2nd Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

"I ask sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people except for a few politicians."
- George Mason (father of the Bill of Rights and The Virginia Declaration of Rights)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bite the Bullet..random image from shopping tonight (slightly NSFW)

I am calling this “slightly NSFW” due to some graphic images..I normally don’t do this, but its goes along with the post.  Sorry in advance if anyone is offended.

So I see this thing while shopping with the wife tonight. No, we weren't at a gun shop, we were at a store called "Home Place" which sells home furnishings...

I know the person who made this was just probably thinking about some phrase that people would easily recognize that contained a readily identifiable picture..two problems though..

  1. Technically, the picture is of a round of ammunition commonly called a "cartridge", which while containing a bullet at the tip of the cartridge, is incorrect as nomenclature for us "gunnies"..
  2. The other thing is I wonder if the "artist" pondered the true meaning of the phrase "to bite the bullet" before they decided it was a statement meant to decorate someone's home?

Battlefield surgery has often been a gruesome endeavor. Early medical practitioners of the Roman legions were just as opt to help and assist a wounded legionnaire fall on his sword and die with honor on the field of battle as opposed to dying in a fetid hospital tent and being a drain on the resources of his legion days or weeks later. As firearms became the primary arm in fighting wars new and even more horrific fates awaited soldiers on battlefields across the globe. In its infancy, the musket usually fired a relatively slow and heavy round ball into its target. These rounds did not travel accurately over very far distances and quite a few battles were actually won by the use of the bayonet charge after the initial volley fire was accomplished. During the American Revolution, even the balls fired by the famous Kentucky rifles used at the time were only accurate out to a bit over 100 yards by most people. These round balls eventually became pointed and evolved into the Minie Ball of Civil War fame. This round, while still quite large, was far ballistically superior to its predecessor and could be accurate out to 300 - 400 yards or more by a trained rifleman. In addition they carried extreme amounts of energy due to their size and velocity.

If you were to take either a musket ball or Minie ball to an arm or a leg you were almost surely in trouble. The heavy rounds were known to splinter bone and flesh with great effect. Like I said before, battlefield medicine was a gruesome affair in these days. Vascular surgery and antibiotics were still a long way from being thought of, so in most cases a wound of this magnitude meant only one thing if the patient wanted any chance to survive..amputation.

An obviously staged picture of an amputation.  The lack of carnage and other casualties around the surgeon and him being in his field dress uniform are give aways.

Despite the reputation of being "hacks"..as in "hacking off a limb", most surgeons during the civil war were actually quite skilled. The image of the "hack" has more to do with the sheer volume that these surgeons had to deal with, compounded by the fact that unlike today with skilled medics and "combat life savers" in units, the surgeon was usually the only trained medical professional on the battlefield. They had to act as their own triage, surgery and recovery doctor..all at the same time. Because of this the amputation became a tried and trusted treatment program for extremity injuries that might (and often did) prove fatal if left untreated. When there was obvious signs of massive bone and tissue damage or when the disgusting stench of infection was noted an amputation offered an relatively quick and effective (as in better than doing nothing) method for dealing with the carnage.

In short, as opposed to just simply cutting straight through the limb, a series of large slices were made in the flesh of the wound longitudily along the axis of the limb and pulled back, much like the petal of a flower. These flaps provided material to wrap over the end of the stump and sutured to cover it permantly. Once these cuts were complete the surgeon would saw through the remaining tissue and bone with a saw and tie off the major arteries. While it sounds gruesome (it was) and time consuming, some surgeons became quite adept to it as their "bread and butter" technique and could perform them quickly and with ease...often at the chagrin of the patient who would rather not have to undergo the procedure. The patient is where the "bite the bullet" phrase starts to come into this story...

A typical amputation kit of the type used during the civil war, its tools were designed to be as efficient as possible to limit the suffering of the patient..they fell far short of this goal unfortunately.

The result of a days work by a surgeon of the battlefield of almost any engagement of the war..

Before the civil war the use of chloroform was common place for some surgeries of the period. Generally an assistant would place a cloth over the patients face and drip some chloroform onto it which the patient would be instructed to deeply inhale. This would (hopefully) cause a deep but non-lethal anesthetic affect on them long enough for the surgeon to do their job. Unfortunately for most civil war soldiers, there was usually not enough to go around or even available for battlefield surgery. In addition the use of chloroform on a patient who may already be dying due to hypovolemic shock would not be inclined to have a favorable outcome anyway.

If you were fortunate enough to have a compassionate person caring for you, you might get some "Class 6" material (alcohol to you civilians) to dull the pain and then the cutting would begin. Often a piece of wood or a lead bullet would be given to the patient to bite and bear down on while the operation proceeded. The lead used in bullets was somewhat soft and would give slightly under the most severe pressure from the patients jaw and hopefully give before a tooth did. Luckily for many, shock and the bodies response to severe pain often rendered them unconscious. Either way the term "biting the bullet" came to mean a task that had to be done despite the unpleasant consequences or experience of completing it.

"John decided to bite the
and buy the 4 new snow tires for his family van rather than
risk driving in snow with his family this year."
Despite the mortality rate (or probably more accurately the massive number of casualties in the war) many amputees did indeed survive and live for many years past the conflict. The sight of amputees across the country was quite commonplace for many years. Without any type of "VA" type benefits many of these amputees were often left as beggars and side show freaks for the remainder of their lives.

No SGLI insurance for this guy or his family…poor guy…I hope his life was as easy as it could have been for him.

So next time someone causally throws out "bite the bullet" or you see a piece of home decor with this colorful expression on it I hope you take a second and remember the warriors (on both sides) that truly endured the horror of "bitting the bullet" and be thankful that men still stand today in their place willing to put themselves in harms way for us.


If any of these pictures have troubled you, I am sorry. War is not pretty and I felt the images were necessary to convey my message. If you would like to help wounded warriors of today's conflict I encourage you to click on the Wounded Warrior Project emblem below to be taken to their site where you may securely donate to the cause of taking care of our newest generation of amputees and other wounded vets.

No comments: