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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Fall 1997, Vol.17, No.3

From White Coats to Khaki

"The Second General Hospital. An Account of the Army-Affiliated Unit of the Presbyterian Hospital of New York City in the European Theater of Operations, World War II, 1942-1945"
          By Albert Lamb Jr.'40
Columbia University Office of Publications, 1997, 196 pp.
          Review by Peter Wortsman

The Second Gereral Hospital On July 22, 1944, following on the heels of the Normandy Invasion, the men and women of the Second General Hospital crossed the English Channel into the thick of what author Albert Lamb Jr.'40 describes from first-hand experience as "the opening of Act II, Scene 1 of the great offensive that finally would liberate Western Europe." The exploits of that tightknit troop of physicians, surgeons, and nurses from Presbyterian Hospital are eloquently documented in Dr. Lamb's lively account.

Following basic training, the team (comprising many distinguished P&S alumni) came together in Oxford, England, with Yale Kneeland Jr.'26 as chief of the medical service and Rudolph Schullinger'23M heading up the surgical service. They established operations at the Churchill Hospital, where in the 22 months of their administration before departure for the continent they treated some 14,950 patients and performed 2,904 operations.

Writing of himself in the third person, the author points out the educational benefits of such varied medical fare: "First Lt. Lamb [subsequently promoted to the rank of captain], as the youngest of the medical group, was rotated from one service to another, rounding out his postgraduate residency training."

In addition to the high quality care they delivered under difficult circumstances, various members of the team achieved important clinical advances. These included the first general use of penicillin before D-Day, a substantive study of the pathology of frostbite, research to explain the cause of death from high altitude anoxia suffered by crew members of damaged aircraft, advances in orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation of the wounded, and original work on deafness.

Following the American troops to Lison, Normandy, the Second General Hospital set up field hospitals in tents along the shifting battle lines.

Dr. Lamb recalls the often grueling regimen:
"When working at maximum capacity, they actually on several days received in excess of 500 new admissions in the course of 24 hours. And with these cases almost entirely surgical, it was necessary for six operating tables to run continuously on two 12-hour shifts." Astonishingly with such a heavy case load, the author reports, "they maintained as low mortality figures as any front-line hospitals in the European theater."

They labored and slept quite literally in the thick of things. "That first night," writes Lamb, "the whining, whistling noise of an unexploded shell thudded into the ground just behind a hedge-row behind Major [Herbert "Bud"] Wilcox['34] and Captain Lamb, who had been asleep in their tent..."

Interspersed with duty, the team also experienced its share of lighthearted moments, including Dr. Lamb's attempts to master the art of punting on the Thames, "the slowest means of traveling on water," and Dr. Schullinger's officiating as stand-in "father of the bride" for actress Carol Landis, whom he had treated as a patient.

Handsomely assembled and designed by Dr. Lamb's son, Tom, a professional photographer, the book is full of snapshots illustrating the rich camaraderie and esprit de corps of this outstanding group. "Second General Hospital" should strike a chord with P&S, Presbyterian, and School of Nursing alumni past and present, whether they've had their medical mettle tested by V1 bombs, the ICR, the ER, or the mine fields of contemporary tactical warfare with HMOs.

The book, which is to be available by the end of 1997, can be ordered from the dean's office by contacting Ellen Perez, administrative assistant in the office of Dr. Thomas Q. Morris, vice dean and senior associate vice president, (212) 305-7371.

copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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