Rx By The Numbers

A footnote in the combat diary of the late George S. Patton tells of an incident during the World War II campaign in France when after several weeks of continuous rain, sonic dry weather was desperately needed to launch an important armored offensive. The fretful Patton called for his Third Army Chaplain and commanded him to compose a prayer requesting the Almighty to dry up the heavens so that they could get on with the business of killing Germans. The Chaplain protested but discovered in short order that it was practical to yield to the more immediate chain of command - and did as he was told. The rains stopped, the advance was successful and an impressed General Patton awarded the padre a Bronze Star for coming through with a "goddamned potent prayer."

A somewhat similar incident illustrating the influence of military mind and rank on the practice of medicine occurred at the Benning Station Hospital in 1941. General Patton, then commanding the 2nd Armored in training at Benning, appeared unexpectedly in the old EENT clinic. The medical officer in charge was busy in a treatment cubicle at the time, but hearing a terrible commotion going on in the waiting area, popped out to quell the disturbance. He discovered the colorful General in the center of a furious activity that had patients, nurses, orderlies, and his own entourage scurrying in all directions to bring the outside lawn benches into the clinic. Patton was a highly emotional and compassionate man. and the sight of a long line of ailing enlisted men standing and waiting their turn to be seen was too much for him. If they were sick enough to be off duty they were sick enough to wait in more comfort. Taking in the situation at a glance the medical officer had enough presence of mind to know that the sooner he got the General seen and treated the easier it would be on everyone.

The General had a sore throat, and submitting impatiently to examination he remarked that his own medics had been treating him for a week without success, and he was tired of it. He made it plain that since he had taken the trouble to come in from Sand Hill, he expected to be cured, and fast. The medical officer looked at the throat, and although he felt that the laryngitis was probably due to too many cigarettes and too much bellowing on the General's part, he wisely weaseled out by telling Patton it was a common condition caused by the fumes and dust of the heavy armored vehicles. The diagnosis apparently pleased the General. Frantically groping for some new and unused, spectacular remedy, the doctor spied a nearby ultra-violet lamp, and gave the General a special, if unorthodox, treatment. Patton left satisfied, and in no time at all the benches were back on the lawn and peace in the clinic restored.

Two days later a Captain from the 2nd Armored appeared in the clinic with high fever and badly abscessed tonsils. As the same medical officer prepared to admit him to the hospital, the Captain objected. "Couldn't you give me a light treatment like the one that cured General Patton?"

"Captain, you're sick," said the doctor, "and this is an entirely different condition."

"Maybe so," said the Captain. "but the General sent me over to get the lamp, and that's all the treatment he'll authorize." Poor Medics.

As an aside to the Patton stories above, we doubt that the General had any true and lasting affection for the Medical Corps. This was not unusual among the regular line officers, and in Patton, impatient and dedicated to action as he was, the attitude was even more understandable.

The medics were the step-children of the ground forces. They were seldom briefed on operational plans, and on moving into some bivouac area were accustomed to hearing the executive officer groan; "My God, we forgot the medics." Whereupon they would automatically bed down for the night in the only unassigned swamp available. To the line officers we were a necessary but bothersome encumberment in peacetime training and field maneuvers, performing inconsequential and often annoying duties on generally healthy young males. In war time the medics were belatedly glamorized by the press correspondents, and did enjoy at times great affection and respect particularly among the actual combat troops. It was, however, an affection that diminished in inverse proportion as the distance from front line to rear increased.

Even though General Patton was a front line soldier and quite attached to his own personal surgeon (Charlie Odom, from New Orleans) who accompanied him throughout the African, Sicilian and European campaigns, the attitude of a lifetime was hard to overcome when it came to praise for his medical troops. After the Sicilian campaign, our regiment, along with all the units of his Seventh Army, was read the following congratulatory general order, excerpted here:

Soldiers of the Seventh Army:

Born at sea, baptized in blood, and crowned with victory . . . you have added a glorious chapter to the history of war. Every man in the Army deserves equal credit. The enduring valor of the Infantry and the impetuous ferocity of the tanks were matched by the tireless clamor of our destroying guns.The Engineers performed prodigies in the construction of impossible roads over impassable country. The Services of Maintenance and Supply performed a miracle. The Signal Corps laid over 10,000 miles of wire, and the Medical Department evacuated and cared for our sick and wounded.

The Infantry was enduring and valorous, the tanks were impetuously ferocious, the Artillery was tirelessly destroying, the Engineers were impossibly prodigious, Supply was miraculous, the Signal Corps outdid itself, and the Medical Department also ran.

Poor medics.

(c) The Doctor's Lounge, Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Bulletin, Vol XX, No. 1, 1964, p20

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