Delaware County Medicine & Health Spring 2017 - 24

With the hospitals filled to capacity, Brigadier General
William Price ordered the opening of the National Guard
Armory in Chester and had guardsmen set up cots for the
injured. The Anderson Tabernacle Church in Chester was
also used to accommodate the overflow from the hospitals.
Teams of doctors and nurses were assigned to the Armory
and the Tabernacle to treat the casualties, and the women
of the city went to the Armory with pillow cases, sheets and
bedspreads torn into strips to be used as bandages. Druggists
and physicians donated drugs and supplies.
Led by Jonathan L. Forwood, M.D., the 86-year-old chief
of surgery, renowned for his treatment of wounded in the
Civil War, the staff at the Chester Hospital worked around
the clock to care for the injured. All the while, they were
besieged by relatives of the victims who had rushed to the
hospitals to inquire about family members, and at Chester
Hospital an official list of those who had died was posted at
the front steps of the hospital. As new names were added to
the list, sobs and cries of despair issued from the assembled
crowd.

surgery was radical
treatment
In many of the wounded, shrapnel had penetrated the
chest and abdominal cavities, causing injuries in which
survival was extremely problematic. In that day, the thoracic
cavity was considered a sanctuary, not to be entered purposely, and it is most probable that surgical procedures in this
area were limited to drainage of effusions and empyemas.
Although Marion Sims had recommended laparotomy for
gunshot wounds of the abdomen in 1882, the pendulum had
continued to swing back and forth between early operation
and conservative management, and in 1917 no firm consensus had been established. Considering the exigencies of the
treatment of mass casualties, it is quite likely that most of the
penetrating abdominal wounds were treated conservatively.

mass funeral service

Despite the existence of what seemed to be formidable
challenges to survival, many of the injured were treated successfully, made full recovery from their injuries, and returned
to productive lives. The doctors and nurses who participated
in the care of the wounded received unanimous praise for
their skillful and dedicated efforts.

The dead were taken to the morgue at White's funeral
home in Chester where attempts were made to identify the
bodies. This difficult task was undertaken by E. F. White,
but because of the nature of the injuries, it was impossible
to identify fifty-two of the dead, and three days later a mass
funeral service was held at the Chester Rural Cemetery where
the bodies were buried in a common grave.

The explosion occurred four days after the United States
declared war against Germany, and it was suspected that there
had been an act of sabotage by foreign agents; and although
a blue-ribbon investigation failed to produce material proof
to support this suspicion, conviction continued to exist in
the minds of many that enemy action had brought about the
explosion. Officially the cause has never been determined.

One hundred and thirty-two people died in this disaster,
some outright, others soon after being brought to the hospitals, and others days later. Many die as a result of extensive
burns which in that day allowed scant hope for survival.
There were no uniform standards of care for the treatment
of burns in 1917, and various ointments and solutions such
as linseed oil, carron oil, glycerin, Dakin's solution, and silver
nitrate were applied to the burns which was then covered by
occlusive dressings. The role of fluid loss in burn shock was
not appreciated and intravenous fluids had not come into
widespread use. Without fluid replacement, decreased blood
volume led to shock, causing death in severe burns within
24 to 48 hours; victims were then faced with the prospect of
infection and sepsis with significant morbidity and mortality.

Editor's note: We'll continue with part two of this article in our next
edition.

22 DELAWARE COUNTY MEDICINE & HEALTH

spring 2017



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Delaware County Medicine & Health Spring 2017

Delaware County Medicine & Health Spring 2017 - 1
Delaware County Medicine & Health Spring 2017 - 2
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http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelcoMedicalSocietySummer2019
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietySpring2019
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietyWinter2019
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietyFall2018
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietySummer2018
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelcoMedicalSocietySpring2018
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelcoMedicalSociety
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietyWinter2017
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietyFall2017
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSocietySpring2017A
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/delcomed/DelawareCountyMedicalSociety
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