The title of this work hardly allows of its conclusion without a brief mention of the shell wounds observed during the campaign.
As already pointed out, these formed but a very small proportion of the injuries treated in the hospitals, and beyond this they possessed comparatively small surgical interest, since, as a rule, the features presented were those of mere lacerated wounds, while the more severe of the cases which survived only offered scope for operations of the mutilating class so uncongenial to modern surgical instincts.
The fatal wounds consisted in extensive lacerations resulting in the destruction of the head or limbs, the laying open of the abdominal or thoracic cavities, or the production of visceral injuries beyond the possibility of repair. Of such injuries no further mention will be made.
A very great variety of shells was employed during the campaign, especially on the part of the Boers, and the frontispiece gives some idea of these. The photograph was taken by Mr. Kisch after the relief of Ladysmith. For the want of more extended knowledge I shall confine myself to the description of a few injuries caused by two classes of large shell, those of the Vickers-Maxim or 'Pom-pom,' and two varieties of shrapnel.
The large shells employed may be divided into classes according to the metal used in their construction, and the nature of the explosive with which they were filled. These details are of some surgical import, because they affect the nature of the fragments into which the shells are broken up.
Fragments of shells constructed with cast iron and burst with powder, and also of forged steel exploded with lyddite, are depicted in fig. 90.
[Illustration: FIG. 90.--A, B, D. Fragments of 200 lb. forged Steel Howitzer Shell exploded by lyddite. C. Fragment of Cast-iron Shell exploded by powder. B exhibits transverse markings which might be mistaken for the lines seen in the Boer segment shells, but which really correspond to the area of fixation of the copper driving band]
Examination of fragment C of a cast-iron shell exploded by powder shows the characteristic granular fracture, and edges, although sharp, yet of a comparatively rounded nature. The fragment is also heavier for its surface measurement, as the metal is thicker than that seen in the remaining fragments, although the cast-iron shell was of a much smaller calibre than the steel one. The lesser degree of penetrative power, and increased capacity to contuse, possessed by such fragments are obvious.
A B and D are fragments of a large forged steel howitzer shell exploded by lyddite, such as were cast by our guns. The photograph well shows the more tenacious structure of the metal in the incomplete longitudinal fissuring exhibited, while the margins are of a sharp knifelike character, well calculated to penetrate or, in the case of superficial injuries, to produce wounds of a more sharply incised character than the cast-iron shell. Fragments A and B also show an appearance suggestive of partial fusion, characteristic of high explosive action, in the turning of the prominent margins.
The larger fragments of such shells were responsible for the most serious mutilating injuries, while small fragments sometimes caused comparatively simple perforating wounds. I remember a fragment of the fused character not larger than a small nut which had perforated the front of the thigh of a Boer, and lodged near the inner surface of the femur. Removal of the fragment was followed by a free gush of hæmorrhage. When the wound was opened up an opening was found in the external circumflex artery, hæmorrhage from which had been controlled by the impaction of the piece of shell. As an example of the cutting power of sharp fragments of shell I might instance the case of another Boer in whom light passing contact had been made by the missile. A gaping incised wound extended from above the angle of the scapula down to the outer surface of the buttock. The wound involved the latissimus dorsi, and the external and internal oblique muscles of the abdomen. The separate muscular layers were sharply defined in the lateral parts of the floor of the wound, and remained so for some time during the gradual contraction of the large granulating surface produced. The degree of contusion was in fact slight, while the incised character was strongly marked.
In some cases the fragments merely struck the soldiers on the flat without producing any wound. In one such case a blow upon the epigastrium was, according to the patient, followed by the vomiting of a considerable amount of blood. A fluid diet was ordered, and no further ill effects were noted. The following case illustrates an oblique blow of a perforating character, which was nevertheless recovered from.
[Illustration: FIG. 91.--Various portions of Brass Percussion and Time Fuses]
(210) Shell-wound of abdomen. Injury to liver.--Wounded at Paardeberg by a fragment of shell. Aperture of entry, a ragged opening in the median line. The fragment of shell was retained over the ninth costal cartilage in the nipple line. The wound bled freely, but the man was taken into camp, and then four miles on to the hospital, where he was anæsthetised and the fragment extracted. The wound of entry was at the same time enlarged, cleansed, and partly sutured. The patient vomited once after the anæsthetic, and the bowels remained confined for three or four days after the injury. The extraction wound healed readily, but a considerable amount of slimy, bile-stained discharge was still escaping from the ragged entrance wound on the man's arrival at the Base on the fourteenth day. The abdomen was then normal in appearance, and as to physical signs, except for a tympanitic note over the hepatic area to the right of the wound. The temperature was normal, the pulse 90, the tongue clean, and the bowels were acting. At the end of four weeks pleurisy, with effusion, developed on the right side; the chest was aspirated and [Symbol: ounce]xx of clear serum drawn off. The man then rapidly improved; the bile-stained discharge ceased at the end of five weeks, and a small granulating wound eventually closed at the end of two months, when the man returned to England.
