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Actividades » Culturales

American Nurses in World War I

Under-Appreciated and Under Fire
By Marian Moser Jones

  • A festive ward at Camp Hospital 33, in Brest, Finistere, France, December 1918. Courtesy of the Army Medical Department Center of History and Heritage.
  • Nurses in line for water at Base Hospital 21, in Rouen, France. Courtesy of the Army Medical Department Center of History and Heritage.
As a German plane buzzed overhead, nurse Helen Dore Boylston dropped face down in the mud. Boylston, an American nurse serving at a British Army base hospital near the Western Front in 1918, had been running between wards of wounded patients that night, trying to calm their nerves during the air raid. Now, all she could do was brace herself for the hissing bomb that hurtled toward her. She covered her eyes and ears against the deafening roar and “blood red flare.” About a half hour later, finally realizing she had not been hurt, Boylston stopped shaking.

Boylston’s vivid account of her World War I nursing experience, published in 1927, depicts her work with the first Harvard Unit, a U.S. medical team that treated more casualties than any other group of American doctors and nurses during the conflict. In May 1917, U.S. medical teams became the first American troops to arrive in the war zone, and many remained through mid-1919.

Over 22,000 professionally-trained female nurses were recruited by the American Red Cross to serve in the U.S. Army between 1917 and 1919 — and over 10,000 of these served near the Western Front. More than 1,500 nurses served in the U.S. Navy during this period, and several hundred worked for the American Red Cross. Additionally, a handful, like Boylston, worked in American units of the British and French armies. The U.S. military rejected for overseas service nurses who were African Americans or immigrants, despite drafting men from these groups.

Although Allied military leaders wanted to keep the (female) nurses far from danger, they soon realized that many more combatants’ lives could be saved if wounds were first treated near the front rather than at far-away base hospitals. Numerous nurses served at front-line casualty clearing stations or with forward units. In August 1917, U.S. Army nurse Beatrice MacDonald, on duty at a casualty clearing station, came under enemy fire during an air raid, and fragments of shrapnel from a bomb blast sliced through her eye. After being evacuated, MacDonald refused orders to go home, reportedly stating, “I have just started doing my bit.” With only one eye, MacDonald remained on duty in France until after the armistice, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

War nursing’s more common hazards included infected fingers, sickness, and physical strain. “My back is busted in two tonight. Slowly, [moving] down the ward, doing the dressings and making the beds,” Boylston wrote in her diary. This frequent changing of dressings and application of antiseptic, though physically exhausting, served a critical medical function in the pre-antibiotic era: It became the most effective method for healing infected war wounds and prevented many limb amputations.

Fuente: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/the-great-war-american-nurses-world-war-1/

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