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Miscellaneous Medical Equipment
Class 9 Items: Drugs, Chemicals and Biological Stains
First isolated in 1804 by German pharmacist Friedrich W. A. Sertürner (1783-1841), Morphine was soon globally recognized for its strong pain killing aptitude. Its first use by an Army was during the American Civil War, in which approximately 400,000 troops were reported as suffering from morphine addiction.
Sooner or later pain occurs following all wounds. It can be so slight, that it does not bother the injured person enough to require any particular attention, but if pain is severe it must be relieved! Only when it is severe, or when a severely wounded or injured person must be moved quickly (as from a wrecked vehicle or aircraft) it is wise to give Morphine at once. It may not always relieve the pain entirely, but will certainly lessen shock. Morphine Syrettes were to be found in certain First-Aid kits and Medical Packets and in Battalion Aid Stations, and at times were issued to some medical soldiers. Morphine was the most potent of all the drugs derived from Opium, it was a powerful depressor of the central nervous system, and produced a selective action on both respiration and pain sensation! For this reason and because of its depressant action on the respiratory center, it was also one of the most dangerous drugs.
During WW1, the necessity for a strong pain-killing drug was soon unearthed, and Morphine was issued to medical personnel, along with a hypodermic syringe. This was often administered on the frontline and in Dressing Stations further behind the lines. Exact figures for Morphine addiction during WW1 are not known, although it is expected that this number would have been very similar to that of the American Civil War.
The Syrette itself was designed to be expendable, i.e. a one use item unlike the earlier, more primitive methods of administration, by which a glass or metal hypodermic syringe had to be configured. It was manufactured of a hermetically sealed, collapsible metal body, containing ordinarily ½ Grain of Morphine Tartrate. Into this metal body was secured a hypodermic needle, into which was inserted a metal wire loop, designed to pierce the inner seal of the tube to allow the medication to flow. Once the seal on the tube had been pierced, the needle could then be injected into the patient (at least half its length), and the medication administered by slowly squeezing the collapsible tube. The tube’s needle was protected by a transparent head which was to be removed prior to using the Syrette.
Medical personnel were not only instructed as to the effects and indications for the use of Morphine, but also taught to spot the contraindications for the drug’s use too, which were as follows:
The latter of these contraindications is perhaps the most important during a combat situation. Indeed some sources have even quoted (namely TM 8-230) that:
During the past war [World War II] it was sometimes necessary to delay surgery for several hours while a casualty recovered from a heavy dose of Morphine given just before he arrived at the Hospital.
It should be noted that aidmen could easily overdose casualties, especially in cold weather, when slow blood circulation delayed absorption of the initial shot and the patient received more Morphine at an Aid or Collecting Station! To guard against such mistakes, frontline medics who did not fill out EMTs often attached the used Morphine Syrette to the soldiers’ clothing before evacuating him.
Squibb produced a number of packages of their Morphine Syrette. The most popular of these was without a doubt Item No. 9115700 - Morphine Tartrate, 1 Tube. This was the individual tube of Morphine which could be found inside every Parachutist’s First-Aid Packet. This unit consisted of a small, light yellow and red printed box, inside which was contained the Syrette itself, i.e. a collapsible tube with a sterile needle.
Another major package of the Morphine Syrette was the 5-Tube variety (officially designated Item No. 9115500 - Morphine Tartrate, 5 Tubes), which was issued widely to medical personnel, primarily NCOs and Officers. The box consisted of a light yellow-colored rectangular cardboard container, with red printed text. Inside, was a divider, used to prevent the tubes from colliding with one another inside the box.
Other packaging examples of Syrettes as prepared for the Army can also be found, and a collection are shown in the illustrations below:
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