Fig. 91 is inserted to illustrate the multifarious nature of the fragments into which the component parts of shells may break up. The pieces are for the most part of brass, and formed parts of either time or percussion fuses.
Fig. 92 represents the one-pound Vickers-Maxim shell in its actual size. The wounds produced by this shell are of some interest, since the Vickers-Maxim may be said to have been on trial during this campaign. The general opinion seems to have been to the effect that the moral influence produced by the continuous rapid firing of the gun and the attendant unpleasant noise were its chief virtues. A considerable number of wounds must, however, have been produced by it, which, if not of great magnitude and severity, were, at any rate, calculated to put the recipients out of action, and these wounds, moreover, were slower in healing than many of the rifle-bullet injuries.
The shell is so small that it was said to occasionally strike the body as a whole, and perforate. I was shown a case in which a wounded officer was confident that an entire shell had perforated his arm. The entry wound was at the outer part of the front of the forearm, the exit at the inner aspect of the arm, just above the elbow. Two ragged contused wounds existed, which healed slowly, but no serious nervous or vascular injury had been produced. Although it is probable that only a fragment perforated in this case, it is of interest in connection with the following.
In a case shown to me by Sir William Thomson in the Irish Hospital at Bloemfontein, an entire shell had passed between the left arm and body of a trooper, perforating the haversack, as also a non-commissioned officer's notebook contained within it, without exploding. The only injury sustained by the trooper was a contusion on the inner aspect of the elbow-joint, with slight signs of contusion of the ulnar nerve. The case is of some importance, as showing that a comparatively resistent body can be perforated without necessary explosion on the part of the shell; hence the possibility of a similar perforation of the soft parts of the body.
[Illustration: FIG. 92.--Unexploded 1-lb. Vickers-Maxim Shell. (Actual size)]
Fig. 93 is of a number of fragments of Vickers-Maxim shells, and it was by such that the great majority of the wounds were produced.
Wounds from fragments of these shells were, indeed, not at all rare. They were met with on any position; but, as far as my experience went, they were more common on the lower extremities than in other parts of the body, if the sufferers were in the erect position when wounded. I saw a good many wounds in the neighbourhood of the knee, some of which implicated the joint. When the injuries were received by patients in the lying or crouching positions, any part of the body was equally likely to be affected, or, again, the presence of large stones or rocks in the vicinity might determine the scattering of the flying fragments at a more dangerous height than when the shells burst from contact with the actual ground.
The relation of one or two examples of wounds from pom-pom fragments may not be without interest, the more so as they illustrate the favourable influence of a low degree of velocity on the part of a projectile. I saw three wounds produced by the percussion fuses of these shells, an experience which shows that they were not very uncommon.
[Illustration: FIG. 93.--Fragments of Vickers-Maxim 1-lb. Shells. The centre fragment of the lower row is the point of a steel armour-piercing shell; although unsuitable for the purpose, they were occasionally employed in the field by the Boers]
(211) Perforating shell-wound of abdomen.--Wounded at Magersfontein by the fuse screw of a small shell (Vickers-Maxim). Aperture of entry ragged, roughly circular, and 2 inches in diameter, with much-contused margins situated in the median line, nearly midway between the ensiform cartilage and umbilicus. The screw was lodged in the abdominal wall at the margin of the thorax, just outside the left nipple line. The aperture of entry was cleansed by Major Harris, R.A.M.C., who determined the fact that penetration of the peritoneal cavity had occurred, and removed the fuse (see fig. 94) by a separate incision. The patient made an uneventful and uninterrupted recovery, the wound healing by granulation and leaving little weakness of the abdominal wall. He returned to England at the end of five weeks.
In a second case the fuse, together with a fragment of the iron case, entered the buttock by a ragged opening. The fragment of iron escaped by an exit aperture of about the same size. When the patient arrived at the Base some days after the injury, a hard body was felt in the wound, and on exploration the fuse was found and removed.
In a third case the fuse struck the side of the foot below the outer malleolus and comminuted the astragalus, and then passing forwards lodged beneath the extensor tendons of the toes. The wound was explored at the time of the injury and some fragments of bone removed; considerable cellulitis supervened, and the fuse was only discovered some days later when the patient came under the care of Sir W. Thomson in the Irish Hospital in Pretoria. It was there removed, together with some more fragments of bone, and the wound slowly granulated. The patient then returned to England, when the wound rapidly healed after the removal of some further necrosed fragments of cancellous tissue. The astragalus had been reduced to a mere shell of compact tissue, and the convexity of the articular surface was altogether lost. The deformity, together with the formation of adhesions in the ankle-joint, led to the development of a firm anchylosis.
[Illustration: FIG. 94.--Pom-pom Percussion Fuse, exact size]
My friend Mr. Abbott removed a similar fuse from the substance of the lung after the lapse of nine months, the patient having developed an empyema, and a chronic fistula, which rapidly closed after the removal of the foreign body.
