My great grandfather kept a journal throughout World War 1. He was serving as an ENT physician at a forward American hospital located near the birthplace of Joan of Arc at Domremy in the spring of 1918 at Base Hospital 36 near Vittel, France. I excerpt some interesting passages from his autobiography concerning gas cases seen during World War 1. He was in charge of ENT at hospital A.
The video above narrated by Dennis Skupinski details the layout of Base Hospital 36.
The French had suffered from lack of electricity, which was sought by Capt. Haughey on two trips to Nancy and Paris, in which he had to resort to stubborn dedication to secure electricity.
Phillips was pleased with my report and chuckled about General Ireland, whom he knew very well, but did not know that I knew. The next day he called me in and wanted me to go the opposite direction to Nancy on another errand. We had been having trouble with electricity. There was a small steam and diesel plant that ran from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. each day, and from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. each morning. The rest of the time it’s a storage battery plant and will only make the lights glow. We are unable to use the x-ray machines except these odd hours. The headquarters of General Electric Company was at Nancy. The quartermaster had been there with no results, really no contact, and letters had brought nothing. I took an interpreter and driver and had no trouble getting an audience and fond out that we were located in what is known as the Zone of the Army where no shipments may be made except food and clothing and military necessities. The electric plant at Vittel cannot run on the coal they are able to get and the oil for the diesel engine is also scarce. Ma y repairs were needed, which we might be able to supply. If we could get them, the necessary repairs would be made and the expense credited on our electric bills. I told him that was absolutely impossible. We couldn’t wait the time necessary to import that material, and besides it was impossible for the Army to supply such to any but its own units. If we owned the plant we could repair it. He jumped at the chance and said they would sell. I was stumped, but agreed, as there was no other way. Our hospital had been located where the French had had to abandon two hospitals because they could not solve the electricity problem. It was an emergency, and I bought.
Major Phillip telephoned to headquarters, the result of my trip to Nancy and was told to send an officer to Paris to see the Chief Surgeon LOC. At noon on December 20th, Major Phillips asked if I would go to Paris. I caught the train fifty-six miles away at 5:30 and was in Paris that night. I took two enlisted men with me for some special errand. I had enquired and decided to go to a small hotel near the Louvre.... At 9 the next morning I was out at Medical Headquarters, quite a way out by subway. As I entered, General Winer was putting on his coat and hat. I asked for an interview, told him the story of x-ray and other electricity use, the condition of the electric plant, what it needed and of our needs – especially x-ray. “But”, he says, “Wait and you will get all those things in time.” I answered that we now have about 600 patients and need this electricity now, and why were we located at a place the French had to abandon on account of electricity. He asked my solution and I told him I had been sent to straighten out the problem and that the only solution was either to buy or lease the plant, and put it in shape ourselves. We had the men who could do it and who in the meantime would operate it full time. Besides this was an emergency and some one should have the authority to solve it if he would only assume it. No war can be won unless someone assumes authority. “”Alright”, he says, “tell Colonel here what you want and he will issue the necessary orders.” To the Colonel he says, “Captain Haughey knows what he wants, see that he gets it. I will be back next Thursday.” And he was gone. I went into the Lieutenant’s office and had to tell the story all over again. He said that the Colonel did not have that authority, and I withdrew promising to be back the next morning in case he changed his mind. The morning of the second day I was at headquarters again and was then told to go back to Vittel as my request would not be granted. I walked out and told him I would see him tomorrow. Saturday morning I was again at Headquarters. I saw the Colonel and he threatened to have the MP’s send me back to Vittel, but I showed him a pass for two weeks to accomplish a certain mission, and told him I would be back every morning at 9 o’clock until the General returned, but hoped he would see fit to fix things up before that as I had pretty nearly exhausted Paris. He promised the papers for late that afternoon.In the first months of service the hospital was already beyond capacity.
