The relationship between humans and climate is a topic of universal interest. Coping with climatic stress will become a major issue for the world as climate change increases the severity of weather events.
Keeping it all in perspective is important and that is why I have included the following extract from a Symposium organised by the National Academy of Science in Washington in 1952.
The article is titled Practical Medical Problems of Army Operations Under Climatic Stress and the paper was presented by LT. COL, H. E. Ratcliffe from the Surgeon General’s office.
“The primary mission of the Army Medical Service is to conserve manpower. This is evidenced, I think, by the inscription that is placed on the emblem of Medical Corps soldiers which says, “To conserve the fighting strength.”
Every one of the activities of the Army Medical Service is so directed that man and his environment is singled
out as the primary problem of the Army Medical Service.
In looking at our mission of conserving the fighting strength, we are concerned not only with the administration of pills for illnesses, the setting of fractured bones, and the removal of missiles, but also with those aspects of medicine related to the prevention of disease and injury.
I think this is evidenced by the very excellent record the Army Medical Service has made in programs such as immunization, and the sanitary measures which have led to a tremendous reduction in diseases.
So far, I have only given a prelude to what we consider to be the over-all mission of the Army Medical Services, and this brings us quickly to the problem of climatic stress. But, here we are talking about the effect of climatic stress on man. We are concerned primarily with whether or not man is able satisfactorily to withstand these climatic stresses.
If man breaks down under climatic stresses, he becomes a problem of the Medical Service. If he breaks down, he has a disease, whether it be physical or mental, and it is the Medical Service’s particular mission at that time to see to it that this man is properly treated, rehabilitated, and returned to duty.
To expand this further, we are interested not only in preventing the effects of climatic stress on man, but also in the broader problem of making it possible for that man to perform to his maximum efficiency under the adverse conditions of climatic stress or any other type of stress under the worst possible conditions of warfare.
It is only by so doing that we can hope to keep a man in the fighting line rather than in the hospital where he becomes a problem of treatment and rehabilitation.
We know that climatic stress as well as many other types of stresses may lead to such conditions as anorexia, nutritional deficiency, decreased resistance to infection, and physical exhaustion. Stress also can contribute directly to shock and, in some cases, to death.
We are interested not only in climatic stress as a separate entity, but also in all kinds of stresses that may confront the individual under conditions of combat. These may include anything from home-sickness to caloric deficiency.
When we add all varieties of climatic stress to other stresses, we have a composite situation likely to lead to an increase in the effect of disease and injury.
Because of this tremendous interest in stress on the part of The Surgeon General, the Medical Research and Development Board, Office of The Surgeon General, requested the Division of Medical Sciences of the National Research Council to appoint a special group, the Ad Hoc Committee on Stress.
This Committee asked us to tell them in broad general terms the Army’s medical problems in the field of stress. We formulated three broad questions:
First, how can stress be measured in order to adequately differentiate the relatively stressed from the relatively nonstressed individual. We are faced with the problem of trying to determine when an individual himself or a group of individuals might break down under the composite group of stresses to which men are subjected in warfare; an answer to this question would give us some measure of individual stress as compared to other men in the group.
Second, what can be done to increase the soldier’s ability to withstand stress? In accord with our time-honored mission of preventive medicine, we are interested in determining whether or not we can increase a man’s ability to withstand stress and thereby make him available longer for combat missions.
Third, what can be done to eliminate or alleviate the adverse effects of stress on the soldier? This question was designed to elicit data for the therapeutic phase of this program.
We are also concerned with such things as being able to alter the man’s metabolism or his responses to stress in such a way that a division commander or Army commander could commit men to combat when the men were known to have been greatly stressed. This is a military necessity in certain situations.
These questions were considered thoroughly by the Ad Hoc Committee on Stress. They tried to come up with specific answers.
Unfortunately, we have not yet received satisfactory answers to these questions—neither from the over-all standpoint of stress nor from the standpoint of climatic stress.
We are still interested in the answers, but we think that it is relatively impossible to consider an isolated stress, whether it be cold or the tropical jungle.
We have to consider the total man picture here—to consider the psychological effects on the man as well as the physical effects. We must try to determine whether or not we can evolve ways and means of altering responses in the direction of better body economy.
I have purposely talked only in broad generalities. We have many specific problems in climatic stress. For example, recently we have been particularly concerned with our inability to handle patients in the Arctic and subarctic.
Realizing that we are faced with an international rival who is accustomed to cold, and has frequently fought in the cold, and has consistently defeated his enemies in the cold, we must take the view that we probably will be forced to fight in the cold, and probably not on roads but in the deep snow, mountains, gorges, or perhaps on the barrens and subarctic.
One of our immediate problems is to develop a medical service capable of following the combat infantryman off the roads in the Arctic and subarctic and providing for him a satisfactory medical service. This means that we have to get to the patient in a hurry, because an injured patient in the Arctic can withstand his injury and the cold for only minutes rather than for hours.
We know that we have to develop satisfactory ways and means of evacuating him from the area after we find him. At present there are really no satisfactory methods for even finding him. In the blinding blizzards of the Arctic one cannot see an individual, especially when he is camouflaged with white so that he melts together with the snow.
One of our immediate problems then is to mark the individual so that we can find him. After we get to him we have to transport him to a medical installation which can provide good medical care.”Trackback URL