View Full Version : Role of Medical Staff

02-12-2007, 12:28 PM
I wanted to take a quick survey and get some opinions on an issue. It seems that there is a wide variety of roles for the medical staff in a reenacting unit. Some units seem to have their medical staff on the field for medical response in case of injury or other emergency. In camp, they are nowhere to be found. Other units do not send their medical staff out in the field at all. What do you all see the role of the medical staff as for medical care on the battlefield versus staying behind and doing strictly public interaction type roles.

Chris Spiese
Asst. Surgeon, 1st PA Rifles Co. H

02-12-2007, 01:08 PM
You're right in that there are many many different opinions, visions, norms, etc. for medical staff at events.

The biggest divide seems to be whether medical reenactors are there primarily/exclusively to portray a historic role, or primarily/exclusively to provide modern medical care.

Being "on the battlefield" can mean a wide range of things from ice angels, to portraying the historic care of the wounded after the firing has ceased or moved on. And in-camp public interaction roles can also vary widely, from a modern museum-type show-and-tell display to a living history portrayal of a surgeon doing what he would be doing (and I don't necessarily mean amputation demonstrations on the hour, I mean paperwork, mixing medicines, caring for the sick, etc.).

Hank Trent

02-14-2007, 09:46 AM
When I started in medical some 8 years ago, I would put bandages in a haversack and run on to the battlefield and help wounded back to an area where a ground cloth with the instruments was located. The more I read the more I realized that was not a correct impression. I pulled back to a tent on the edge of the battle and had stretcher bearers bring wounded to me. Then I would work on the wounded. I have tried to show to the public just what the "real" surgeons would have done.

As I became known through the reenacting community here in Texas I found other medical reenactors who, like me had been or still were, medical professionals. We also quickly found when a real medical problem happened, most often the reenactors would come to us rather than the "ambulance" crew on stand by. I have even taken care of audience members until the ambulance crew could be summoned.

At the larger events I have found where the event medical director has medical reenactors follow along behind the battle lines keeping an eye on the combat reenactors for anyone getting too hot, or having a real medical incident. These medical reenactors are there to monitor the event and remain in touch with the "real" medical staff.

It comes down to the medical reenactor, if he/she is trained, certified or licensed to provide modern day medical care and is willing to act as a first responder, or as some of my friends, are reenactors who enjoy the medical of the civil war with out training or interest in modern medical. To me it is up to the event staff and the medical reenactor as to what role, or how the impression is put forth.

02-14-2007, 04:16 PM
Thanks for your thoughts. I've been doing medical re-enacting on and off now for about 10 yrs (more off than on due to school). We have always gone with an event-dependent sort of scheme. If it is a strictly living history, we do primarily in camp public demos and the like. If it is a battle reenactment, we do primarily ice angel duty and modern medical care in the field. I was just hoping to get a feel for what other units are doing out there, as I am now trying to get back into the hobby much more.

Good luck to all of you this season!

C. Spiese
Asst. Surgeon, 1st PA Rifles Co. H

02-14-2007, 05:19 PM
Here are some conversations recycled from an earlier post. I kept credit where it's due, but if I missed something, oops.
There are so many ways to integrate medical roles into reenacting, maybe it would help to look at some of the different visions for what's expected of medical staff. Here are some types that I've noticed:

--Living history display with lectures to the public, maybe a brief demonstration after the battle or at specific times. Main goal is to offer displays and talk to the public about historic medicine in a general sense; after hours is free time. This fits in well with mainstream events and EBUFU public-interpretation living histories, and was about all I could find when I was into military medical roles in the 1990s.

--Functional living history role, acting as a period doctor throughout the event, performing duties in real time, adapted to the specific situation being reenacted. May include interpretation to the public or not. This is harder to fit into an event, due to lack of willing patients and more strain on the logistics of organizers who are already stretching things thin. I've seen this done at Payne's Farm (non-public), at Burkittsville 2001 (public), and I could picture it fitting into events like Immortal 600. But where it doesn't fit, one common compromise is...

--Modern medical care. Main goal is to be there for reenactors with modern health problems. At mainstream events, doctors carry modern first aid kits and women act as ice angels and the medical tent is the modern first aid station. Medical participants interested in historic medicine only are strongly discouraged or not allowed. At campaign events, doctors carry modern items and treat real-life sore feet or similar health problems not bad enough to require dropping out but not able to be treated with period methods. This was the other only option I could find back in the day.

Hank Trent

Comrade Trent,

Actually, it's quite possible to support some basic first-aid and medical needs during a campaign event using period materials coupled with modern knowledge about infection.

Blisters can easily be treated by sponging the area affected with alcohol, then applying a small felt patch soaked in sweet oil and bound with a small muslin roller bandage. I usually have a couple of vials of both rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide solution for just such emergencies.

Slivers thorns and ticks can also be treated, and a heavy paste of baking soda made with water or peroxide works well to relieve itching and stings from bug bites, etc. Baking soda in solution with water, and also peppermint oil in solution is an excellent quieter of a disagreeable stomach.