January 19, 1918, only two months and three days after settling at Vittel, we had 1600 patients. My notes for that day are: “I did a cataract operation on a civilian, also straightened out and investigated troubles with the feeding of patients in Hospital A, visited every floor making inspections, saw bed patients, read histories and card records of about 100 patients making corrections and seeing that the records are properly kept. I went to town to see a patient. I called on Fr. Marechal and got his sermon for tomorrow, translated and typed it to be read at the service for Americans, took care of twenty-four eye cases in my office, including three refractions. Several of these cases were very interesting. I helped set up the plumbing for our big sterilizer, went to Hospital B in consultation in a mastoid case – had him transported to Hospital A, did paracentesis and had x-ray for mastoid diagnosis. I investigated and fixed blame for discharging a patient to the wrong place, went for mail, wrote two letters of recommendation for commission, conducted summary court, trying a case with several witnesses. And I advised with four ward surgeons on some of their cases.”Much medical knowledge was obtained through this war. For example, Base Hospital number 5 saw such doctors as William Cannon and Harvey Cushing and Ophthalmologist George Derby serve together in the same hospital. The story of Base Hospital Number 5 is good reading from a military medicine point of view. Suggested by none other than William Osler, the base hospital system mobilized teams from across the US to be deployed in forward service Base Hospital 36 was visited by General Pershing and likely lacked the distinction of Base Hospital 5. His opinion of the place was told as follows:
Major Shurley said he would be at Hospital A and meet the General and conduct him through the hospital. I remarked that feeding trays had just come downstairs and were not yet cleaned, but were stacked back of a big screen at one side of the entrance in the kitchen. Shurley didn’t listen. I met the General at the door, saluted and he of course returned it. I then took him to Major Shurley, our Director, who spoke and started showing him around. The General looked and Shurley saluted, then they started out. Things were going fairly well, everything was in good order except the kitchen stoves, which were not burning, and were all torn out trying to repair them while we used field kitchens. That passed after explanation about the coal and showing of samples. Just before the General was through with our building I could see Shurly was bursting. He called attention to the feeding trays for our bed patients and scooted behind the screen to get one to show. The General took it and exclaimed, “Filthy – dirty”, and threw it across the floor, very carefully wiping his hands on a handkerchief. Then came Shurley’s downfall. He tried to explain but the General said, “Get your heels together when you talk to me.” He added a few other remarks and walked off. Shurley was busy for months explaining that his britches bagged at the knees so he could not get his heels together. I heard that when the General went into the Headquarters office, Captain Theodore McGraw, the adjutant, stood there with an overcoat with a fur collar. The General ordered the fur collar off at once. From Hospital A (Central), Pershing, Phillips and McGraw went to Hospital C (the Palace), under Major Channing W. Barrett, a world famous surgeon from Chicago. Barrett met the General at the door, shook hands and took him by the arm to show him around. The General’s comments when he left were that we were very unmilitary and he was sending an official inspector to straighten us out. A few days later the Inspector General and his staff came. They called together the officers of Base Hospital 36 and 23 and lectured us for an hour, telling all the things the General found – dirty, undisciplined, and unmilitary. The crowning insult was when a mere doctor took the General by the arm, as he would any crony, and lead him around the hospital. He talked fast and furious and told us everything the General had found, and that was plenty. Then he dismissed us like whipped school children, and told us to go and clean things up. He was going to make a real inspection. For three days we had an hour’s lecture on how bad we were and how incensed the General was, with an inspection tht would have found a flyspeck on a skylight. That man saw everything and knew how to ask questions. I simply threw myself on his good graces and asked, “Tell me how to make this dirty hotel clean and able to pass your inspection. If it is humanly possible after we have cared for our patients we will do so.” He weakened and said, “You fellows are doing a swell job, but the General expected more strict military discipline and courtesy, but we recognize you are doctors and not soldiers.” He also recognized that Major Barrett was a big a doctor as Pershing was a soldier.Dr Haughey attended undergraduate school at the University of Michigan where he was a demonstrator in chemistry. He also detailed his experiences as a student of Dr. Warthin, a pathologist
