100 Years of Compassionate Care: Advances in Medicine During the War Years
RMH Cadet Nurse Corps of 1944: Many of the young women who entered nursing school during the war years joined the Cadet Nurse Corps, a government-funded program to provide trained nurses for both civilian and military hospitals in order to remedy an acute shortage of nurses. Thousands of nurses were needed to staff military hospitals, which were springing into existence all over the United States and overseas.
Between 1941 and 1945, a number of medical advances improved the care RMH physicians provided their patients. Among these advances was widespread use of antibiotics such as penicillin. Penicillin had been first developed by Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming in 1928. His discovery is often viewed as the beginning of the modern age of antibiotics, although a number of other doctors pioneered the development of the new drug as an effective medicine for treating a wide variety of serious diseases.
Penicillin could be effectively used to treat many bacterial infections and was very effective against syphilis as well. Unfortunately, the manufacture of the drug was very difficult and extremely limited. When World War II began, what little was available was almost all in the hands of the military. Effective methods of mass production of penicillin were not developed until 1944, when a deep-tank fermentation process was discovered by Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau.
Dr. John Wine practiced at RMH from 1919 to 1965. Not only was he the first physician at RMH to use insulin to treat diabetes, he also was the first RMH physician to use penicillin to treat infection.
The first use of penicillin at RMH was in 1942 when a young girl named Juralene Fultz was brought to the hospital suffering from a staph infection of the heart (endocarditis). Before the development of effective antibacterial drugs, endocarditis was invariably fatal. Dr. John Wine was treating the girl and happened to have read current medical journal studies about the experiments with penicillin.
However, in 1942, when the government was stockpiling almost all penicillin produced for use by the military, civilian hospitals routinely did not have even small supplies of the drug. Dr. Wine contacted the U.S. Army physician in charge of dispensing the drug to Army hospitals and persuaded him to send a supply of penicillin to Woodrow Wilson General Hospital, an army hospital established in Fishersville.
[In 1947 the army hospital became Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center-the first state-owned and operated comprehensive rehabilitation center in the nation.]
Dr. Wine personally drove to the hospital to pick up the drug and to receive instructions for using it from the Army doctor at Woodrow Wilson who was responsible for issuing the drug. The doctor soon realized that Dr. Wine was well informed about the new drug and its use and quickly released the shipment to him, remarking, "Take it, you know more about it than I do."10
The recommended dose of penicillin was 40,000 units, which was to be administered by intravenous drip for 24 hours until the patient's temperature became normal, then reduced to 20,000 units. While he was treating his young patient, a prominent physician from the University of Virginia, one of the outstanding internists in the state, was visiting Dr. Wine at RMH. Before leaving to return to Charlottesville, the doctor observed the treatment for a time and discussed the young girl's condition with Dr. Wine. As he walked out of the ward, he sadly told Dr. Wine that he was wasting his time because he had no doubt that Juralene would be dead in three or four days.
Happily, his prediction proved to be incorrect because of the use of the new drug. Dr. Wine proudly attended Juraline's high school graduation some years later.11
During the war, many new medical techniques developed in other nations as well, spurred on by the necessity of treating wounded and sick soldiers and injured civilians in each country touched by the war.
The treatment for burns was advanced particularly by plastic surgeon Dr. Archibald McIndoe of Queen Victoria Hospital in Sussex, England, and by Russian Army doctors who did important work on skin grafts and promoting healing of burned tissue.
Military doctors found that penicillin proved particularly effective in preventing gangrene.
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