Edited by Brian P. Pace, MA, and Jennifer Reiling, Editorial Assistant
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'."
THE "CAMP GHOST" AT CAMP WIKOFF.. JAMA. 1998;280(16):1448E. doi:10.1001/jama.280.16.1448