It’s a story that connects all these three. In a meaningful way. A tribute, you could say.
How would you imagine the following three to be linked to a story?
A famous French surgeon who played a critical role during the Napoleonic Wars and changed the course of medicine.
One of the highest rated, iconic TV series in the US television history during the 70’s and 80’s.
And May 27th – that is today.
Let me try.
On the morning of 14th July, 1789, the city of Paris was in a state of alarm. Crowds of angry Parisians gathered outside Bastille, the garrisoned medieval fortress in the heart of the city. The building had become a symbol of royal tyranny for the French revolutionaries who were set to storm it down. As they began storming, the guns from the fortress pounded down. Many perished and hundreds were injured. Amidst all this chaos, very few spotted a young man of 21 years carefully picking up loads of injured, carrying them to an improvised horse carriage and taking them away to safety. It was perhaps the first version of an improvised ambulance.
Dominique Jean Larrey was that young man who was born in a shoemaker family and orphaned at the age of 13. He spent the next 8 years as an apprentice with his surgeon uncle who taught him everything and became the youngest medical officer in the French Royal Navy. He heard Bastille was to be stormed and was ready to save the wounded.
Larrey joined the French army and during the war in 1792 , he noticed the speed with which the carriages of the French flying artillery maneuvered across the battlefields. He then adapts some of them as ambulance volantes or Flying Ambulances for rapid transport of the wounded and manned them with trained crews of drivers, corpsmen and litter bearers. Before this, military ambulances had to wait for the combat to cease before collecting the wounded by which time many soldiers died.
What we now know as the modern medical triage – treating the wounded according to the observed gravity of their injuries and the urgency for medical care, regardless of their rank or nationality – was invented by Dominique Jean Larrey.
A model that is still the basis for the modern emergency medical services.
Larrey fought in all the Napoleonic wars including the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The Duke of Wellington recognized his courage under fire and ordered his troops to not fire in his direction to ‘give the brave man time to gather up the wounded” and saluted “the courage and devotion of an age that is no longer ours“.
After the wars, Larrey worked on increasing the mobility and organization of field hospitals, effectively creating now known as the modern Mobile Army Surgical Units or the M*A*S*H.
And that’s how I connect the great French surgeon to the one of the highest rated TV series in US television history.
M*A*S*H, the American war, comedy and drama TV series aired on CBS from 1972 to 1983. It was originally based on a 1968 novel by Richard Hooker – MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors. The original spin-off was a film but the TV series version became a super hit – an iconic show of its times. The series follows a team of doctors and support staff stationed at the “4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in South Korea during the Korean War.
Ok – MASH units would not have happened without the pioneering efforts of Dominique Jean Larrey – and the TV series showcased the dangerous conditions under which emergency doctors worked in the army.
Which brings me to the last link. May 27th. You should’ve guessed by now May 27th is celebrated worldwide as the Emergency Medicine Day – a day when Emergency Medicine made a beginning in Europe.
The last one year the world has been in one continious emergency. Every doctor has only been handling emergencies. Thousands of doctors have succumbed in their line of duty – and all of them continue to fight to save every single life in that critcal moment that matters.
Respect and Heartfelt Gratitude are the only things that we can offer. This story, in a very small way, is a tribute to them.
Everything about this great French Surgeon – who has not been called the Father of Emergency Medicine – but he is the inventor of triage, battlefield medicine and pretty much everything in medicine that is urgent and saves lives.
If you are from a generation that has missed M*A*S*H, I would urge you to have a look at the back episodes. It started off as a war comedy but has handles many serious issues across many wars.
Some good reading and information on the World Emergency Medicine Day
All pics are courtesy : Wikipedia