"There was a rumor in our class that Dr. Warthin was not a doctor of medicine, but of music. At any rate, he was the most disliked on the faculty. Everyone admitted he was tops in pathology, but he was as unbending as they go. I had his lecture course and supposed I knew the subject. I had a good quiz record, had the work all up to date and was ready for his laboratory course next semester. He gave us a stiff written exam, and then called each one in by himself for an oral. When I cam in he held out his hand, looked my class book record over, says “Good, Haughey, better arrange to come this summer school for your laboratory, then you might make my staff next year.” I made my mistake and a senseless one. I said, “I will not be in your laboratory class, Doctor, I am going to Detroit College of Medicine next September.” He jumped “Why go to that second rate school? I have a notion to flunk you, you are not so good in pathology anyway.” He gave me a passing grade and I continued my Pathology at Detroit"
The first cases of American mustard gas poisoning seen at Base Hospital 36 were seen in 1918. Warthin would in fact later study the effect of mustard gas on the eye, referred to in the Transactions of the American Ophthalmological Society Annual Meeting 1919 "Ocular manifestations following exposure to various types of poisonous gases. Derby 1919
On May 24th we sent two ambulances, with two from Base Hospital 23 and others from various places to Bacarat to pick up patients. Smith and I went along to see the new regions and we went through Bacarat to the regimental hospital about six miles from the front. The roads are all curves, the villages badly damaged and some destroyed. Near the front this latter description held mostly, sometimes mere walls were left standing. We took back with us, sixty gasses patients and many more came later. These were the first American gassed cases, and I was busy for a while with them. The mustard gas still stuck to their clothes. The eyes were swollen shut, very painful and sensitive to light. The noses were swollen shut and the throats raw and parched. Where the gas touched the mucous membrane, or skin, was a raw sore and some patients were a pitiful sight indeed. Some we had to strip and put in a tent-like arrangement with only cotton over them. Some months ago I had begged to go someplace and see what was done with these patients, but without avail. The surgeons went instead. But now I had the patients with these eyes and no help from the surgeons… I washed them out with bicarbonate f soda solution, put in atropine to dilate the pupil and particularly to relieve the spasms and photophobia. Then I used some of Major Shurly’s guiacol carbinate in olive oil as a dressing. My theory was atropine for spasm and oil for dressing, but an alkali to neutralize what mustard gas might be left. The next day these patients were all comfortable, the swelling lessened and the spasm about done. Two days later Col. George Derby, M.D., from Harvard and Inspector of eye cases in the A.E.F., came and wanted to see my “striated corneae”. I did not know what he meant and he said, “You have not studied your cases. The French and British have been caring for these gassed eyes for three years and they find that 25% of them are permanently damaged and have striations on the corneae. You have ninety out of 360 of these cases, let’s see them.” I told him I had no permanently damaged eyes and then we started out on inspection. There were no permanently damaged eyes or striations. Soon he began asking what I had done for them, but I insisted on completing he inspection first, then return to my office and talk. When we were through he demanded to know what I had done and I told him. He said I had disobeyed orders which had been not to use atropine, oil or an alkali. I insisted I had no orders. He said a pamphlet of instructions had been issued, which we found over at headquarters in a pigeonhole. It had never been delivered to me. Col. Derby said he was going on an inspection trip to all the hospitals in the front areas and he would pass along my treatment. Col. Greenwood came to see me a couple of days later and asked to see my gassed eyes. He said headquarters would publish the new treatment for gassed eyes to all the hospitals. He must have done that for a few days later Capt. Page (Indianapolis) Base Hospital 31 called me over the telephone. He said he had just received some gasses eyes and Col. Derby had told him my procedure, but he had forgotten. He had sent over for some of my Guiacol Carbonate in Olive Oil. In the summer of 1919 when the Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology met in Cleveland, some of us attended still in uniform. Drs Greenwood and Derby made a report of the eye service in France. They told of the original treatment and results and said “a Captain atone of the Base Hospitals at the front” did so and so and the eyes all healed so that in the American Army there were none of the striated corneae that were the aftermath of English, French and Italian gas casualties. Some years later in a discussion published in the AMA Journal, Page claimed to have been the one to first use this treatment. I believe that was probably my most valuable contribution to the Science of Medicine. It certainly saved thousands of eyes and as occurs so many times, the credit was meager and even that someone tried to appropriate. Derby and Page are now dead, but Greenwood has confirmed my statements, which are, published records.Unfortunately, and ominously, Haughey reported the following.
While on a service tour with a surgical team at the front, one of our officers saw an exploded gas shell with the manufacturer’s date of 1908, which meant two things. The Germans were preparing for this war ten years ago, and were preparing to use gas at that time.
The pace of care was extreme. For those of us modern ER physicians balking at ER registrations numbering in the 200-300 range during our peak influenza seasons, Haughey writes in 1919...
