Bleeding and Bandaging

Office of Civil Defense
Department of Health, Education and Welfare

In the wake of an enemy nuclear attack on the United States, civil defense planners theorized that heavy fallout radiation would isolate many surviving physicians from victims in need of immediate assistance.  To address this problem, The Office of Civil Defense and The Department of Health, Education and Welfare developed the concept of Medical Self-Help in 1962, with the aim of teaching the general public how to handle emergency situations with no expectation of aid from trained professionals.(1)  In 1965, the two agencies published an extensive booklet with eleven chapters, each discussing, in detail, a medical problem and improvised solutions.  That same year, eleven films were produced, each corresponding to a chapter in the booklet.  The first two films, Radioactive Fallout and Shelter and Healthful Living in Emergencies, deal specifically with problems caused by a nuclear attack.  The remaining installments examine conventional situations, from broken bones to childbirth to shock where action must be taken quickly to prevent death.  Interestingly, many of the films in this series do not specifically mention a nuclear attack, but nevertheless spend several minutes explaining how to best transport the injured into fallout shelter environments.  This is the case with Bleeding and Bandaging, the fourth film of the series, which covers how to stop life-threatening lacerations caused by both everyday industrial accidents and mass-casualty disasters where victims must be stabilized and moved to sheltered areas.

"The life-giving fluid on which so many of the body?s functions depend!"  This poetic description of blood at the beginning of the film is followed by the stark explanation that, should an adult lose more than one quart of blood, a serious risk of death arises.  In a gory opening scene, a man tumbles from a loose embankment and slices his thigh on a piece of jagged metal in an empty corner of a landfill.  Unable to call for help, his co-worker uses his hands, a handkerchief and eventually his undershirt to staunch the bleeding.  The authoritative narrative of the series relates that pressure and bandaging will encourage clotting of the blood.  Sometimes this will not be enough.  In a second scene, a young man's leg is cut by shards of glass from a broken window.  A passerby attempts to stop the bleeding but when that fails, she removes her belt and fashions a tourniquet.  This must be a last resort, as cutting off blood circulation means loss of the injured limb is highly likely.  These conventional injuries differ from what the narrator refers to as ?another type of disaster situation?.  A man in a business suit lies bleeding under the collapsed masonry of a large building.  As the camera pulls back, it reveals many well-dressed men, women and children lying in rubble with varying degrees of injury.  Although it is not said, it is heavily implied this is the aftermath of a nuclear attack.  This is reinforced moments later when the narrator remarks that the victims, who suffer from all types of cuts, from light abrasions to deep lacerations, must be moved to a sheltered environment.  Before they can be moved, they must be stabilized and the film demonstrates several types of bandages as suitable for all types of wounds. 

The remaining scenes take place in the spartan industrial basement which serves as the setting for many other films in the Medical Self-Help series.  Although it is not specifically mentioned, it is clear the building is a fallout shelter.  Government issued shelter supplies of food and barrels of water are spaced throughout the background, all adorned with the Office of Civil Defense logo.  A young woman is carried into the shelter and laid upon a makeshift cot comprised of cracker ration cases and blankets.  She is unconscious and bleeding from the ears.  This type of bleeding is indicative internal injuries and possibly a skull fracture.  A first-aid volunteer wraps her head in gauze to promote coagulation and stop her skull from shifting.  Similarly, another casualty is brought in with bleeding from the nose, a symptom of brain trauma if combined with headache, concussion, slow pulse or unconsciousness.  The narrator warns against applying too much pressure with such injuries.  As a final note, it is stressed that once a victim is stabilized in a sheltered environment, bandages must be checked often to prevent serious infection which may spread quickly in crowded or unhygienic atmospheres.  Likely due to the fact the film focused on general conventional first-aid measures, Bleeding and Bandaging was not deemed obsolete like many of its contemporary civil defense films.  Conversely, it was available for rent or purchase throughout the 1970's and was even converted to VHS cassette tape and was possible to obtain from government catalogs into the early 1980's.(2)

1. Office of Civil Defense.  1962 Annual Report.  United States Government Printing Office, 1963.  62.
General Services Administration.  A List of Audiovisual Materials Produced by the U.S. Government for Emergency Medical Services.  National Archives and Record Services.  1982.