Yesterday was remembrance Sunday, the day we remember those who have given their lives for their country in war, and as I am currently writing a medical romance partly set in Afghanistan I thought it would be appropriate to talk about advances in medicine that have come about as a direct consequence of treating the wounded from the battlefield.
In the first world war two women, Elsie Knocker, a nurse, and Marie Chisholm an eighteen year old from Scotland, stationed themselves at the front line in order to give soldiers first aid well in advance of them being taken to first aid posts, often going behind the front line to rescue the wounded, because Elsie in particular recognised the importance of those first few minutes of life saving treatment. They of course weren’t the only women risking their lives to care for casualties of war.
Plastic surgery also made huge advances when young pilots were admitted to hospital with horrific facial burns and in the second world war, antibiotics were used for the first time on a wide scale to treat infection, (before then they were deemed too expensive to be used widely), as well as blood transfusions, which were first used (with varying degrees of success) by the Americans in the First World War.
Today, in A & E departments, doctors are using the ‘Afganiscan’ to assess patients with multiple trauma, an innovation that came directly from the military hospitals in Afghanistan. Scientists have also developed a nanoscale biological coating for sponges that can be used to stop bleeding on the battlefield. They are now talking about the platinum ten minutes instead of the golden hour. If they can keep a wounded soldier alive long enough to get them to the military hospital there is now a hugely increased chance of saving their lives.
Of course we all wish that no soldier ever had to die, and we grieve for every young man and woman who has lost their life, but if anything good can be said to come out of a war, perhaps it is the advances in medical science that go on to save, and repair, lives that would otherwise have been lost. This is summed up for me in the quote, although I can’t tell you the source, ‘When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today.’
Do you have any medical advances, not necessarily from the battlefield, that you would like to nominate as making the biggest difference today? To start with I guess I would have to nominate, antiseptic surgery, anaesthesia and public medicine.