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A day in the life of a WWI military medical examiner

A military hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas, in 1918

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/NATIONAL ARCHIVES

By JIM CAMDEN | The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash. | Published: December 16, 2017

SPOKANE, Wash. (Tribune News Service) — A reporter spent the day watching two Fort George Wright doctors examine dozens of army recruits for potential defects.

He said the doctors had an uncanny feel for the job.

"You see," wrote the reporter, "you can't tell whether a man has hammer toes or cross toes when you pass him on a busy downtown street. You can guess at his flat chest and his 'sturdy column of limbs,' but when you let an army doctor get his experienced eyes and his sensitive fingers on an army recruit in the privacy of the examining room, you have ample opportunity to observe all of these things. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – of concealment of any of these physical features possible in the army examining room."

The reporter said he "watched 'em come up in the garb of Adam (i.e., naked) and submit to an overhauling that made you cringe."

"A thump on the chest, a dig in the stomach, a twist of the wrists and maybe, not satisfied with some phase of the examination, particularly if suspicious of the heart or lungs, some victim was put to hopping up and down, or across the room to create rapid circulation and pulse and heart action."

They were also weighed and measured. The average "stripped weight" of the recruits was 143 pounds.

The recruits were almost all hoping to pass. "There were tears in the eyes of one man when the doctor pronounced the sentence of rejected."

Only about three percent of the men were rejected, probably because they were all volunteers, not draftees. Most men would not volunteer unless "they are physically all right."

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