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JAMA 100 Years Ago
October 28, 1998


Author Affiliations

Edited by Brian P. Pace, MA, and Jennifer Reiling, Editorial Assistant

JAMA. 1998;280(16):1448E. doi:10.1001/jama.280.16.1448

The following sketch of the physical human wrecks that were so numerous at the Montauk recuperation camp appeared in a New York Journal: "The most pitiable sight that is to be seen at camp, outside of the hospitals, is the ‘ghost' type. The ‘camp ghost' is the man who is not ill enough to be admitted to the hospital, but is too weak to do duty. He has nothing to do but wander, and he really lacks the strength for this, but he always essays it, with the result that he drops by the wayside and lies until a jolting army wagon or hospital conveyance picks him up. Or, feeling his energy waning, he essays a short cut over the succession of ground swells that exist here. There was one of the Twenty-Second Regulars whose knees gave out when he was in the hollow between the hillocks one morning. On his hands and knees he crawled through a marsh to the summit of the neighboring hillock and there fainted. Swirling banks of fog were chasing each other over the land, limiting the range of vision to a few yards all the morning, and it was not until noon that two volunteers found him and carried him to the roadway. ‘Such cases,' says one of the surgeons here, ‘are just about beyond treatment. I have not yet been able to comprehend the condition of mind and body which produces the ‘camp ghost.' The cause is the hardships of the Cuban campaign, repeated attacks of fever, and lack of nourishing food at the time when it was most needed. Yet these ghosts are not ill in the ordinary meaning of the term. There is no specific ailment. They are simply devitalized. It is useless to take them into the hospitals. Their best chance is in plenty of fresh air and cheering companionship, although there is little enough of the latter. If we could surround those fellows with the people they love and who love them, we could guarantee 99 per cent. of cures. It would revive their interest in life. As it is, their sad faces are a contagion. They droop a little more each day, until one day they droop into the hospital. The next day they are more than likely to be dead. On the records we put it down as exhaustion, and I guess that is pretty near it; exhaustion of all the vitalizing instincts that bind a man to this earth'."

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