This article first appeared in the Daily Journal on June 15, 2012.
Throughout history, America’s methods of providing health care have always had an understated yet powerful impact on the way she chooses to wage war. And yet, this may be the first time that health care is itself under siege. Indeed, the specter of war has provided countless opportunities to test society’s mettle in battle, while forcing those in power to prioritize in terms of their country’s health care. As sides are drawn and campaigns evolve, the strategies of combat take shape in ways previously unforeseen. This is certainly true in contemporary America, though in our modern age of reform it is health care itself that has come under attack.
Medically speaking, advances in science, technology and the provision of health care have commandeered the new millennium, both in practice and politics. And yet, medicine’s inestimable progress since the Civil War is often largely taken for granted by both the decision makers and the recipients of a country that has come to expect state-of-the-art facilities and easy access to providers. A century and a half ago, the delivery of medicine was grossly misunderstood, frequently useless and often barbaric. “Civil War surgeons cleaned their instruments by periodically rinsing them with water, usually at the end of the day. . . . Typically, the operator wiped the blood and other material from his knife with a quick swipe across the front of his large apron, which was usually stained with blood and pus from prior sessions.”
Such an abysmal depiction of health care in the middle of the nineteenth century serves to underscore the catastrophic losses endured by both North and South in the deadliest conflict on American soil, while highlighting the need for a potent, reliable and inclusive health care structure on which to rely.. Dr. Jonathan Letterman, Civil War medical director of the Army of the Potomac, offered a wise analogy describing the relationship between the science of medicine and our ability to deliver it: “Without proper means, the Medical Department can no more take care of the wounded than the army can fight a battle without ammunition.” … Read more →