18th Portable Surgical Hospital ________________
Capt. Charles M. Bradford MD

 

 

Three days after the jump, the 18th Portable Surgical Hospital moved into the Topside Barracks beside us. They had come to Corregidor in the invasion barges on D-Day and had installed themselves on the beach; but down there they soon found that they were subject to bursts of fire from hidden Jap squads, which made the area "unsanitary or at least unsalutary," as one of their officers put it. Not that they were unused to this sort of thing, for they had already seen fierce combat at "Zig-Zag Pass" on Luzon, and had made the initial landing at Mariveles, as well as elsewhere.

As far as the Portable Hospitals go, few people realize how completely they are integrated as functional parts of all combat teams, and how fully they share the experiences of battle. In the initial stages they frequently live under fire, digging their own foxholes like all front line troops. Many of them at times have been pinned down by mortars or artillery or even by enemy rifles and machine guns. As soon as the perimeter widens, they begin treating casualties with full surgical care. "We couldn't get the wounded back to the hospitals fast enough," one theater surgeon explained, "so we brought the hospitals up to the wounded." At Corregidor we were to witness many convincing examples of the effectiveness of these medical tactics. We actually saw what is often talked about, but seldom happens in a civilian doctor's life,  we saw lives saved, not a few, but many, by surgical teams in action.

In less than three hours after the hospital trucks rolled up to Topside, the wards and operating rooms were functional. For the latter, blackout curtains were draped across window openings and doors in order to allow the surgeons to work through the night. The electric lights from their portable generators gave excellent illumination. The portable autoclaves were able to keep adequate supplies of sterile sheets, towels and dry goods ready to furnish operating tables, and there were enough instruments for two cases to be treated at once. The hospital also was equipped with portable refrigerators for serums and for drugs such as penicillin, of which there was such an ample supply that every surgical case received it routinely in three-hourly injections.

On the wards, though canvas army cots were used, the patients received all the essential advantages of bed care that they could find in a good civilian hospital at home. Even oxygen tents were available and were used on one or two serious cases which needed them. Plasma, of course, was given on the wards as well as in the operating rooms, and also intravenous saline and glucose.

More surprising to me was the plentiful supply of whole blood, which none of the substitutes can seem to replace for cases of profuse hemorrhage. The medical corps has devoted intensive research to this problem of transporting blood, with the result that they can package it on the Pacific or Atlantic coasts and send it through all altitudes and climates "Fresh" to Europe or the Philippines. Examples like this remind us that, though the American soldier may think he is far from home, he can never go far enough to be beyond the reach of his countrymen's most devoted care.

 

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