Battlefield Medicine has been recorded as early as the 4 th century BC by the Romans, who used tourniquets to stop major bleeds on the battlefield. Almost 2000 years later, French military surgeon Ambroise Paré helped pioneer battlefield medicine when he introduced field dressings and ligature to amputations in 1509.
While progress was certainly made throughout the centuries, the U.S. Civil War still saw gruesome amputations and extremely low survival rates for gunshot or shrapnel injuries. Survival rates were nearly non-existent if shot in the torso or head, and mortality rates after being shot in the limbs were as high as 35% if an amputation did not occur within 48hrs. Survival rates continued to increase, notably with the introduction of Penicillin in WW2, better medical training for military medics and forward surgical teams, and increased logistical efforts to remove personnel off the battlefield. Patients who were injured or made it alive to a battlefield hospital in WW2 saw 19% casualty rates, with this number dropping to 16% in Vietnam and less than 10% in Afghanistan.
These numbers are encouraging, but only tell a piece of the story. It is a great tragedy that wars haven given us an incredible knowledge of battlefield injuries and a repository of lessons learned. The sacrifice of those who have died and trusted us as medics to learn from their suffering has given us all a tremendous responsibility to use this knowledge to its maximum potential. Through war, we have learned more about how to train and develop our military medics than at any time in the worlds history. As we take this mantle of responsibility with us to the battlefield, let us not forget that there is still work to be done. There are still preventable deaths occurring after injury. This is entirely unacceptable. We have the knowledge. We have the capacity. We need to get past the idea that our job is ever done. That we have learned enough. That because we are experienced that we have experienced everything.
This Memorial Day, let us remember our friends and teammates who have died in service to this great country. Let us also reaffirm our vows as medics that we will tirelessly prepare both physically and intellectually to give those who fall under our care the optimal chance of survival in their time of need. To acquire the resources, education and strength to do everything we can in service to others. It is often said that medics are cut from a different cloth. That they seek not glory or fame, but only the satisfaction of knowing they brought their teammates home. There is always work to be done. There is always more to learn. If you are constantly pushing your limits of knowledge to get better, to challenge yourself, to teach others what you have learned, you are truly honoring the memory of those who have gone before you.
Be the kind of medic that when someone looks up at you during their greatest time of need, you see the look of trust on their face.
“Let no one say I could have done more”
RIP James Grisson, DOW March 2013, ODA 1411
Happy Memorial Day. Honor those who have gone before us by leading a life worth living. It’s what they would have wanted.
Founder, Ready Warrior LLC