Battlefield Medicine

Battlefield Medic, Meatball Surgery

Illustration of battlefield wounds from a 1517 “Field Manual for the Treatment of Wounds”

Warfighter Physiological Monitoring

Meatball surgery. Battlefield medicine. Combat casualty care. Field surgery. Call it what you like, some of the most important breakthroughs in medicine, enjoyed by both civilian and military populations, have come to us during times of war. Under siege and surrounded by dying soldiers, the military medic has to think on his feet. Some brilliant ideas are the result of some of that fast thinking.

Ambrose Pare (1510 – 1590) was the great official royal surgeon for four kings of France. His expertise in treating wounds on the battlefield led to his being considered one of the founding fathers of modern surgery and modern forensic pathology.

French military medic Dominique Jean Larrey implemented the process of triage during the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 to 1815.

Dr. Larrey is also credited with establishing the ambulance system, transporting wounded warriors away from further danger on the battlefield to safety and medical care in portable field hospitals erected nearby.

During the American Civil War, “The Father of Battlefield Medicine,” Dr. Jonathan Letterman (1824 – 1972) originated the system of organizing military medical supplies, procedures, and personnel that is still in use today.

The Napoleonic Wars and World War I (1914 – 1918) produced advances in surgery, with notable advances in surgical amputations.

Said to be the father of field surgery, Nikolay Ivanovich Pirogov (1810 – 1881), a Russian physician, first used anesthesia during field surgery in 1847 and introduced ether as an effective anesthesia for use by the battlefield medic.

Canadian physician Dr. Henry Norman Bethune (1890 – 1939) developed the first effective system for mobile blood transfusions while serving in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

The emergency medicine developed on the battlefield forms the basis for today’s emergency medical technicians (EMTs) saving lives during times of trauma in civilian life as well as on the battlefield.

Mobile field hospitals that were fully equipped were perfected over time, leading to the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) associated with the Korean War and its evolution, the Combat Support Hospital.

Helicopters as ambulances, or MEDEVAC units, were first used in times of war.

Physiological monitoring devices are one of the latest advances in battlefield medicine. Worn like harnesses, these systems relay a soldier’s vital signs and biomechanical state to a military medic monitoring the soldier from a remote location. Soldiers entering combat can be monitored continuously, their vital signs documented, before injury, during, and afterward.

By whatever name it’s called, battlefield medicine has been improving the lives of people for hundreds of years.