Thank You Veterans!
On Veterans Day 2011, almost a decade after 9-11-2001, over half a century since WWII and with veterans of WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and innumerable other conflicts still living in America I wanted to take time to say thank you veterans to all or you who have served in our military. It’s the rare American whose own personal lives have not been directly impacted in some significant way by one of more of these conflicts.
My life certainly has been impacted. My Dad left college and enlisted in the US Air Force in 1950 when it was apparent that he was going to be drafted and have to leave college and home. As a result I was born in Seattle, WA and although my Dad left military service when I was an infant and moved back to Oakland, ME where his and my extended family lives, military service was always respected and honored in our household. Both of my father’s brothers served in the military. Uncle Deck (Lt. Col. George Dexter Pullen, LtCol. USMC Retired) retired from the USMC after a 31 year career, and now proudly tells me that he has managed to live more years as a retired USMC Lt. Colonel than he served in the corps. Uncle Ed was in the Navy in WWII. Thanks Dad, Uncle Ed, Uncle Deck and thank you veterans everywhere.
I joined the U.S. Army ROTC program with a scholarship in large part to assure avoiding the draft for Viet Nam, and had few reservations about military service because of the respect I had for my Dad and uncles who had preceded me with military service. After medical school I was fortunate to avoid major conflicts, the 1980-1987 time frame being a time of relative peace for the U.S. I did receive a great family practice training at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, WA. This is the primary reason I ended up practicing in Puyallup, WA after my time in service. So my life has been intimately influenced by veterans, and military experience. Thank you veterans for all you have offered me personally and for the great country we have in large part due to your sacrifices.
This being a health and medical blog, I thought I’d look at some of the medical advances that have come out of military medicine over the last few decades. I’m sure that this will be incomplete and I look forward to comments about military medicine contributions to the body of medical knowledge we all have to use and share now that I’ve omitted. Thank you veterans for these too. It was your sacrifices that created the need for many of these advances, and thank you veterans who were military physicians, nurses, air-evacuation helicopter pilots and corpsmen that often out of dire need used your creative talents to find ways to save lives. Here is a list of a few of the medical advances that came out of U.S. and British military medicine:
- Use of anesthesia for surgery: First used by Dr. Thomas Spencer Wells, a British military physician in 1847 who used ether for a tooth extraction.
- Florence Nightingale, a British nurse pioneered basic hygiene and nursing care in the military setting in the 1850’s. This was pioneering work in antisepsis and hygienic care in patients.
- Vaccine Advances: Sir Almroth Wright, a British physician developed Typhoid vaccine in the 1890’s, that by WWI was in common use.
- Improved hygiene and medical care make WWI the first war in history where more deaths were from battle wounds than from disease.
- Pedicle grafts for closure of horrific battle wounds are one of the first re constructive (plastic) surgery techniques. (1917)
- In WWI the first successful storage of blood for transfusion was accomplished, leading to civilian blood banks by the 1920’s.
- Near the end of WWII air evacuation of the most severely wounded was begun. Now in both military and civilian life air evacuation to appropriate care facilities is a key component of trauma care.
- Helicopters were first used in the Korean Conflict for air evacuation of injured patients. This is now standard military and civilian practice.
- Vascular surgery was developed to avoid amputations in severe limb injuries in Korea. This reduced amputation rates from about 50% in severe limb injuries in WWII to about 10% by late in the Korean conflict.
- PTSD recognized in the 1980’s as a diagnosable disorder. American psychiatrists recognized this first in Viet Nam veterans. This replaced terms like shell shock, battle fatigue, and has become recognized in non-military settings in the years since then.
- Interosseous infusion in situations where venous access is difficult used in Iraq and Afghanistan, and drugs to stem hemorrhage were first used by field medics in horrific hemorrhage.
From the time of Hippocrates, who wrote, “He who would become a surgeon should join an army and follow it,” war and military circumstances have been a fertile ground for medical invention forced by necessity. For all you have given in medicine and innumerable other ways, thank you veterans.