We received two trainloads of patients from the Verdun section during the day and another during the night. The Meuse Argon offensive was on. It was of terrific force and intensity for days, then would lag and commence again. Searching through my notes and letters home, there is a very marked dearth of material. There were three or four weeks of strenuous work. I remember one particular day when we received over 1,500 patients, three train loads, and evacuated 750 to the rear, to the south of France or to ports of embarkation for return to the United States. Those that came in were given necessary care and some of our staff didn’t have shoes off for three days. We gave anesthetics or operated as long as we could stand, then the mess crew would come along with some hot coffee, a hot steak or something equally as good. We would stop for a few minutes and then go at it again, but the soldiers were taken care of and the work was done. When we could stand no longer we wrote up the histories. I hope some future research man will not be too disappointed when he finds most of our case records rather short. I know I did not waste much time on unessential details, and my man, Averil, who copied this on the typewriter sometimes used his imagination t figure out what I said. Some of those case records (and I have duplicates) I cannot now read myself. During this time we were all busy and short-handed when we had a batch if influenza cases. Each of us had to take over a ward and I had fifty-five cases of influenza, some of them pretty severe, but they all recovered. I had not done general work for eight years but soon got into the routine. The surgery continued every day and this work told conclusively which of our men could stand the gaff and take it, and which could not. We took care of wounds, infected or not. The bacteria in open wounds were always checked before closing. This made them clean and closed them in a remarkably short time. This type of traumatic surgery was a war development and quite an advance over previous practice. I did not think it would prove practical in private practice because of the wide debridement, but it saved much time and is good surgery twenty years later. My own work had developed into real war surgery. We found during the St.Mihiel offensive, and before, that there was a large predominance of head injuries. I had them in quantities, but we had no time to segregate them into one room. There were shots through the face, head, jaws, ears, every conceivable place almost with clean penetrating wounds or jagged tears, with small or large pieces of face, or bone torn away. At one time I had eight serious brain injuries, one of which died of cerebritis with herniation of train tissue the size of a large orange. There were several fractured skulls.
One experience is detailed suggesting the possibility of diphtheria being a bioterrorism agent, a consideration which indeed sprang to Haughey's mind in his recounting.
During the height of the Meuse Argonne drive, starting late in September and continuing most of October, I had a very unusual experience. I mentioned before that I was always at the hospital when patients were coming in. One day we were expecting a trainload from the Meuse Argonne fighting and I was back at the hospital about 2:30 a.m. when they arrived. We were using the large front porch and reception hall as an entrance station. The patients were brought in on stretchers from the train and deposited in long rows until someone (the orderlies or nurses) could see them, make out tags and send them to their places in the hospital. While that was going on I passed along and spoke to each one, enquired about their injury and looked to see which ones required immediate attention, as many did. These were sent first to the dressing room and cared for before going to their beds. Of course we always tried to have some hot soup or coffee for them. This morning along the middle of the line, one of the bouys said he felt “down” and his throat bothered him. Not exactly sore, but felt queer and he felt rotten. He had been getting worse all day. I sent him to my office and soon sent along another with similar complaints. As soon as I could finish my inspection of the trainload, I went back to see these two boys, examined their throats and found a suspicious membrane and an odor I knew. I had our bacteriologist, Lt. Font, called and we made a diagnosis from direct smears of diphtheria. I then routed out the CO headquarters and told my findings. Chamount was called and before daylight a sanitary corps was on the way to the 26th Division in the battle lines of the Argonne and within twenty-four hours I had an additional 127 cases with positive diphtheria cultures. We isolated the wing of the Central Hotel, giving about 150 beds, put in nurses and orderlies and a doctor and started our isolation and care. It was my responsibility, being in charge of Hospital A, so I made three or four tours of that section of the hospital at odd times. We never found the source of that infection. Naturally there was a question as to whether some of the germs had been sent over as a particularly vicious mode of warfare, the same as the first gas attack, but that could never be proved. There was an epidemic in that one division on the fighting front, with no other cases anywhere else.
Transactions of the American Ophthalmological Society Annual Meeting 1919 "Ocular manifestations following exposure to various types of poisonous gases. Derby 1919
Transactions of the 24th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology
A History of US Army Base Hospital No 36
Organization of the US Medical Command