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The year 1831 was very significant to the advancement of medical technology. It was the year of the first documented use of an intravenous fluid. It was administered to increase the intravascular volume to treat the signs and symptoms of hypovolemia. (1-4) In 1831, during the cholera epidemic in England, Drs Thomas Latta and Robert Lewins of London injected a saline solution guided by the pulse of hypovolemic cholera patients. Dr Lewins wrote in The Lancet about his experience with one patient:
   The patient's pulse at the commencement was 180, very
   small and feeble. She was excessively restless, with a
   feeling of great weakness and tormenting thirst. Before
   12 oz had been injected, the pulse began to improve; it
   became fuller and slower, and it continued to improve,
   until, after 58 oz had been injected, it was down to 110. (3)

Since this introduction of a saline-based intravenous fluid, how has the medical technology advanced that we are using prehospital on the battlefield prior to getting combat wounded to a surgical facility?

While the technology to locate, track, and destroy our enemies has taken huge strides since 1831, our prehospital technology to help save life and limb has not kept pace. Satellites, global positioning systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, and lasers are just a few of the new technologies placed on the modern battlefield; the modern combat medic is, on the other hand, using technology that has barely advanced since 1831. Highlighting the technologic advances in combat arms to the individual medic level, one only need look at the medic's semiautomatic sidearm, assault rifle (with electronic sights/laser), and night vision goggles, and then compare them to the flintlock rifle and flintlock pistol used in 1831. To illustrate the "technological divide," we must look at the medical technology available to combat medics today.

Guided by the tenets of Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC), the training of medics today has greatly improved. (5) The equipment manufactured for use by combat medics is lighter and is engineered with great advances. In contrast, when analyzed by comparing anatomic injury diagnostic and treatment capabilities, the actual technology of the diagnostic and treatment options available on the battlefield does not reveal many great advances since 1831.


Retrospective analysis indicates that the major causes of "potentially survivable" injuries resulting in death on the battlefield (killed in action) and after reaching a surgical facility (died of wounds) are truncal hemorrhage, "junctional" hemorrhage (axilla, groin, neck), extremity hemorrhage, airway, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and tension pneumothorax.6,7 Other areas of concern to combat medics include shock diagnosis, guidance of shock resuscitation, pain control, and remote triage.


Truncal Penetrating "Noncompressible Hemorrhage" Injury

In combat, hemorrhage is the cause in 83% to 87% of all such potentially survivable deaths. Of these deaths, approximately 50% are due to noncompressible hemorrhage from penetrating truncal injury. (6,7) The combat medic, when treating penetrating truncal (chest, abdomen, and/or pelvis) trauma on the battlefield, first diagnoses hemorrhagic shock by doing a manual check of the character of the patient's radial pulse and/or mental status (in the absence of TBI). (5) Upon diagnosis of shock, the combat medic then administers an intravascular volume expander, either the starch based colloid Hextend (Hospira, Inc, Lake Forest, Illinois), Lactated Ringers (LR), or normal saline (NS) via an intravenous or intraosseous (IO) catheter. Since intravascular fluid administration is the only treatment option currently available to treat penetrating truncal trauma, and since there are no level I data that demonstrate improved efficacy of Hextend over LR or NS in the exsanguinating trauma patient in the prehospital setting, we cannot state that the technology to resuscitate/treat noncompressible truncal hemorrhage has advanced since 1831. (4) Nor can we say that the technology available to the combat medic to diagnose hemorrhagic shock was not available in 1831. The addition of the IO infusion route is a clear technologic advance in the patient without an antecubital vein for intravenous catheter insertion (rare) or, in certain tactical situations, due to white light restrictions.

Junctional Hemorrhage (Compressible, Nontourniquetable)

Current management of hemorrhage from areas that can be manually compressed but not amenable to tourniquet placement are described as compressible and nontourniquetable. These areas include the proximal femoral artery, distal iliac artery, axillary artery, and the carotid artery. Current management of these injuries includes manual compression with a hemostatic agent (currently Combat Gauze (Combat Medical Systems, Fayetteville, NC) is recommended by TCCC). (8,9) Hemostatic agents represent a clear advance in technology over cloth bandage in 1831 as evidenced by animal data.

