Medicine and War
Medicine today no doubt play an indispensable role in our lives, if not for modern medicine, most people would simply die from the common cold or a fever. In the past, it’ll be simply left to nature to cure a disease or sickness, not the most reliable. People also believed some sickness were caused by possessions of spirits and tried all sorts of rituals and prayers to cure a person. However, now with science, we all know these superstitions are pretty much rubbish.
Advancements in the medical field have greatly increased the life expectancy. Everyday sickness are seen as no more than an inconvenience, more major sickness are curable with modern medication,and some deadly diseases have been wiped out completely, such as smallpox. This is generally good, although one could argue this leads to overpopulation or that unnatural drugs do more harm than good, but overall humans benefit greatly from medical advancements. Common medicines for ailments such as body pain, cough and fever are used in the quantities of millions everyday. This just shows the profound impact medicine has on our society today.
In war, the importance of medicine to save lives is more important than ever. People in a war are getting hurt constantly. Especially in modern warfare where it is easier than ever to kill or injure a large group of people in a very short time. bombs , automatic weapons and heavy artillery guns for example. Within a push of a button or a pull of a trigger, one could cause massive damage. Now imagine if you were a commander and by some tactical error a large number of your soldiers have received potentially lethal wounds, you would definitely want proper help and treatment for your men, to save their lives. But… why?
One reason is that soldiers are incredibly expensive, to recruit and train and feed and equip a soldier has a pretty large price tag. Not to mention his salary for the length of time that soldier is in service. One standard infantryman would have a deployment cost of about 2.1 million USD, according to a report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). So letting your soldiers die from the lack of proper medical supplies would be a massive waste of money.
Another reason would be the loss of that soldiers experience. Of course a dead soldier could be easily replaced with a new recruit, but his experience and expertise and skills can never be replaced. A new replacement soldier would most likely not be as proficient in a task compared to someone who has been doing it for years. One example off the top of my head is that an experienced machine gunner would know all the insides and out of his weapon, where’s the best place that’ll be most effective to shoot from and all that, a younger soldier simply would not know all this. Trading an experienced soldier for a new recruit just isn’t a good idea.
However perhaps the most important reason is that that soldier is a person, he has friends family back home waiting for him, his fellow soldiers would be demoralized by his death, and most of all he doesn’t want to die. Leaving a wounded soldier to die just would not be right. It goes against every human instinct to not help a friend in trouble (unless you’re a psychopath). People under your charge dying just generally isn’t a good thing.
Hence, countries are always striving for ways to give their armies the best medical equipment to minimize the casualty numbers,leading to many medical advancements during war. However, these inventions are sometimes just so fantastic that they outlive the war and become adopted to civilian use in peacetime, let’s take a look at two examples that have a significant impact on everyday life.
The EpiPen, or if you want to be scientific, an epinephrine auto-injector, is a handy little syringe like thing that injects a set dose of adrenaline quickly and effectively. The device contains a fixed dose of adrenaline and a needle that goes from the end of the device and into the patient’s skin, to deliver the medication through injection. Today, it is used as a first aid treatment for deadly allergies such as nut allergies. During an allergic reaction, the Epipen injects adrenaline into the patient’s bloodstream, this increases blood pressure, relaxes the lung muscles to reduce contractions and improve breathing, and spikes up the heart rate. All this would delay the allergic reaction in the body and gives the patient time to get to a hospital or other medical help.
However, a lesser known fact is that it owes its origins to war. Yes, it was invented for the US army as a protection against nerve gas attacks. If you were exposed to nerve gas, you would inject yourself, or someone else, with the adrenaline, this would give you enough time to get your gas mask and other gear properly in place. It was first invented by Sheldon Kaplan for the US military in the 1970s. When nerve gas is inhaled, it blocks out a chemical in your brain that helps break down another chemical. Hence the body would have an overdose of the latter chemical which leads to over stimulation of the nerve cells. This would cause convulsions and death from the inability of the respiratory muscles to work. The adrenaline essentially blocks that system in your brain, that way, even though the chemical attack causes an over stimulation of nerves, the receptors in the brain do not pick up the signals and the person’s nervous system has a chance to even itself out. Very grim stuff. This drug has most recently been used en mass during the gas attacks on Damascus, to treat civilians affected by the nerve gas.
Yet another thing that we are so familiar with that owes its origins to a war, the modern version of freeze drying was discovered and used in World War 2, as a way to transport Blood serum from the USA to her troops in Europe. The problem was that due to the long trip across the Atlantic, the medication would spoil before reaching Europe. And refrigerating a whole cargo ship would have been too expensive at that time. Hence the freeze-drying process was developed as a way that the blood serum could be chemically stable without needing to be refrigerated. After it’s initial success, its use spread to other medical supplies such as penicillin, and became a widely known important technique of preserving chemicals and other biological things.
Today, aside from its medical use, freeze drying is used in a wide variety of things, including freeze drying flowers to keep them pretty, recovering water spoiled documents, the production of synthetic skin, but surely the one we are all most familiar with; Freeze dried food. Also a very good means for transporting food long distances and preserving it for extended periods of time, but has science gone too far with freeze dried ice cream?
In basic terms, freeze drying a certain material has four stages. Firstly, various chemicals and other things are added to ensure it remains stable (not usually done in food). The food is then frozen three times below its freezing point, to ensure sublimation occurs instead of melting when it is warmed later. Next, pressure is lowered and heat is added gradually, and the water turns to water vapor and evaporates out of the material (sublimation). Finally leftover water absorbed by the material is removed by either raising or lowering the pressure. An inert (noble) gas is then added to break the vacuum, and the material is ready to sealed and shipped out. The process is largely the same for chemicals or medicine or food or anything else, however there could be slight variations depending on what exactly is being freeze dried.
Part two may be coming up 😛