5 Medical Innovations that Came from the Battlefield

There is no doubt that wartime medicine is very challenging place for a doctor, nurse, and paramedic to use their craft and skills. It is certainly an environment where intense improvisation is often required. This is because so many injuries are very serious in nature, and the tools on hand are very limited when compared to a hospital. So it should be no surprise that many medical innovations were originated from the battlefield.

Let us look at five instances where those battle field medical innovations had a positive impact of the way medicine is practiced today.

Tying off Blood Vessels and Arteries

By far the biggest killer during wartime is the loss of blood. This is not a big surprise to any of us when you look at all the weapons used in wars across the age. War has seen clubs and swords evolve into bullets and canons and finally into grenades, bombs, and missiles. So minimizing blood loss was critical to saving lives on the battlefield.

In the year 1537, there was a French barber-surgeon named Ambroise Pare who was assigned to care for soldiers during the Siege of Turin. He was absolutely horrified by all the bloody injuries he witnessed. So Pare created ligatures and began tying them on the limbs of the soldiers close to their wounds.

However this method was pretty inconvenient on a battlefield because it was very painful. So Pare assisted doctors to modify ligatures, so tourniquets were developed. And today they are still being used.   

Restoring flow

There are lots of injuries that result from impact and blunt-force that occur on the battlefield. These types of injuries tend to crush veins and arteries. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that wars have motivated advances in the repair and care of blood vessels.

Most of the progress occurred during the Korean War in 1950. An Army surgeon named Carl Hughes and his associates at Walter Reed Army Hospital studied the vascular injuries of Korean War soldiers. They discovered that ligation sometime caused amputation so more attention was spent on repairing vessels. This resulted in a dramatic drop in wartime amputations. The discovery promoted vascular repair surgeries leading to newer tools such as the Potts clamp which is used today.

Battling infection

We can also attribute war for today’s mass production of antibiotics, especially penicillin and sulfanilamide. World War II allowed both of them to gain widespread production and use.

In the year 1928, a Scottish bacteriologist named Alexander Fleming observed a strange mold growing on his Petri dishes and had eliminated the bacteria on them. His discovery did not get much attention at the time. But Fleming persisted and continued researching, and eventually won a Nobel Prize which attracted the attention of Pfizer. This company then began mass-producing these new drugs which were distributed to medics during WWII, and then to doctors and hospitals all over the country.

Saving Face – Literally

Even though plastic surgery was usually associated with cosmetic surgical procedures, it actually began as a reconstructive surgery. Today, we see reconstructive plastic surgery helping those people who have cosmetic concerns that result from birth defects like cleft lips, or physical assaults such as acid attacks, and even certain medical conditions.  

This all started when a young man serving in the Civil War had pneumonia and began taking mercury pills. The pills caused a gangrenous ulcer to pop up on his tongue. Grangrene was quick to spread to his from his mouth. And then his right cheekbone had to be eventually removed.

The young man became desperate and offered his face to a New York surgeon named Gurdon Buck. Using a whole series of operations, Buck was able to use facial and dental fixtures to replace some of Burgan’s missing bone and over time the face of the young Army private had regained its shape. Buck was wise enough to also photograph the progress of Burgan’s face reconstruction. Buck then proceeded to perform some 32 additional facial reconstructions for soldiers who had been disfigured by bayonets, bullets, and musket balls. Buck’s methods and techniques led to the sophisticated reconstructive methods that surgeons use today.

Getting Them Where They Need to Be

When the Civil War got cranking during the 1860s, the transport of wounded soldiers was more and less a hodge podge whatever vehicles they could muster up at the time. And as you may imagine, most of these were not suited for the job.

An Army doctor named Jonathan Letterman created a very effective ambulance system that has actually served as a model for emergency transport today. At each battle site, he established a several caravans of 50 ambulances each. Each of these vehicles carries supplies, that include morphine and bandages, and they each had a driver and a stretcher with two guys to carry it. Needless to say, these ideas resulted in  faster recoveries from war wounds.