The following news items were drawn from the archives of the Mail Tribune 100 years ago.
Dec. 28, 1918, continued
“DOC VAN” DOUGH BOY FINDS CURE FOR SHELL SHOCK
Paris, Dec. 28 — “”Doctor Van” isn’t a doctor, really — that is, he has never been inside of a medical school. He is not a commissioned officer, either. Two days after the war was declared in American he enlisted in one of the cities of the middle west and came over as a private. He is a sergeant, now. His experiences — driving an ambulance first, and after that in the front line and then in various camps in France till he was sent to a base hospital as a patient, would fill several diaries, if he keeps such things, which I doubt.
But there are a good many men in that base hospital who owe their returning health to him, after they had been in bed for weeks and even months. Now, altho they admit that he is well again, they will not let him go from the hospital, because a transfer is a long and tedious business to bring about, and they need him there to help out with the patients.
He was only out of bed a day or so himself when he came across two boys in one of the wards who had been in the hospital since April. One of them had been an interpreter with the French army and the other was a marine from Chateau Thierry. They had been shell-shocked, and in all those months — from April to September — they had grown scarcely any better.
“Captain,” Sergeant Van said one morning to the doctor in charge of the ward, “do you mind if I see what I can do for those men there? I think I may be able to help them out a bit, if you don’t mind.”
The captain looked at him interestedly. If it had been any other man the captain would have been indifferent, perhaps. But Sergeant Van has a way with him.
“What do you want to do with them?” he wanted to know.
“I’d just like to talk to them a bit, sir, now and then,” Sergeant Van said.
The captain threw up his hands. “Kamerad!” he cried jovially. “Talk is the deadliest medicine on top of the earth.”
“I was meaning it, sir,” the sergeant said steadily.
“Oh, go ahead Van,” the captain agreed. “Do anything you blame please.”
The next morning on his rounds, the captain stopped beside the bed of the first of the two men who had been shell-shocked.
“How’s it coming this morning boys?” he asked.
“F-f-fine, sir,” was the answer, a little unsteadily given perhaps, but the captain did not notice that. He sat down on the bed and looked at the boy in amazement. Those were the first words he had spoken aloud since the day he came to the hospital, unconscious, five months before ...
The captain beckoned Sergeant Van to the end of the ward.
“Did you do that?” he demanded.
“Yes, sir,”admitted Sergeant Van.
“How in blue blazes — ”began the captain and paused for lack of words.
So Van showed him. Tho the doctor couldn’t quite make it out, at that just what Van did. He stroked their heads a little, and massaged their throats a bit, and all the time he “talked” to them in the quietest, most harmless sounding voice in the world.
“It isn’t that I hypnotize them, at all,” he will tell you. “I just tell them that they are bigger than their nerves, and that they can control that if they really want to. And I show them how. They believe it because I tell them it is so, and then you see that they are well.”
But the doctors continue to wonder and to say that Van has discovered the first really successful treatment for shell-shock.