Members of the Einstein community have been treating themselves to a special exhibit from the National Library of Medicine (NLM), “Life and Limb: The Toll of the Civil War”, currently on display at the D. Samuel Gottesman Library. The exhibit focuses on the lesser-known stories of soldiers who suffered debilitating injuries during the war and their lives thereafter as disabled veterans.
“We’re very pleased to bring this wonderful exhibit to the Einstein community,” noted Aurelia Minuti, head of reference and educational services in the D. Samuel Gottesman Library. “It serves as both an important lesson in the history of our nation and of medical history.”
“I was engrossed from beginning to end,” noted Dr. Melvin Stone, associate professor of clinical surgery and trauma surgeon at Einstein affiliate Jacobi Medical Center, who also is a medical history enthusiast. “I was amazed to see how much the surgeons of that era accomplished without the basic medical knowledge and techniques that we have at our disposal today.”
He added, “Antibiotics didn’t exist, vastly increasing the risks for life-threatening infection from any injury. And since X-ray wouldn’t be discovered for another 30 years, surgeons had to set and fix fractured bones by feel. Also, the first vascular reconstruction wouldn’t be performed until the late 1890s, making limb salvage rare and extremely difficult for all but the simplest injuries. With these impediments, surgeons had few options outside of amputation to save so many lives.”
While many lives were saved, as the exhibit’s name implies, many limbs were lost in order to save those lives. Statistics cited in the exhibit note that approximately 60,000 surgeries—nearly three-fourths of all operations performed during the war—were amputations.
“Wars have always had a strong influence on medical innovations,” observed Dr. Stone. “Every war has engendered advances in medicine that have ultimately made a significant impact on civilian trauma care as well. For example, while the debate over the usefulness of the tourniquet has existed since Roman times, it was a regular presence in Civil War era medicine.”
In spite of being simple in its approach, a properly engineered tourniquet is extremely effective for controlling bleeding without causing tissue damage. “While it still can be a lifesaver in battlefield situations, as has been demonstrated in the Iraq and Afghanistan war theaters, it’s also widely used by today’s civilian emergency medical service crews,” noted Dr. Stone.
“Life and Limb: The Toll of the Civil War” will remain on display in the library through Sunday, September 14, 2014. The offering is the fifth from the NLM’s collection of traveling exhibits to be displayed at Einstein. Previous exhibits have included: “Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons;" "The Literature of Prescription: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and 'The Yellow Wall-Paper;” "Harry Potter's World: Renaissance, Science, Magic and Medicine;” and "Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine."
Admission is free and open to the public. For additional information, contact the library reference desk at 718-430-3104.
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