Monthly Archives: July 2011

Blue Skies, Boats & Birdies

My blogging has been minimal to imaginary of late – it’s been a busy few months & I’ve been really preoccupied – as if work isn’t busy enough, I pretty much spend my life running between my home here in MA, & Mark’s in upstate NY. It’s a 5 hour trip from home, but a 6 hour trip when I leave from work in Boston on Fridays to visit. I’ve managed to arrange my work schedule such that I can leave work early on Fridays, & arrive late on Mondays – making up time by working late midweek.

Having never been someone who disliked any particular day of the week, I now hate Mondays! I’m up at 5am & then get to enjoy the scenic drive across NY & MA to get to Boston. I then work late into the evening & typically don’t get home until around 9-10pm. Just in time to roll into bed, exhausted. Sometimes I squeeze in a glass of wine or beer.

In addition, I’ve been trying to get a freelance medical writing business up and running. The aim there is to build something up so that eventually (even if it takes a couple of years), I might be able to be self-employed & “mobile” so I can just go where the Army takes Mark. In the meantime, keeping up with 2 jobs and all the traveling, is exhausting to say the least.

But at least we’ve now begun to get some decent weather in the Northeast, so it’s a bit easier for us to get out at weekends and enjoy the time off. Up until a few weeks ago we were just experiencing one torrential downfall after another. And naturally at weekends in particular! Now we’ve had a couple of lovely weekends on the trot, with another forecast for this coming one.

A couple of weekends ago we took a trip out to Cape Vincent – this area in the 1000 Islands region is at the tip of the country – where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence River, looking  right across to Canada.

I have a soft spot for lighthouses, & Tibbetts Point lighthouse was quite a delight to see for the first time. It was built in 1827 & houses the only original, working Fresnel lens in Lake Ontario.

On the way back homeward bound, we stopped off in Clayton, not too far away – they were hosting the tall ship “Lynx” at their dock for a couple of days – quite a spectacle!

In addition, we’ve taken the opportunity to do some growing – Mark occasionally asks if we should get a pet, but since I often wonder if he’s actually capable of looking after himself (hehe), I convinced him that we should start off with some plants at the house. Tiddles is enough trouble for me to contend with in MA! So we set the scene for some Canadian lupins from a packet of seeds that someone recently gave me.

And we also decided to “adopt” some pets – the bird feeder has started to bring us some new visitors already too! Word seems to be getting out  and about on the street that the bird seed is good at our place 🙂

Hope you’re all managing to enjoy some nice summer weather too!


Minutemen, Militia and Medicine

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, once said: “If you want to study medicine, go to war”.

In 1776 there were only 3,500 physicians in the colonies. These men clearly played a disproportionate role during the Revolutionary War, with around 1,300 of them serving as military surgeons at this time.

During the war, anyone with medical knowledge of any kind was drafted into service, and although all regiments had their own physicians, less than 300 of them actually had a medical degree. The minority had been trained in Philadelphia, at The Pennsylvania Hospital – the first medical school in the Americas, which opened in 1768. Since there were no laws or professional organizations to regulate medicine, however, this left anyone free to practice.

Inevitably therefore, more soldiers died due to health issues than combat during the Revolutionary War.

Anesthesia was not discovered until the mid 1800s, so alcohol and opium were typical agents used for surgical preparation of patients.  Medical equipment and drugs were in very short supply during the war, and physicians were frequently forced to work with what little equipment they had in their pocket kit. Additionally, they typically performed the only surgery that they knew to be useful – amputation. Surgeons had to work fast, since their patients were not anesthetized, and some reports describe things being stuffed into soldiers’ ears so they could not hear themselves screaming! And there was always the method of “biting the bullet”.

Wounded soldiers awaiting surgery were also first bled. Bloodletting was used to treat just about every type of medical illness, based on ancient beliefs that withdrawing large quantities of blood would purge the sick patient of “bad humors”. To add insult to injury, postsurgical procedures also often involved even more bloodletting! Unsurprisingly, surgical success rates were low at this time, with wartime surgeons having no idea that such blood loss could lead to death.

Overall though, despite the fact that professionally trained physicians were rare in the colonial military organization, Revolutionary Wartime surgeons did extremely well at treating the sick, and attempting to save lives. And although no major medical or surgical advances came from the war, one step forward did come in the form of smallpox control.

Smallpox was not a problem in America until introduced here by European settlers. The American Revolutionary War brought about numerous smallpox outbreaks. Patients who actually survive the disease develop lifelong immunity to it, so the British were at a distinct advantage since many of them had previously suffered the disease.

At that time, there were only two ways to deal with smallpox:

  • Isolation: susceptible soldiers were  quarantined away from potentially diseased people.
  • Inoculation: material from smallpox lesions was injected under the skin of unexposed individuals.

By 1777, the ever increasing smallpox epidemics had led George Washington to order mandatory inoculation of all troops who had not had the disease. Medical historians actually credit this decision as a pivotal one – smallpox threatened to kill more soldiers than the British would, so it was this decision by Washington that allowed the Continental Army to turn the situation around and continue to fight at full strength.

Thankfully huge advances have been made in medicine since the era of the American Revolution. But one thing that remains unchanged is the fact that physicians continue to serve in the US military, helping not only fellow servicemembers, but foreign citizens too. “Service beyond self” clearly remains the mission of both the caring physician and proud military servicemember.

Happy July 4th everyone!