Caring for the Patients

Medical technicians faced a wide variety of challenges when caring for sick or injured soldiers. Think about the following as you read the following excerpts from an oral history interview with Karina Allen, and listen to the audio clip:

  • What can Allen's experiences tell us about life as a military medical technician during WWII?
  • Do you think being a woman made it easier or more difficult to be in the military Medical Department?

Allen remembers treating a malaria patient.

This particular patient came in having early chills, but quickly went into severe chills.  I went up to the malaria ward on the top floor of the north side of the building.  I pricked his finger to get blood for blood smears.  He asked me what was wrong with him.  I said I didn't know, the doctors were working on it.  I returned to the lab.  When I had stained the slide with Wright's stain and started looking for malaria, I found it but it didn't look exactly like Plasmodium Vivax that we found 99.1 % of the time.  It looked a little like Plasmodium Falcium, which was 97% fatal.

When I got to the patient, he was beginning to go into the fever stage and had stopped shaking from the chills.  He kept saying, "I'm awfully sick, what's wrong with me?"  He was alert and I did not want to upset him.  I said, "They aren't sure yet but they have ruled out pregnancy."  It struck him as being very funny and he shook with laughter.  He said, "I could have told them that."  I said, "They wouldn't trust you.  Very few want to admit it.  It doesn't look good on your service record."  He said, "It's good to know there is something I don't have."  I left.  I came back to see him before I left work a couple hours later.  He had a very high fever and was in a semi-coma.  He died during the night.

Allen remembers treating German prisoners of war.

These SS troopers were taken off the train because one became sick.  The doctor had ordered quite a few chemistries to be done on him.  I went up to the second floor and got the guard to let me in the cell.  The guard stood outside with his rifle beside him.  He told the trooper in German that I was going to draw some blood for some tests.... I was about to loosen the tourniquet with my left hand and was holding the syringe that was filling with blood with my right hand.  He put his right hand up to touch me inappropriately but I stopped him short by taking my hand away from the tourniquet so it wouldn't loosen and jabbing my left elbow into his arm so it dropped.  I don't know whether he moved or I moved my right hand but the needle came out of the vein.  I saw blood was running down his arm, but in my state of anger I quickly slapped his face.  The other troopers were laughing at him and saying things in German.  I quickly noticed that I had enough blood to do the tests so I quickly mixed the blood in the syringe with citrate to keep it from clotting, as the tests could not be done on clotted blood.... I pulled the tourniquet loose and put a cotton ball over the needle hole to stop the bleeding and told the guard to tell him to hold it there for at least five minutes.  The guard let me out of the cell.

One of the ward men came to me as I was going down the stairs on my way to the lab.  He said, "If you want me to kill him, I will."  I was shocked and he noticed it.  He said he had killed German soldiers overseas and he could do it again.  He would say they were trying to get away and he had grabbed the guard's gun to stop it. "The guard will go along with it, he hates them too." I thought he was crazy and felt scared of him. I said, "No, just leave him alone, he's had enough for one day."

I honestly was more upset and shaky from what the ward man had said than what the SS trooper had tried to do.


Fort Snelling Classroom Project: Interview with Alden and Karina Allen, Clip 2

The Starvation Study Medical Care at Fort Snelling Minnesota Home Front Induction Military Intelligence Service Language School