Extremity Exsanguination

During the "Victory of the Nile" * in 1798, a young French Midshipman recalled,
   ... the conflagration soon began to rage with dreadful
   fury... the French Commander-in-Chief, having lost
   both his legs, was seated with tourniquets on the
   stumps, in an armchair facing his enemy ... (10)

And thus, our most important prehospital technology that has saved thousands of wounded Warriors in current overseas contingency operations is based on technology available over 200 years ago, an example of which is shown in the Figure. (8,11,12)

Tension Pneumothorax

Tension pneumothorax is the cause of death in approximately 5% of combat wounded with potentially survivable injuries. (7) On the battlefield today, a combat medic diagnoses a tension pneumothorax from observing the patient and, if feasible, by auscultation with a stethoscope. Dyspnea, distended Jugular veins, hypotension, and decreased unilateral breath sounds are the major findings for the diagnosis.

The stethoscope was invented in 1816 by Rene Laennec in Paris, France. (13) Since that time the stethoscope has improved but the basic technology has not. Physical exam and auscultation were available in 1831.

The treatment of a tension pneumothorax on the battlefield involves needle decompression by placing a hollow needle through the second intercostals space in the midclavicular line. (8)

The first documentation of intravenous blood transfusion and intravenous pain medication administration is credited to Sir Christopher Wren in 1665 when he administered Opium via a sharpened quill to a dog. (14) Since that time, multiple modifications have been made, including the invention of a hollow metal needle by Francis Rynd in 1844. (15)

The technology of observation, radial pulse determination, and auscultation to diagnose a tension pneumothorax were all available skills and technology available in 1831. And while the sterile decompression needles used today on the battlefield are an improvement over a sharpened hollow quill, the basic technology of decompressing a pleural cavity was available in 1831.


Current guidelines for the management of hemothorax include diagnosis by physical exam and auscultation, and treatment with intravenous fluids and ventilator assistance with bag valve mask. (5) The bag valve mask is clearly a technological advance, although there is no prospective data that demonstrates its use results in a mortality benefit in patients with a hemothorax.


Open Pneumothorax ("Sucking" Chest Wound)

Current management guidelines for combat medics are to seal an open chest wound with an occlusive dressing and then observe for signs of a tension pneumothorax. (8) Upon diagnosing a tension pneumothorax, the dressing is to be removed to allow for decompression. In 1823, Charles Macintosh applied for a patent for a waterproof cloth made with a rubber layer. (16) And thus, a chest seal material technology was available before 1831.


Intravenous morphine is the most common analgesic administered on the battlefield. (17) Narcotic analgesics based on opium were widely available before 1831.


... I flamed the bug and tossed a grenade and the hole closed up, then turned to see what had happened to Dutch. He was down but he didn't look hurt. A platoon Sergeant can monitor the physicals of every man in his platoon, sort out the dead from those who merely can't make it unassisted and must be picked up. But you can do the same thing manually from switches right on the belt of a man's suit. Dutch did not answer when I called him. His body temperature read ninety-nine degrees, his respiration, heartbeat, and brain waves read zero ...

Starship Troopers (18)

The ability to know when soldiers are injured would help identify and locate wounded and maximize the time challenged opportunity to intervene. In 1831, as on the battlefields of 2010, the call of "MEDIC" is the most common way to remotely triage the wounded from those who are not.


A review of the Joint Theater Trauma Registry reveals that less than 10% of entered patients had any prehospital data, and that less than 1% had actionable information documented. (8) Currently, prehospital documentation is obtained by manually completing a TCCC card. The technology to fill out a TCCC card is basically a pen and paper--both available in 1831.


The medic on the battlefield uses physical examination to diagnose hemorrhagic shock and to guide resuscitation. Physical examination was available in 1831.


It is certain that manufacturing, training, and some areas of battlefield care have advanced since 1831, but, as shown in the Table, the majority of anatomic injury diagnostic and therapeutic technologies have not.


Penetrating Truncal Trauma

Intravenous fluids that allow for life-sustaining perfusion and oxygen delivery while ameliorating the acute coagulopathy of trauma could allow for extension of time until exsanguination and the severe effects of ischemia associated with the lethal triad and subsequent risk of death. (4,19-21)

Junctional (Compressible, Nontourniquetable) Hemorrhage

While current hemostatic agents represent a clear technological advance since 1831, the US military is only on the second generation of hemostatics. From a historical perspective, the future will most likely provide great improvement in these agents. A mechanical compression device for these junctional areas may also provide greater hemostatic capability in the near future.

Monitors for Diagnosing Hemorrhagic Shock

The medic on the battlefield uses physical examination, whereas the medic on an evacuation platform uses standard vital signs, both which, due to compensatory mechanisms, diagnose shock after significant blood loss (class III shock after loss of approximately one-third of total blood volume). With advances in resuscitation strategies, the ability to diagnose hemorrhagic shock before it is obvious and to guide that resuscitation over time will maximize the ability of combat medics to diagnose and treat combat wounded.

