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Colonel George Ensign Bushnell

Biographies

THE ARMY MEDICAL BULLETIN, NUMBER 50 (OCTOBER 1939)

George Ensign Bushnell,

Colonel, Medical Corps, U. S. Army

George Ensign Bushnell (September 10, 1853-July 19, 1924), Colonel, Medical Corps, U. S. Army, specialist in tuberculosis, was born at Worcester, Mass., the son of George and Mary Elizabeth (Blake) Bushnell. He was graduated with the degree of A. B. from Yale in 1876 and from the Yale Medical School in 1880. While serving as an intern in a New York hospital he developed the first manifestations of pulmonary tuberculosis, a disease which played such an important part in his life. The first symptoms were slight and soon disappeared and in February 1881 he was commissioned a first lieutenant in the medical corps of the army, and sent to Fort Yates, Dakota. Then followed service at Fort Ellis, Mont., and Fort Snelling, Minn. During these early years he saw much adventure and much practice upon Sioux prisoners of war. This service built up his resistance and kept his pulmonary disease latent. In succession he served at Fort Preble, Maine, Butte, Mont., Fort McKinney, Wyo., Fort Hamilton, N. Y., Fort Assinaboine, Mont., and at the beginning of the Spanish-American war in 1898 he was sent to the office of The Surgeon General in Washington. Under the stress of war duty his health failed and pulmonary tuberculosis was definitely diagnosed. Given a sick-leave he went to Asheville, N. C., and came under the care of Dr. Charles L. Minor, from whom he learned the treatment of tuberculosis. After six months he was sufficiently improved to return to duty at Fort Logan, Colo., where he served two years, and came under the care of another eminent specialist, Dr. Carroll E. Edson of Denver. In August 1903 he was ordered to the general hospital at Fort Bayard, N. M., and in May 1904 he became its commanding officer. He introduced at this hospital for the army’s tuberculous patients the system of treatment of which Trudeau was the pioneer in this country. In his tour of nearly fourteen years at Fort Bayard, he not only made of tile hospital grounds a beautiful oasis in a desert, but also a place of hope and cure for his patients and himself became one of the country’s foremost authorities on this protean disease.

Colonel Bushnell was one of the earliest advocates of the theory that primary infection with tuberculosis occurred normally in infancy or childhood, that later manifestations of the disease came from reinfections from within and that exogenous infection of the adult was practically non-existent. He opposed the use of tuberculin as a diagnostic test and obtained its discontinuance in army practice. His efforts to make of Fort Bayard a research center were largely nullified by the army system of rotation of officers. He created a small school of experts from officers who like himself were subjects of the disease, and who could be continued upon the work. Notable among these is the late Colonel Earl H. Bruns, who spent the greater part of his service in tuberculosis work.

In 1911 Colonel Bushnell was a delegate to the International Congress of Tuberculosis at Rome where he read a paper on Marginal Sounds in the Diagnosis of Pulmonary Tuberculosis. In the winter of 1916-17 there occurred in the army an unusual amount of respiratory infections, associated with haemoptysis and persistent pulmonary rales. These cases were diagnosed as tuberculosis and were attributed to the effects of anti-typhoid inoculations. At Fort Bayard, Colonel Bushnell quickly found these cases non-tuberculous and entirely unassociated with the preventive inoculations. With the war clouds in Europe settling over this country early in 1917 Colonel Bushnell saw the probable necessity of examining large bodies of men as quickly and accurately as possible and began a plan for a standard method of chest examination practicable for military requirements. He was ordered to the office of The Surgeon General on June 2, 1917, and placed in charge of the Division of Internal Medicine and on June 13 there appeared S. G. O. Circular No. 20, Examinations for pulmonary tuberculosis in the military service, establishing a standard method of examination of the lungs for tuberculosis. Through his efforts a reexamination of all personnel already in the service was made by tuberculosis examiners and about 24,000 were rejected on that score. He had charge of the location, construction, and administration of all army tuberculosis hospitals, of which eight were built with a capacity of 8,000 patients. With his time crowded with inspections, lectures, and preparation of papers in addition to the routine of his office, his health became badly impaired requiring his relief from duty early in 1919.

With the years he had been made a captain in 1886, a major in 1898, lieutenant colonel in 1908 and colonel on May 1, 1911. He reached the age of retirement on September 10, 1917, while on duty in the office of The Surgeon General, but was retained on duty. With his relief from service in 1919 he took up his residence on a small farm at Bedford, Mass., where he prepared his Study of the Epidemiology of Tuberculosis (1920) and later Diseases of the Chest (1925) in collaboration with Dr. Joseph H. Pratt of Boston. As chief delegate of the National Tuberculosis Association he attended the first meeting of the International Union Against Tuberculosis in London in 1921. During the winter of 1922-23 he delivered a series of lectures on military medicine at Harvard University. In the summer of 1923 he moved to California and took up his residence at Pasadena. After having fought off repeated reinfections for forty-five years he suffered a series of pulmonary hemorrhages which resulted in his death in July 1924 at the age of seventy-one years. After services at the Episcopal Church of Our Savior, the interment was in San Gabriel Cemetery.

In addition to the writings already noted Colonel Bushnell contributed to journal literature, numerous articles of high value, all on the subject of the disease which he made his life work. He was a profound student, well grounded in Latin and Greek, with a good knowledge of French and German, Spanish and Italian. He had an exhaustive knowledge of the literature of tuberculosis. He was essentially a clinician, but had a sufficient understanding of laboratory research methods to well evaluate the work of others in that field.

He was by nature kind and thoughtful and had a gift for friendships. He was, however, exacting to his subordinates and was subject to spells of irritation and danger. He was never a well man and his later years were a hard struggle with disease. He hung on to life with determination, working diligently and courageously to the last. His portrait shows a bright intelligent face, marked and saddened by lines of suffering.

He was married in his young manhood to Adra Holmes of Beloit, Wis., in 1881. She died in 1896. On December 24, 1902, he was married at St. Joseph, Missouri, to Ethel M. Barnard, who survived him.

(Who’s Who in America, 1924-25. E. H. Bruns in American Review of Tuberculosis, June 1925. 0. B. Webb in Outdoor Life, Sept. 1924. Lancet. Lond., 1924. Jour. Am. Med. Ass’n., 1924, p. 374.)

James M. Phalen,

Colonel, U. S. Army, Retired.