionally harder for soldiers to fight and there was nothing nurses and doctors could do. In addition, lice was a constant problem for soldiers. Approximately, 97% of soldiers were infected with lice during the first World War. Lice carried life threatening diseases and infections. More specifically, the typhus infection which causes flu-like symptoms and eventually death. Also, bathing was infrequent because there was no running water, so soldiers could barely clean themselves properly. Additionally, rats often ran around and fed off of the soldiers’ wounds, which spread diseases extremely easily. Nurses and doctors also aided in the spread of disease and infection. They weren’t educated on the sterilization of tools and instruments, so they used the same tools on multiple people. The spread of these infectious diseases resulted in the need of refinement. During World War Two, cleanliness and sterilization became very important. Doctors and nurses were educated that in order to prevent the spread of disease and infection, they needed to properly sterilize and wash their equipment. Soon after, the number of infection and diseases drastically lowered, allowing the survival rate amongst soldiers to increase. In addition, soldiers were educated on how to properly nurture and clean themselves so they could prevent becoming infected with some the life-threatening illnesses. Soldiers were soon vaccinated for various types of diseases, resulting in “an 85 percent decrease in the hospitalization rate within six months” (McCallum 2). Different countries held different diseases within their land, so soldiers weren’t completely protected from all of them. In tropical areas, malaria was more common. There was a vaccination named Atabrine, which prevented the disease, but some soldiers refused to take it because of it’s disgusting taste and it’s common symptom of turning one’s skin yellow. Nurses and doctors took the right steps into helping the health of soldiers, and it has progressed in many beneficial ways. Today, cleanliness is an overarching topic in medicine. It is crucial for doctors to recognize the negative effects of spreading bacteria from one person to another. Now, it is a law in medicine to properly sterilize and clean instruments. In addition, vaccinations are still used today and continue to protect people from harmful diseases. Also, soldiers are taught on everything they could do in order to prevent getting any infection. All in all, cleanliness improved the chances of soldiers’ survival for the better. In World War One, there were various amounts of treatments in order to heal wounded patients. One being amputation. Amputation was very common during the war because it was the most effective way of preventing infection. They were forced to occur due to rounded bullets, which caused deep gunshot wounds that shattered bones and destroyed surrounding tissue. In France, the guillotine was used to amputate limbs and in other countries, surgery was most common. The next being gas injuries. The harmful gases that were commonly used during the war, burned skin and harmed the soldiers’ inside organs. Treatment consisted of body washing, the application of sodium hypochlorite and rehabilitation. Although, the majority of soldiers’ wounds were physical, some were mental. Shell shock and PTSD were extremely common during World War One and called for extreme psychological treatment and care. During this time, surgeons discovered “that the human body has greater powers of recuperation than they thought, and did not hesitate to take a piece of bone from one part of a patient’s anatomy and utilize it to repair another that has been destroyed or removed” (ABC-CLIO WW1, 1). Since there were so many different types of injuries over the course of the war, doctors figured out that they could use their own patients’ limbs to help others. Useless bones and muscles were transported from patient to patient if necessary. Nurses and doctors learned to improvise due to the unpredictable wounds and it has continued during World War Two. World War Two is recognized for its advances in treatment. Whilst, amputation and all of the treatments from World War One were still commonly used, there was an emergence of medicine, painkillers and antibiotics. Morphine, which lessened pain, as well as, penicillin were commonly used over the course of the war. Next, shock was a major problem during the war. The most effective way of treatment was the plasma which was stored in blood. Doctors realized that, “plasma had two signal advantages- unlike whole blood, it was not type-specific, and it could be steadily stored for long periods” (ABC-CLIO WW2, 2). Blood collecting stations were set up all around field hospitals and the blood supply increased, additionally helping blood loss and surgeries. Lastly, surgeons performed extreme vascular and tissue surgeries which have never been done before. All of these treatments became catalysts of future medical care and changed medicine for the better future. Despite all of the hardships that doctors faced when treating a patient during World War One and World War Two , they learned to come up with new adaptable ways of treating these soldiers in the most effective way possible. The medicine and treatments listed in the second World War continue to be agents of medicine today. The “decreasing rates of morality from extremity injury in every war since WWII reflects the effectiveness of these advances in care, rates of amputation paradoxically decreased” (Nisenbaum, 2). Some treatments, like amputation are rarely used today and serve as a reminder of how much the treatment of soldiers has changed. In conclusion, the role of new technology in transportation, field hospitals, cleanliness and treatments all contribute in the transformation of battlefield medicine. The hardships during World War One and World War Two faced doctors and nurses with situations that have never been seen before, which led to major medical breakthroughs. The great discoveries during this period of time made a lasting impact of emergency care for the public. Soldiers’ chances of survival are for the better due to the brave nurses and doctors who put their lives at risk to help their main priority, us.