Remote Damage Control Resuscitation

As technologies for diagnosis and treatment for combat wounded become available, the remote presence of a physician, physician assistant, or any available professional with trauma expertise may offer an option for the medic. This capability option may offer the maximal application of the new technologies.

Tension Pneumothorax, Hemothorax, and Open Thoracic Wounds

The diagnosis of tension pneumothorax/hemothorax and laterality can be a major challenge to even the most seasoned traumatologist, especially in the face of concomitant blood loss. The diagnosis and treatment of tension pneumothorax on the battlefield today uses human skills and technology available in 1831. To improve the diagnostic accuracy and to monitor for recurrence, the advent of a pneumothorax/hemothorax detection system that is very small and of light weight would be a significant advance. Chest seals for open chest wounds with one-way valves would help decrease the chances of a recurrent pneumothorax and decrease the chances of having the medic decide whether or not to remove the dressing in the challenging patient with a sealed open chest wound. Safe methods for hemothorax/ pneumothorax release with apposition of the visceral and parietal pleura would seal off many sources of intrathoracic hemorrhage and air leak.

Battlefield Pain Control

Nonnarcotic pain control that allows for pain relief but that maintain the sensorium and judgment would turn the injured combatant on the battlefield from a liability to a potential force protection adjunct.

Hypothermia Prevention

Current hypothermia active warming blankets are clearly better than wool blankets. (22) Future blankets will have improved ability to prevent heat loss and will progressively decrease in weight and volume.

Prehospital Documentation

Prehospital documentation of patient vital signs and therapeutic interventions with duration will maximize the admitting physician's ability to treat combat wounded. In civilian trauma, the documentation of accurate prehospital vital signs is associated with an improved outcome. (23) Recording prehospital vital sign trends is the first technologic goal.

For process improvement, a postevent, Web-based thorough reporting of all actions and life saving interventions used by the combat medic will provide the data needed to assist in training and overall assessment of prehospital medic performance. The 75th Ranger Regiment has such a Web-based program, the Prehospital Trauma Registry.


Our efforts to advance the technology available for combat medics must be made in concert with the end-user, the combat medic. "Buy-in" from medics is essential to the successful placement of all new devices and techniques. The size and volume of all advances must be within the capabilities of the medic and en route personnel to actually carry the equipment. Combat medics must be brought into the process of development of new battlefield technologies for them as early as possible.


The prehospital arena represents the geographic area with the greatest potential to improve care with advances in technology for wounded Warriors as they make the long journey from point of injury to rehabilitation in the continental United States.


(1.) Awads AS, Lobo D. The history of 0.9% saline. Clin Nutr. 2008;27:179-188.

(2.) Latta T. Malignant cholera. Documents communicated by the central board of health, London, relative to the treatment of cholera by the copious injection of aqueous and saline fluids into the veins. Lancet. 1832;18:274-277.

(3.) Lewins R. Injection of saline solutions in extraordinary quantities into the veins of malignant cholera. Lancet. 1832;18:243-244.

(4.) Blackbourne LH, Czarnik J, Mabry R, Eastridge BJ, Baer D, Butler F, Pruitt B. Decreasing killed in action and died of wounds rates in combat wounded. J Trauma. 2010;69(suppl 1):S1-S4.

(5.) Butler FK, Giebner SD, McSwain NE, eds: Prehospital Trauma Life Support Manual-Military Edition: Tactical Field Care. 7th ed. Akron, Ohio: Mosby. In press.

(6.) Kelly J, Ritenour A, McLaughlin D, et al. Injury severity and cause of death from operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom: 2003-2004 versus 2006. J Trauma. 2008;64(suppl 1):S21-S27.

(7.) Holcomb J, McMullin N, Pearse L, et al. Causes of death in U.S. special operations forces in the global war on terrorism 2001-2004. Ann Surg. 2007;245:986-991.

(8.) Butler F. Tactical combat casualty care: update 2009. J Trauma. 2010;69(suppl 1):S10-S13.

(9.) Kheirabadi BS, Scherer MR, Estep JS, et al. Determination of efficacy of new hemostatic dressings in a model of extremity arterial hemorrhage in swine. J Trauma. 2009;67:450-460.

(10.) Jones S, Gosling J. Nelson's Way. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing; 2005.

(11.) Kragh JF, Walters TJ, Baer DG, et al. Survival with emergency tourniquet use to stop bleeding in major limb trauma. Ann Surg. 2009;249:1-7.

