The registrar department consisted of thirty men who never knew whether they were going to be admitting fifty or five hundred patients in a given day. These men were charged with processing the majority of the hospital paperwork, which was a twenty-four hour-a-day operation.
At anytime, the thirteen individuals who worked in the medical supply department were expected to produce one of the five thousand items that ranged from potassium permanganate to pie plates. This division was divided into warehouse, office, issue room, repair shop, forms and linen exchange sections to tackle the daunting task of outfitting a three thousand patient facility. There was also a strong room where gold, narcotics, and liquor were stored. Due to the desperation of staff members to acquire materials for their jobs, the medical supply department erected barricades and instituted the policy that items could only be taken out with issue slips.
Organizing equipment in the supply room
The physical therapists of the 12th General Hospital played an influential role in the rehabilitation of the patients. They used a variety of methods such as massage, the whirlpool, exercises, and infrared therapy. While their case load was predominately filled with those recovering from fractures and leg wounds, physical therapists also worked with patients with trench feet, abdominal injuries, sciatica, and pulmonary diseases.
Outside the pharmacy in Ain-el-Turck
The 12th General Hospital pharmacy contained nearly every medication that a drugstore in the United States would carry. Along with filling prescriptions, the pharmacists and technicians were responsible for acquiring the drugs and making stock solutions.
The cast team, which consisted of enlisted men, played an important role in treating the 12th General Hospital’s orthopedic cases. In Ain-el-Turk, they were set up in a primitive garage next to Ward 22 and the operating room. An enlisted man, who had experience working with plaster in civilian life, handled the technicalities of rolling plaster and stripping crinoline. He then made a rolling box that plastered the bandage as it was rolled and a circular drum upon which molds could be fashioned. A block and tackle arrangement was created so body jackets could be applied, and one type of cast was even applied with the patient hanging by his heels from the ceiling. In Rome, the cast team, which was located on the third floor of the hospital, altered its workflow. They occasionally applied casts and splints in the operating room following a surgery, but more frequently they tended to patients in an adjacent room where they were assisted by a nurse and anesthesiologist. In Livorno, they continued to devise methods to make the process more efficient. Over the course of World War II, the cast team became so adept that all they had to be told was what and where the fracture was located in order to know what type of cast should be applied and what position to place it. The surgeon George Bradburn later recalled, “Our medical staff had complete confidence in their ability and were never disappointed in their expectations.”
Although physicians joked about the psychiatric cases they would receive during their survey courses at Fort Custer, they evaluated many patients for mental and emotional disorders during their tour of duty. Most patients having experienced battle exhibited some type of anxiety or psychosomatic response making it difficult to differentiate between those with a mental illness and those who were traumatized by war.
The dental service, originally comprised of seven faculty members of Northwestern Dental School, collaborated closely with the medical, surgical, x-ray divisions. These military dentists performed similar work to their civilian counterparts including fillings, extractions, minor oral surgery, and creating appliances to restore missing teeth, which was a significant reason for rejecting volunteers from joining the American Armed Forces. During an eight-month period, the prosthetic lab made 1,145 dentures and bridges. The maxillo-facial department, which was associated with the dental service, trained for treating war-related injuries but ended up caring for more cases of accidents.
Two technicians ran the blood bank. Their responsibilities included preparing phlebotomy sets, drawing blood, preparing cross matches, typing blood, and maintaining records. These technicians had to be careful to ensure the blood was not taken from those with syphilis, malaria, and epidemic hepatitis and that it was stored at the proper temperature, which was a difficult feat with kerosene operated refrigeration. After witnessing the positive effects of whole blood and plasma transfusions with surgery cases, the Transfusion Service had to offer patients two shots of whisky as an enticement to donate the requisite amount of blood to meet a growing demand.
A staff of approximately fourteen recruits manned the roentgenologic department. After taking classes in radiographic anatomy, electricity, and high voltage vacuum tubes at Forts Custer and Benjamin Harrison, the technicians were ready to take, read, and file medical images. Following the invasion of southern France, 12th General Hospital personnel were responsible for taking and exposing 300 to 400 x-rays a day. This division encountered numerous challenges while stationed abroad. In Ain-el-Turck, where medical services were distributed among 105 villas over ¾ of a mile on three different sea levels, transporting patients to get their x-rays proved to be difficult. Compatibility of x-ray machines with the Italian grid as well as the need to produce more electricity than the buildings were designed for resulted in the installation of four 30,000 watt diesel-driven generators to power the roentgenologic department and the equipment in the operating rooms.
The laboratory and pathology section, consisted of enlisted men and officers, who were frequently chosen to serve in this capacity due to their hobby of building model airplanes. It was thought that anyone with that level of patience to engage in such meticulous work could endure the tedium of a medical laboratory. At Fort Custer, the enlisted men attended training classes and gained practical experience at the station hospital where they were exposed to blood and urine analyses, blood typing, bacteriology, and serology. The hepatitis outbreak proved to be a formidable opportunity for the enlisted men to hone their newly acquired skills. When they arrived at Fort Benjamin Harrison, the laboratory and pathology section were divided among the lab of the base, the station hospital lab, and the corps area lab. Some of the technicians attended school to learn how to manage a laboratory and conduct more complicated tests. On average, this section that operated twenty-four hours a day while stationed in Ain-el-Turck, Rome, and Livorno, performed 7 to 10 thousand individual tests per month. They executed relatively few autopsies, which was partially due to the fact that many patients in critical condition never made it to a general hospital or died of complications once they returned to America. The section also conducted a low number of surgical biopsies given the young, physically fit patient population. In Naples, 12th General Hospital laboratory technicians joined other units, but several of these individuals were involved in diagnosing venereal disease through dark field examinations and smears at the Victor Emanuel Caserma.
Venereal disease in any war tends to be rampant among troops. What differentiated World War II from prior military conflicts were the concentrated efforts to treat those with sexually-transmitted diseases in order to put those men back on the front lines. At Fort Harrison, thirty-five enlisted men and four officers from the 12th General Hospital helped care for more than 900 patients. Many of those patients were dealing with chronic gonorrhea that was sulfamide resistant. In Northern Africa, the Army established a tent facility in St. Barb, Algeria for treating venereal disease. The destruction of Naples led many desperate Italian women to prostitution thereby expediting the spread of infection, but there were also many cases of re-occurring gonorrhea. Although the Venereal Disease Center was attached to the 180th Station Hospital, it was managed by the 12th General Hospital Unit. Later the 12th General Hospital personnel helped run a 2,400-cot facility called the Victor Emanuel Caserma in Naples that housed and administered preliminary treatment to patients with venereal disease before they were sent to the 182nd Station Hospital to receive penicillin.
Courtyard of the Victor Emanuel Caserma