[Illustration: PLATE XXV
OBLIQUE FRACTURE OF THE HUMERUS CAUSED BY A FRAGMENT OF A VICKERS-MAXIM OR POM-POM SHELL
The entire absence of comminution is very striking]
I will add one further case, that illustrated by plate XXV. In this a fragment of a pom-pom shell entered the outer aspect of the right shoulder to escape on the inner aspect of the arm, just below the confines of the axilla. An oblique, non-comminuted fracture of the humerus resulted, which in spite of moderate suppuration united well in the course of six weeks. The case is of particular interest as illustrating the nature of the fracture to be expected when the velocity retained by the missile is low.
The above instances show that such peculiarities as belong to wounds produced by pom-pom shells depend on the comparatively small size and weight of the fragments, and on the small degree of impetus with which they are propelled.
[Illustration: FIG. 95.--Boer Segment Shell, or Shrapnel. The large fragment is a piece of the case, the smaller are two of the pieces of iron packed within]
Fig. 95 illustrates a form of shrapnel employed by the Boers, the case of which is of cast metal arranged in definite segments, while the interior is filled with small fragments of iron so shaped as to pack in concentric layers. As to the wounds produced by the contained fragments I have no experience, since I never saw one of the pieces of iron removed. This no doubt depended in part on the very unsatisfactory practice made by the Boers with shrapnel generally. Even when they fired English shrapnel, the shells were, as a rule, exploded far too high to cause any serious danger to the men beneath. I saw on one occasion a large number of shrapnel shells exploded over a body of Imperial Yeomanry, but as a result of the great height at which all the shells were exploded, not a single casualty resulted.
The segment casing of the shell, however, I several times saw removed from the body. The fragment shown in fig. 95 was removed from the buttock of a man after one of Lord Methuen's early battles. It may be remarked that the buttock is rather a common, and also a favourable, seat for shell wounds with retention of the fragment. This no doubt depends on the fact that the buttock is one of the few superficial regions in which sufficient depth of tissue exists for the retention or the passage of so large an object as a fragment of shell.
Fig. 96 is of a number of leaden shrapnel bullets from our own shells. A normal undeformed bullet, such as was the usual cause of wounds, is shown at the left-hand upper corner. The remainder show common forms of deformity caused by striking on the ground or against rocks. I attribute small importance to the deformed bullets, as I never saw one removed, and it is probable that a ricochet shrapnel bullet would rarely retain sufficient force to penetrate. The lower fragments are inserted to illustrate a fact that would scarcely have been assumed, that these bullets on impact occasionally suffer a fracture of a somewhat crystalline nature. The occurrence of this gross form of fracture is of some interest in relation to the extreme fragmentation sometimes undergone by the hardened leaden cores of the small-calibre bullets.
A considerable number of wounds from leaden shrapnel bullets were met with among our own men, as well as among the Boers. The wounds possessed little special interest, except from the fact that the bullets were often retained. I saw bullets in the chest on several occasions, also in the abdomen, pelvis, the neighbourhood of joints, and in the limbs.
I saw one patient who had suffered no less than six perforating wounds as the result of the bursting of one shrapnel shell.
I will here quote one case of interest as completing the various forms of perforating wound of the abdomen met with during the campaign.
[Illustration: FIG. 96.--Normal, Deformed, and Fractured Leaden Shrapnel Bullets]
(212) Perforating shrapnel-wound of abdomen.--Boer wounded at Graspan. Aperture of entry (shrapnel), opposite eighth left costal cartilage, 1 inch external to nipple line. The opening was circular, and surrounded by an area of ecchymosis 4 inches in diameter; exit, 4-1/2 inches above and to the right of the umbilicus. Patient was at first in a Boer ambulance, and only seen by me on the ninth day. At that date he was dressed and walking with a gauze pad and bandage over the wounds. From the exit wound, which was 1 inch in diameter, protruded a piece of sloughing omentum, the margin of the wound being everted and raised over a circular indurated area.
It was thought best to allow the sloughing omentum, which was very foul, to separate spontaneously, and then to return the stump. At the end of three weeks, however, the slough had not only separated, but the stump had retracted, and only a small granulating surface was left, which healed spontaneously.
I have little to say regarding the treatment of shell wounds. The mutilating injuries, if not of a fatal character, necessitated treatment of a corresponding nature to the damage. In all such cases the general rules of surgery indicate the lines to be followed.
In the case of shrapnel wounds the bullets were often better removed; but when in dangerous positions, as sunk deeply in the chest, abdomen, or pelvis, they were best left, unless some very special indication for removal existed. Large fragments of shell always demanded removal.
In conclusion I will only make the further remark, that shell wounds, with the exception of clean leaden shrapnel tracks, always suppurated.
I make this closing statement with the view of emphasising the influence exerted on the aseptic course of modern rifle wounds by the small calibre of the bullet, since both bullet and shell wounds were exposed to the same surrounding conditions.