, Volume 30, Issue 8, pp 1392-1399
Date: 21 Jul 2006

“To Afford the Wounded Speedy Assistance”: Dominique Jean Larrey and Napoleon

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Abstract

Dominique Jean Larrey (1766–1842) has been described as the father of modern military surgery and is considered even today as the model military surgeon. He developed a plan of rapid evacuation of wounded soldiers from the battlefield during combat, using flexible medical units which he named ambulances volantes (“flying ambulances”). He won the admiration of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), who was amazed by the results of Larrey’s sanitary system. Larrey spent almost 18 years with Napoleon, accompanying him in 25 campaigns, 60 battles, and more than 400 engagements. Napoleon’s enormous military success was due not only to his strategy and skill but also to the medical services provided by Larrey. The surgeon became a master of wound management and limb amputation. In his vivid battlefield journals, Larrey documented the course of tetanus, the pathophysiology of cold injury, the effective control of hemorrhage, the drainage of empyema and hemothorax, the aspiration of pericardial effusion or hemopericardium, and the packing of sucking chest wounds. Larrey established a categorical rule for the triage of war casualties, treating the wounded according to the observed gravity of their injuries and the urgency for medical care, regardless of their rank or nationality.