Nothing advances medicine more than war. The injuries inflicted on soldiers and civilians evolve because of advances in weaponry. And while World War 1 was the first fully industrial war, the US Civil War foreshadowed the horrors to come with its use of submarines, aerial surveillance, trench warfare, and repeating rifles. Sadly, the knowledge of treating these injuries was deemed to horrifying and kept from the Allied doctors in the initial year of WW1.
But not everything that had gone before was dismissed so easily. The biggest advance came from triage. First used during the Napoleonic Wars, the idea of ranking injuries during initial treatment was refined and perfected during the Great War.
As soon as the men were brought from the battlefield, their injuries were assigned to 3 categories: Those who would survive with treatment, those who wouldn’t make it with treatment, and those who if they received treatment right away could make the difference between living and dying.
Obviously, the last one had the priority, while the middle group was moved to a separate area until they passed.
Once initial treatment or categorization was complete, the wounded were moved further behind the lines by wagon, ambulance, train, ship, or walking for more in-depth care.
Here again many were sorted into wards, most by color coded cards detailing their injuries. The barracks assigned were also a different color, denoting the injuries treated inside.
Such a simple scheme made a dramatic difference. On the outbreak of war, casualties were projected at 30%, but this system reduced its impact to 10%. A remarkable achievement in a world without antibiotics.
Until next time.