Shellshock case notes

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Another afternoon @nationalarchivesuk immersed in #WW1 medical records, this time for victims of neurasthenia (latter #shellshock) admitted to various English hospitals. I feel for the doctors; faced with a catalogue of vague physical symptoms (commonly abdominal pains, headache and shaking), no modern imaging or other diagnostic tools, under pressure to declare men fighting fit. Not easy, either, for men in France who may themselves be endangered by a dithering colleague – as one memo from an exacerbated commanding officer suggested: “This man is absolutely useless and we are anxious to get rid of him”. Many of the medical assessments are detailed and holistic; written by doctors who clearly listened to their patients. Peacetime occupations are noted (bookmaker, motor mechanic, engineer), precipitating events analysed (“continual heavy fire … stupefied him”, “father drowned on Lusitania, brother killed in France”) and other anxieties – often domestic or marital – are remarked on. Treatments included sedation with bromide or valium, rest in bed (often “outside”), milk diets, hot baths, massage and (occasionally) “faradic” or electrical treatment (often refused). Sometimes a senior opinion is sought, with pithy outcome: “I think soldering doesn’t agree with him” (discharged unfit) and “always complaining … the idleness of hospital is certainly not improving his mental condition” (returned to regiment). On one occasion a more experienced MO intervened and apparently sat down and talked to the patient after noting: “no abnormal mental symptoms – he has seen notes and naturally worried – he has not been reassured and the whole circumstances explained to him”. Some of the records are particularly sad: The 22-year-old 2nd lieutenant found in “state of exhaustion”, the 17-year-old private who “fainted when shells came over” – and the soldier hospitalised who went for a walk, returned “quite cheerful” to hospital and then cut his own throat. These aside, many of the men appeared to recover after a couple of weeks of milk diets and bed rest and were then sent either to convalescence or on sick furlough, often with advice thereafter for “light duties”. #GreatWar

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About Hannah

Author of literary historical fiction set in the First World War. Revising my first book, writing the next, seeking representation. Mountaineer, gardener, traveller, off-road runner. Africa, modern history, coffee, roses, films, book and unrealistic romance. NHS midwife in a former life.
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