nurse Lt. Georgie Taylor smiled at Private Hawkins, who was recovering from
abdominal surgery due to a rifle wound. “We’ll be in Tuni—”
|Lt. Katye Swope (802nd MAETS) checks patients being |
evacuated from Sicily to Africa, July 1943. (USAF photo).
He was too pale. Restless. His hand
chilled her. Georgie leaned closer, her mind tingling with concern. “Are you all
“Thirsty.” He rubbed his throat
with white fingers.
She wrapped her
hand around his wrist to measure his pulse—rapid as she feared. No doubt about
it. He was going into shock, probably from postsurgical internal bleeding. (On Distant Shores, p. 55)
In my novel On Distant Shores, the heroine serves as
a flight nurse. To celebrate the book’s release, I’m running a series on medical
air evacuation in World War II.
discussed general principles of air evacuation, today we’ll follow one
patient’s flight experience, and then we’ll meet the flight nurse.
|US medics administer plasma to a patient in a jeep ambulance, Italy 1944. |
(US Army photo)
Let’s follow my
fictional patient, Private Hawkins. In the battle for Troina, Sicily in early
August 1943, Hawkins is shot in the abdomen. Medics perform first aid and take
him from the battlefield to the battalion aid station, where he’s stabilized.
An ambulance carries him to a field or evacuation hospital, where he undergoes
abdominal surgery. Since he requires a long recuperation, after he’s stabilized
an ambulance will take him to the airfield at Termini Imerese, Sicily, and a
C-47 will fly him to the large US hospital complex at Mateur, Tunisia.
At Termini he
arrives at a tent hospital at the airfield. The flight surgeon evaluates the
patients to decide which are good candidates for air evacuation. Due to high
altitude, the doctors prefer not to send patients with serious head injuries,
sucking chest wounds, or severe anemia. Each combat theater has different
policies on “neuropsychiatric” patients, but if they’re allowed, an extra
technician will attend these patients.
|Holding hospital at Termini Airfield, Termini Imerese, Sicily, |
for patients awaiting air evacuation. (US Army photo)
At the airfield
holding unit, the physician briefs flight nurse Lt. Georgie Taylor on each
patient. Georgie in turn orients the patients—most of whom have never flown—on
what to expect. Private Hawkins wears an Emergency Medical Tag (EMT) which
summarizes his condition and treatment. A large envelope with his medical
records and X-rays rests beside him on the litter.
|Flight nurse Lt. Mae Olson takes the name of a wounded American soldier |
being placed aboard a C-47 for air evacuation from Guadalcanal in 1943.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
technician and medics from the holding unit carry the litter patients onto the
plane. At the cargo door, Georgie checks the EMT against the list of patients
on her flight manifest and directs the tech where to place each patient based
on his medical needs.
The litters are
clamped into aluminum racks along each side of the fuselage, stacked three
litters high. Later versions of the C-47 will come equipped with lightweight web-strapping
systems to hold litters. Hawkins is placed in the middle tier for easier access.
Lower tiers are reserved for patients with heavy casts or needing more intense
patients are secured, the C-47 glides down the runway. When the plane levels
off, the flight nurse and technician see to the patients’ needs. They record Hawkins’s
“TPR” (temperature, pulse, and respiration) on the flight manifest, and check
for signs of bleeding and infection.
The flight team
also provides water and food if needed. They converse with the patients, a
voice of calm for the anxious and of encouragement for the depressed. If no
patients are on oxygen, the men are allowed to smoke.
The interior of
the C-47 is poorly ventilated and heated, and becomes stifling in hot weather
and frigid in colder climates or higher altitudes. Smells can become
overwhelming, especially when burn patients are aboard or someone becomes
airsick. Surprisingly, air sickness occurs in less than 1 percent of flights.
trained to treat shock, hemorrhage, pain, air sickness, and other medical
emergencies. When Private Hawkins goes into shock, Georgie and her technician
administer plasma and oxygen to keep him alive.
When the C-47 lands
at Mateur, Mellie and the technician unload the plane with the help of men on
the ground. A trained flight team can unload a full plane in 5-10 minutes,
which is crucial in case of crash landing, ditching in water, or landing at a
field under enemy fire.
Due to Private
Hawkins’s condition, he is rushed to the shock ward to be prepared for surgery.
He will recover.
Labels: air evacuation, flight nurses, World War II