Surgeries on Small Ships

The US Naval Institute News service reports a Navy lab is looking into whether surgeries could be performed on “small ships,” specifically the Littoral Combat Ships and the former “Joint High Speed Vessel.”

The select surgical procedures included in the study are stabilizing a fractured pelvis, treating a displaced femur fracture, treating an open wound of the abdominal wall, and a traumatic amputation of the leg. A medical team – consisting of a surgeon, a nurse, a surgical technician and an anesthesiologist – would conduct simulated surgeries in a realistic environment in up to sea state five conditions.

I am not sure why the Navy is doing this, and why specifically sea state five, there are going to be a lot of circumstances when the sea state is lower. Obviously surgeries have been done on small ships in the past. An appendectomy was famously performed on a submarine by a corpsman using a sharpened spoon (although subs have the advantage of being able to submerge out of severe sea conditions).

Perhaps they are talking about putting a surgical module on these ships, and maybe it might fit on Cutters. I’m still hoping the OPC will have some provision for using at least some of the LCS modules.

When we did Ocean Station, cutters deployed with Public Health Service doctors on board, and Midgett did have a SAR case involving a traumatic amputation of a leg in the Bering Sea while I was aboard, but I doubt we could justify regularly deploying with a surgical team. Still, there are circumstances like the 2010 Haiti earthquake when a surgical team and operating room on our cutters could be useful. Big hospital ships are great for some things, but in that case there were several smaller communities that also needed help. Some times you need the ability to spread the capability around.