Thursday, January 4, 2018

Trauma Blankets - A Macabre Masquerade

Let's face it trauma can be a visually offensive mess.  Before the age of enlightenment with paramedics and trauma centers, seriously injured patients were initially seen and promptly covered up in a trauma blanket by none other than ambulance attendants. The out of sight, out of mind  philosophy at it's finest. Trauma blankets were designed to camouflage the blood and gore making the victim appear aesthetically  pleasing to horrified onlookers  while essentially overlooking  the underlying trauma.

Bleeding? Get that trauma blanket STAT

  Ambulances were just converted station wagons like  Chevy Brookwoods or the Dodge Dart (below) and were maintained and operated  by funeral homes. Attendants were frequently apprentice undertakers and perhaps the skillset of closing body bags helped with trauma blanket application. Ambulance medical supplies were limited to a poorly designed stretcher with tiny wheels that fluttered back and forth like a butterfly's wings when in motion and of course the trauma blanket. Just the sound of those stretcher wheels clicking and clacking as they moved was enough to trigger nightmares and then a glance at a blood soaked trauma blanket was the coup de grace for a peaceful night's sleep.

Trauma blankets were heavy woolen affairs that could absorb their own weight (which was substantial) of just about any liquid or semi-liquid goo like sanguineous  substance. A chartreusy/maroon  color could obscure practically any blood  no matter the volume lost. Attendants made sure the victim was lying on the trauma blanket to mitigate the mess from pooling blood and rapped them up mummy style for the mad dash to the nearest hospital with that big V-8 roaring and drum brakes a smoking. The air  siren sounded like one of those air raid shelter blasts from old WW2 movies.

Removing trauma blankets upon arrival in the ER was like opening a Pandora's Box. Ambulance attendant transfers were done quickly with little finesse and no report from attendants who vamoosed as quickly as they arrived. Upon opening a blood soaked trauma blanket we found glass shards and a severed rear view mirror on the patient's chest. Alas..this must have been a motor vehicle mishap.

Ambulance attendants never heard of trauma shears so the bloody victim often had clothing that had clotted in place. A sort of crude hemostasis mechanism for the not so enlightened. Starting an IV on someone with blood stained extremities is a challenge and darn near impossible with the hypovolemic state induced by traumatic exsanguation.  Trauma blankets were probably one of the most useless, insensitive, and dimwitted items used in yesteryear's hospitals. They certainly creeped me out.

Before people regaled themselves with the flicker of glowing screens, events occurring in the immediate environment garnered diversion.  There was an oversize metal bath basin in the ER and a staff nurse noticed me inspecting the container with a quizzical expression. "That's for treating the trauma blankets. It's worth the show, so hang around after the next trauma," she said with a smarty pants look on her face.

Old time hospitals never discard anything; it's clean and reuse, trauma blankets were no exception. The blood assimilative nature of trauma blankets was reversed by placing it in the oversize bath basin and dousing it with a couple of liters of hydrogen peroxide. The explosive bubbling of the peroxide as it did it's work rivaled a Mt. Vesuvius eruption with the red foam serving as a stand in for volcanic lava. An impressive sight indeed.

History always repeats itself and trauma blankets have strong connective tissue to modern hospitals with their fancy atrium like  lobbies decorated with lush mini-forests of tropical plants. Those gaudy chandeliers  and fancy hardwood moldings add to the ambience. Patients who cannot pay for their treatment are not welcome here. These contemporary trauma blankets hide the uncontrolled diabetic or end stage pulmonary patients that lack resources for care and are forced to fend for themselves. The end result of untreated chronic illness is not pretty, but there is no blood on the ornate hospital's balance sheet.


  1. The same principle is in use today, instead of trauma blankets the mess is covered up with a tarp. Agree with you about fancy hospital architecture. Buckeye surgeon has a great post about this labeled "Hospital Kitsch"

  2. I read that post labelled Hospital Kitsch so thank you Anonymous for that tip!

    My old training hospital has been demolished and replaced with a high-rise tower.. I haven't seen it but a friend who still works there tells me it's like an upmarket hotel now with shopping centres, cafes, art work on the walls etc etc.

    When I nursed there it was a group of old single-level buildings - from the nurses home you either went left to the wards or straight ahead to Emergency and the Operating Theatres. No fancy stuff in those days. And the wards didn't have numbers or letters, they had actual names - like Wakehurst Ward or Page Ward etc.

    Those trauma blankets sound gross OFRN! Cheers to chilly Pittsburgh from the overheated Camden Haven in New South Wales!

  3. Thanks so much, Sue, for your warm wishes. It is indeed bone chilling and the cold has induced a brain freeze of sorts.

    I miss old functional hospital buildings too. Our old ER had a very unique feature, it was in the basement and the entrance was on street level. There was a ramp that curved along two walls leading to the treatment areas. The waiting area was surrounded by the ramp and the folks here had a ringside seat to every trauma case that was wheeled in. Use of trauma blankets was in full swing here.

  4. After trauma blankets came MAST trousers used to squeeze the life back into the patients. Sort of.