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Medicine and care had to develop very quickly during the war to deal with different types of injuries and casualties and In this essay, I will talk to you about how the doctors in World War One helped the wounded and I will talk about how they did their job well, but also on their bad points. After reading on the subject online I will talk about injuries, medical advances treatment and what key developments are still in use on the front line today. The main sources for this essay will be “How did World War One change the way we treat war injuries today”.
Firstly, the soldiers were injured in many different ways, leg wounds were the most commonly recorded area of injury and amputation was often needed. Arm injuries were often caused by high explosive artillery shells. Only 12 percent of wounds recorded were to the torso, this is because many soldiers who were hit in the torso usually died so they never made it to the hospital in time so their injuries weren’t recorded. The living conditions in the trenches were very dirty, especially caused by the mud, caused one surgeon to say “ every gunshot wound is… more or less infected at the moment of infliction” Also, standing in water for long periods of time in the trenches caused trench foot where infection causes the flesh of the foot to decay and die.
Also, the number of head wounds early in the war led the government to introduce the ‘Brodie helmet’ as standard kit for the soldiers in 1915. Poisonous gas was also used as a weapon for the first time in World War One. It had some grave effects.Some gas was intended to only cause runny noses and watery eyes. Others were far more dangerous. When gas was first used, doctors and nurses did even not know how to treat even simple symptoms. Gas could affect someone’s vision and breathing in just a few minutes so protective masks were given to all soldiers. Some fumes remained on clothes causing blisters and sores. Bathing and washing would have solved the problem but this was impossible in the trenches. Many soldiers suffered from the effects of gas attacks for the rest of their lives.
Working in a World War One hospital was not for the faint-hearted. By January 1915, British medical authorities had realized that too many wounded soldiers were dying before they could reach proper treatment. Casualty clearing stations had seen emergency improvements since the start of the war. Within months they were to become more like field hospitals. Surgeons and military nurses were now operating in tented trauma centers, usually within earshot of the fighting. Sir Henry Souttar, a well-known surgeon, described the situation he was in while setting up his hospital in a Belgian town. “We had no knives, and no artery forceps, and not a stitch of catgut. Some Belgian doctors who had been working there lent us a little case of elementary instruments, and that was absolutely all we had.” “In four days we admitted three hundred and fifty patients, all of them with injuries of the most terrible nature. Arms and legs were torn right off or hanging by the merest shreds, ghastly wounds of the head left the brain exposed. For four days and four nights the operating theatre was at work continuously, till one sickened at the sight of blood.” While surgeons in military hospitals could expect to work in better conditions than those in volunteer hospitals such as Souttar’s, they remained very under-resourced. Even in the large hospitals further behind the frontline, there was little change.. A typical base hospital housed approximately 300 staff.
From 1917, these medical staff could be tasked with caring for as many as 2,500 patients at any one time. The path to treatment can be quite a long one, firstly the soldier has to wait for the stretcher bearers and then they are taken to the regimental aid post for minor help then a motor ambulance takes them to a casualty clearing station then they are loaded onto the hospital which then takes them to the base hospital. This journey would have been familiar to many wounded soldiers. The route would have been varied, but on a quiet day, a wounded soldier could be evacuated from the battlefield to the hospital in less than 24 hours. An example of a soldier who needed treating is Charles Frampton who was admitted into the hospital, because of a shrapnel wound on his right hip and a fractured femur. “He had been operated on before admission but an infection developed … the infection.. kept expanding and he died on the 19th of August” was a letter by the registrar of the hospital he was admitted to. The letter also contained details of the cemetery he was buried in. The wounds inflicted on millions of soldiers drove the development of new medial techniques and inventions.
The British Army began the routine use of blood transfusion in treating wounded soldiers. Blood was transferred straight from one person to another(using blood bottle where up to 500 ml could be transferred). But it was a US Army doctor, Captain Oswald Robertson, who realized the need to store blood before injured soldiers arrived. He made the first blood bank on the Western Front in 1917, using sodium citrate to prevent the blood from clotting and becoming useless. Blood was kept on ice for up to 28 days and then transported to casualty clearing stations for use in life-saving surgery where it was needed most. Innovations developed in the First World War had a massive impact on survival rates – such as the Thomas splint, named after pioneering Welsh surgeon Hugh Owen Thomas and was invented by Robert Jones, an orthopedic surgeon, and nephew of Hugh Owen Thomas, which secured a broken leg. And is now a common piece of equipment in emergency departments of hospitals worldwide. At the beginning of the war, 80% of all soldiers with a broken femur died. By 1916, 80 % of soldiers with this injury survived(not all credit can be given to the leg splint though). From January 1915 the British military medical machine moved closer to the front line. Casualty clearing stations were now much better equipped and, importantly, more surgeons were closer to the battlefield. There were now fewer delays in giving potentially life-saving treatment. Soldiers with wounds that would have been fatal were now more likely to survive.
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