Sunday, February 16, 2014

Civil War Dressings

by Janet King, RN, BSN, CCRN.

After the wounds had been assessed by the surgeon, cleaned and surgery performed if needed, some type of dressing was applied. These dressings were meant to protect the wound against "contamination" but in reality, probably hurt more than helped.

Lint was a common dressing material. It was obtained from supposedly clean cloth. The lint was often applied wet, then covered with a piece of gauze muslin and held in place by an adhesive plaster. The dressing would then be kept wet as some felt it essential to keep the wound "clean and sweet." Neither the lint nor the water nor the caregiver's hands were sterile and many infections no doubt resulted from this. The "cool" water and ice that was often used in conjunction with these dressings no doubt had some soothing effect and would have decreased swelling to some extent - at least initially.

Poultices were sometimes used, especially when the surgeon felt there would be a value in "encouraging suppuration." Wounds were expected to produce pus. The doctors termed this "laudable pus."

Dressings were reused in some cases, greatly increasing the spread of infections. Doctors, nurses and other attendants, i.e. laundry workers, were sometimes infected as well by coming into contact with infected dressings and linens.

Changing dressings frequently in hospitals crowded with wounded soldiers proved impossible and this sad fact also greatly increased the infection rates of surgical cases, as well as leading to worsening of infections.



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