Military Medicine: Summary

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         The tragedy of war often produced advances in medicine.  Doctors overwhelmed by the desperation of thousands of sick, wounded, and dying were willing to try anything, and they developed new techniques for treatment that might have taken years otherwise.  The clinical trials of war allowed doctors to quickly see the impact—both positive and negative—of their efforts, which produced new theories and advanced knowledge.  While these new theories improved medicine in the long run, they often came at the price of soldiers’ lives on the battlefield.
            Physicians from northwest Ohio served their country honorably in all of America’s wars.  Some, like Dr. William Caldwell of Fremont, were haunted by the horrors of the battlefield.  Caldwell served at the bloody battle of Shiloh in the Civil War where he worked non-stop for days helping to treat the wounded, mostly amputating damaged limbs.  Others, like Dr. John Howard of Toledo, changed the way medicine was delivered not only on the battlefields of Korea, but in trauma centers all over the world.  Nurses, too, served their country, occasionally paying the ultimate price for their service.  Glee Pollack of Toledo, who answered the desperate call for nurses to help in World War I camps to fight the Spanish influenza, succumbed herself to the disease.
            In the early wars of our history, physicians still sought to cure through the standard medical practices of the time, including bleeding and purging.  It was not uncommon to remove four-fifths of a wounded soldier’s blood in order to “cure” them.  In the Civil War, disease killed twice as many as battlefield injuries.  The major improvements of that war were a recognition of the importance of aseptic procedures and a better understanding of surgical techniques.  World War I was marked by an outbreak of one of the deadliest pandemics in history.  It also saw the first widespread use of chemical warfare.  The horrific conditions in the trenches produced “shell shock,” or what today is known as post-traumatic stress syndrome.  World War II saw the first application of sulfa drugs and penicillin to treat infections, which revolutionized medicine.  In Korea, doctors began experimenting with vascular surgery, which meant that amputation was no longer the expected outcome of severe wounds to the limbs.  Dr. John Howard, who would later join the staff of the Medical College of Ohio, also oversaw the development of mobile Army surgical hospitals (MASH units), and the use of helicopters to evacuate the wounded.  These techniques continued to be utilized and developed in Vietnam.

            Today, some of Toledo’s physicians are giving back to their country by volunteering alongside military surgeons providing specialized vascular surgical care to soldiers wounded by explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.