Medical Realities Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

World War I was notable in many respects, including its impact on medicine. It was the first major war in which poisonous gas attacks took place on a relatively large scale–and in which gas countermeasures (in the form of masks, etc.) were developed to save lives. It represented, by far, the most bomb-heavy conflict up to that time, in terms of both the amount of shells fired and the constancy of shelling over long periods of time. The end result among the troops was what came to be known as “shell shock,” a condition involving, in the terminology of today, traumatic brain injury and/or post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of the time the soldiers suffering from shell shock were briefly hospitalized before being sent back to fight in the trenches, as it was deemed unmanly to give in to mental difficulties when bodily injuries, and death, were all around. The same attitude can be seen in the way that wounded soldiers were rehabilitated for their return to society. The ideal patient was one who learned to overlook or ignore his condition and to strive, instead, to reach goals in other areas such as education, job training, and employment. Finally, we read here, too, about the deadly 1918 flu pandemic, a scourge that ravaged human populations inside and outside the military near the end of the war.

World War I was notable in many respects, including its impact on medicine. It was the first major war in which poisonous gas attacks took place on a relatively large scale–and in which gas countermeasures (in the form of masks, etc.) were developed to save lives. It represented, by far, the most bomb-heavy conflict up to that time, in terms of both the amount of shells fired and the constancy of shelling over long periods of time. The end result among the troops was what came to be known as “shell shock,” a condition involving, in the terminology of today, traumatic brain injury and/or post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of the time the soldiers suffering from shell shock were briefly hospitalized before being sent back to fight in the trenches, as it was deemed unmanly to give in to mental difficulties when bodily injuries, and death, were all around. The same attitude can be seen in the way that wounded soldiers were rehabilitated for their return to society. The ideal patient was one who learned to overlook or ignore his condition and to strive, instead, to reach goals in other areas such as education, job training, and employment. Finally, we read here, too, about the deadly 1918 flu pandemic, a scourge that ravaged human populations inside and outside the military near the end of the war.

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