There's also many period things to do during the day, such as issuing quinnine to all the men, and seeing that they rake it; examining the rations and water suplplies, etc, not to mention keeping an eye on the men during the march, filling out the appropriate forms for stragglers due to medical necesity, etc.

Tim Kindred
Medical Mess

Something I do now is, carry some "modern" first aid supplies (i.e. bandages, cold packs, trauma pads, gauze, antibiotic ointments, cold/hot compresses and such). But these stay 'hidden' from the public's eye (I even keep them hidden from reenactors). I figured, if I'm going to be out there, I might as well as put to use, my 'emergency medical training' that I received from the Fire Department. As you all know, there will be someone that is going to be injured, to some degree or another (whether it’s something minor or a major medical emergency). At least there will be someone out there that could do something, quickly, while awaiting ‘modern’ medical personnel. And, I agree with Tim, you can apply ‘modern day’ medical techniques, while using ‘period’ equipment. That’s the cool thing about having ‘modern day’ medical training, allot of it is about the same as ‘period’, with some obvious modifications, of course. Considering, Civil War Medicine was the ‘forbearer’ of battlefield medicine the way we know and see it today. And, allot of what we use in the Fire Department is what individuals are trained for, in battlefield medicine. We basically triage and stabilize patients and transport them to hospitals and care facilities. Now, I don’t encourage anyone to go out and buy emergency/trauma first aid kits if they aren’t medically trained to use them. But there are some basic kits that you can use for your home, camping, your car, etc. that you can carry with you. It’s totally up to you.

And, remember, the more you carry, the 'heavier' it will be. You definitely don’t want to ‘overload’ yourself with things that you won’t probably use. So, take some basic things (i.e. bandages, ointments and such). And, as always, have fun. If you use your ‘period’ equipment, it adds to your impression. Thanks for your time.
Most Respectfully Yours,
Jimmy Nelson

The whole concept of integrating a dual role--modern health care vs. a period role--is something I have mixed feelings about. Yes, I believe a period doctor should be functional, but when taking responsibility for others' real health, there are complex issues.

For example, triage. A man falls out with a blister at the same time a skirmisher comes back grazed by a bullet. Who gets care first? If you're primarily portraying a period doctor, the bullet guy. If you're primarily a modern medic, the blister guy.

If you're portraying a period doctor, is the blister guy going to be okay with the fact that he's there seeking care for a real problem, and you're ignoring him and making him hobble a bit further on his real injury while you "play pretend" with the bullet wound? And even worse for battle-related injuries--it might be hours before you get to splinters and twisted ankles, with men hemorrhaging all around.

Another example: A guy shows up feeling lightheaded and nauseous. If medical reenactors are designated as the first contact when real health issues arise, is it the responsibility of the patient or the doctor to suggest further real medical care?

If the responsibility is the doctor's, then he is the gate keeper for the real EMTs, and is in a full modern medical role, even if he's not doing the modern care himself. So he's going to need the knowledge to do a complete modern assessment: does the guy just need to sit in the shade and get cooled off (period treatment), or is he diabetic? does he have his diabetic medicine with him? History of heart problems? On heart medication? etc. And of course the same judgment would be expected for any injury/illness--period-style field treatment or send him off for stitches? X-ray? tetanus shot?
If that's the case, a reenactor with good modern knowledge and low period knowledge is "better" for the event than someone with good period knowledge but low modern knowledge--the only living history role I can think of where that's true.
There's also many period things to do during the day, such as issuing quinine to all the men, and seeing that they take it; examining the rations and water supplies, etc, not to mention keeping an eye on the men during the march, filling out the appropriate forms for stragglers due to medical necessity, etc.

Definitely. The more accurately the overall situation is recreated, the easier it is for the medical personnel to just do what they would have done. But that does mean there need to be rations issued, water supplies able to be examined (even if the real water is coming from the hidden water buffalo beside the stagnant stream), a march long enough that stragglers could occur, etc.

Hank Trent

Our Infantry unit has the unique position of having a Surgeon who is a real life M.D. although he doesn't bring his office to reenactments. He still has the knowledge base to evaluate real emergencies. He also has a very knowledgeable supporting cast as follows: Company Commander--Respiratory Therapist. First Sergeant--Registered Nurse/Anesthisist (spelling might be wrong), Second Sergeant--EMT-Basic, First Corporal--Paramedic....So as you can see, if called upon our unit could set up it's own M.A.S.H. unit in a pinch as everybody has special skills and usually the equipment located nearby at any event we attend. Yes, it is difficult to properly assess and treat someone with limited equipment, but we can provide first response to any real medical emergencies. Also, if need be our surgeon can treat the simulated bullet wound, while one of the others assesses the real emergency. We also always introduce ourselves to the on duty medical teams at an event and let them know our level of training. I think that setting up a folder for medical reenactors would be a very good idea as they have an impression that would add tremendously to a reenactment if done correctly.

Jim Lancaster,
12thLA Inf., TMVI