(12.) Tien HC, Jung V, Rizoli SB, Acharya SV, MacDonald JC. An evaluation of tactical combat casualty care interventions in a combat environment. J Spec Oper Med. 2009;9(1):65-68.

(13.) Lyons AS, Petrucelli RJ. Medicine: An Illustrated History. New York: Abradale Press; 1987.

(14.) Pearce D. Sir Christopher Wren. BLTC Research Web site. Available at: Accessed October 29,2010.

(15.) Rosenhek J. Needle trade: believe it or not, the simple syringe was centuries in the making. Doctor's Review [serial online]. March 2009. Available at: Accessed October 29, 2010.

(16.) Charles Macintosh, chemist and inventor. Today in Science History [serial online]. Available at: Accessed October 29, 2010.

(17.) Holbrook TL, Galarneau MR, Dye JL, Quinn K, Dougherty AL. Morphine use after combat injury in Iraq and posttraumatic stress disorder. N Engl J Med. 2010;362(2):110-117.

(18.) Heinlein RA. Starship Troopers. New York: Ace Books; 1959.

(19.) Alam HB, Bice LM, Butt MU, et al. Testing of blood products in a polytrauma model: results of a multi-institutional randomized preclinical trial. J Trauma. 2009 Oct;67(4):856-864.

(20.) Brohi K, Cohen MJ, Ganter MT, Matthay MA, Mackersie RC, Pittet JF. Acute Traumatic Coagulopathy: Initiated by Hypoperfusion Modulated Through the Protein C Pathway? Ann Surg. 2007 May;245(5):812-818.

(21.) Krishna G, Sleigh JW, Rahman H. Physiological predictors of death in exsanguinating trauma patients undergoing conventional trauma surgery. Aust N Z J Surg. 1998;68(12):826-829.

(22.) Allen PB, Salyer ST, Dubick MA, Holcomb JB, Blackbourne LH. Preventing hypothermia: comparison of current devices used by the US Army in an in vitro warmed fluid model. J Trauma. 2010:69 (suppl 1):S154-S161.

(23.) Laudermilch DJ, Schiff MA, Nathens AB, Rosengart MR. Lack of emergency medical service documentation is associated with poor patient outcomes: a validation of audit filters for prehospital trauma care. J Am Coll Surg. 2010;210:220-227.

COL Lorne H Blackbourne, MC, USA

* In August 1798, the English fleet, under Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson, destroyed the French Mediterranean fleet anchored in Aboukir Bay at Alexandria, Egypt.

COL Blackbourne is Commander, US Army Institute of Surgical Research, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Comparison of available diagnostic and treatment technologies
for the battlefield available in 1831 compared to 2010.

                       Available        Available         Available
                       Diagnostic       Diagnostic        Treatment
                       Technology      Technology        Technology
    Diagnosis             1831             2010             1831

Penetrating          Physical exam    Physical exam    Crystalloid
truncal injury

Intravenous access                                     Sharpened

Extremity arterial   Physical exam    Physical exam    Tourniquet

Junctional           Physical exam    Physical exam    Cloth packing

Tension              Physical exam,   Physical exam,   Decompression
pneumothorax         auscultation     auscultation     with sharpened

Open chest wound     Physical exam    Physical exam    Waterproof

Hemothorax           Physical exam,   Physical exam,   Intravenous
                     auscultation     auscultation     fluid

Traumatic Brain      Physical exam    Physical exam    None

Hypothermia          Physical exam,   Physical exam,   Wool blanket
prevention           thermometer      thermometer

Prehospital                                            Pen and paper

Pain control         Physical exam    Physical exam    Opium

Remote Triage                                          Voice

Monitors for Shock   Physical exam    Physical exam
and resuscitation

                         Available           Major
                         Treatment        Technologic
    Diagnosis         Technology 2010      Advance?

Penetrating          Crystalloid or           NO
truncal injury       colloid

Intravenous access   Intraosseous             YES

Extremity arterial   Tourniquet               NO

Junctional           Combat Gauze             YES

Tension              Decompression            NO
pneumothorax         with hollow

Open chest wound     Plastic sealant          NO

Hemothorax           Intravenous              NO
                     fluid, bag valve
                     mask ventilation

Traumatic Brain      None                     NO

Hypothermia          Active warming           YES
prevention           systems

Prehospital          Pen and paper            NO

Pain control         Morphine                 NO

Remote Triage        Voice                    NO

Monitors for Shock                            NO
and resuscitation
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Author:Blackbourne, Lorne H.
Publication:U.S. Army Medical Department Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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