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Thread: Setting up a Field Hospital

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
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    65

    Default Setting up a Field Hospital

    As the sesquicentennial moves its way into our area (Georgia), I'm getting a lot of requests for medical displays, especially in some of the historic buildings.

    My question is: What are some of the items, supplies, and such that others in the forum use for these displays. My intent is to reproduce an actual hospital, just before the actual battle starts.

    I ask this because some displays come off more like a museum, not a working hospital. I've also seen items that were not only inaccurate, but also highly unlikely to be found in a field hospital. I like to use items that are not only accurate, but also spur an explanation of some of the facts about medicine, such as a pan of dirty water and the fact that wounded soldiers were washed with dirty water, or some of the common medicines, allowing me to discuss anesthesia, pain medicine, and some of the mercury-based medicines.

    Thanks in advance for any help in this area.

    Dixon Grubbs

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
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    317

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    The Water is not dirty until after the first or second use.

    Are you talking full regimental hospital or a field aid station?

    Blue mass is a good mercury based medication

    opium pills for pain and other uses oh ... and laudanum
    David Meister

    Surgeon C.S.A.

    1st Assistant Surgeon 108th Regt. Ills. Vols.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Location
    Maryland
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    When I used to do a medical scenario with a full out field hospital, I always liked doing a “Working” hospital.
    I had an actual door from an 1800’s house, which is shorter than modern doors; I had a wooden bucket with arms and legs in it that had been carefully implanted with hair to look even more realistic. I spent the whole winter pushing in doll hair into the rubber flesh of arms and legs bought from “Dapper Cadaver”, the supplier of props to dozens of TV shows, and movies.
    In the bottom of my bucket I placed a piece of rotten meat, yes you read correctly, a freezer burnt chunk of beef roast or steak left out to get stinky and get flies to come. The pile of arms and legs looks so much more authentic with flies buzzing in and out of the bucket, and a slight tinge of decay picked up by your nose.
    I also had a good formula for blood and it was cheap but looked very real. I would cover the ground around the “Operating table/door” and that made the ground a bit sticky and looked very gory!
    Take left over coffee from your pot, save it till you got a gallon, boil it on the stove and add a bit of red food coloring to it, test the color on a white paper towel till it colors the towel without going Pink. Keep adding till it is not Pink. When the color is right add just enough cornstarch to the boiling pot to thicken it like gravy. Let it cool and you got thick partially congealed blood for the ground, blood clots included!
    At every event that I set up at, the Hospital was the talk of the event and had more visitors than the Artillery display.
    When I was doing an amputation, I had a young man that had actually lost his lower arm in a farm accident, well when you cut off an arm and actually throw it in the pile and they see him flailing a stub, well it is very convincing!
    I used white ˝ PVC pipe for the bones in the arm and that way I could actually saw thru “Bone” and morticians wax for the flesh to cover the amputation point, with a small rubber tube connected to a bulb for artery blood spurts’! All very convincing, and looked extremely authentic.
    I believe a “Working” display is better than a Static display in attracting a crowd and educating them.
    Oh ya, one more thing, sometimes I would grab a bystander and have them help hold down the victim, I mean patient, while I operated. They loved it!
    I have been paid to do my hospital and have done it for church groups, Schools, men’s clubs, museums, historical villages, town centennials, Boy and Girl Scout Jamborees.

    Pvt. Gerald Drake
    24th. NC

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
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    65

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    It would be a regimental hospital. I have bottles for calomel and blue mass, along with chloroform, laudanum, morphine, and whiskey.

    By dirty I mean that water was not clean, drawn from sources that we wouldn't think of using nowadays, and the cause of sickness. (I read one account of wounded having nothing to drink but "muddy water"). This gives me a way to segue into discussions of camp hygiene and it being the cause of a lot of sickness.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Alexandria, LA
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    32

    Default Field Dressing Station

    I would be interested in the answer too.

    I've been talking to the local Confederate infantry regiment about setting up a field dressing station and traveling with the unit.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
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    317

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    Usualy those are operated by the assistant surgeon and an attendant from the regiment. They should be be under cover from heavy fire. I like under trees and sometimes using a free standing fly if the battle lines for the event are not very fluid. bring basic things that you and the attendant can carry if you are evicted by the enemy... bandages a few medicines a few basic tools a few canteens and maybe some food for the soldiers
    David Meister

    Surgeon C.S.A.

    1st Assistant Surgeon 108th Regt. Ills. Vols.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Alexandria, LA
    Posts
    32

    Default Field Dressing Station

    What do you lay the stretchers on as they come in? Have them set on the ground, or use empty ammo crates?

    Any furniture like a desk chair, or just use the standing fly with a pack to hold meds, bandages, etc?

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
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    Northern Virginia
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    Quote Originally Posted by decajun4513 View Post
    What do you lay the stretchers on as they come in? Have them set on the ground, or use empty ammo crates?

    Any furniture like a desk chair, or just use the standing fly with a pack to hold meds, bandages, etc?
    Put them on the ground. An FDS is a very temporary spot, and all that is medically yours you carry with you.

    Skip furniture. You will be too busy notating patients in your patient register and patching them up to putz with furniture, because odds are good the FDS won't be in one place for long.
    Noah Briggs

  9. #9
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    Setting up an actual field hospital -

    First, clear out the parlor of all furniture except for a few tables. Said tables will become the place to set up instruments and meds.

    Use large tables, doors on barrels, shutters on barrels, or whatever will hold the weight of your patient at a height that's comfortable for you. Theoretically you should have two tables, so as soon as you are done with one patient, you can turn around a start on another. Use a pillow or something pillow-ish for your patient (unless you are doing cranial surgery. Then you need him lying all the way down so the blood will drain properly).

    Patient goes on the table. Smear his face with simple cerates (use pond's cold cream; it's a descendant). Cover his eyes with a wet cloth. You should have given him a spoonful of fake laudanum and told him to act drowsy.

    One man holds the anesthesia cone two to three inches above his face. ( If you covered his face with an ether cone in real life he would die from lack of oxygen.) This same man will pinch the patient's ear from time to time to make sure there is good circulation. he also checks for a pulse. Keep in mind that ninety percent of all surgeries, north and south, were done under anesthesia. Since the anesthesia in the period does not have a nerve blocker like it does today, you will need several other men (yes, they are called nurses) holding him down.

    At this point I argue against bloodngutz. Many visitors have family and friends overseas, and there are a lot of amputees coming home from Afghanistan, Iraq, and if the current idiocy holds out, the Korean peninsula. Lots of bloodngutz, while somewhat period accurate, detracts from the main message of the medical reenactor community - the original cast were doing their best with what they had, and along the way used the Indiana Jones Plan to create the Letterman Evac system. Yes, it's gory, but the public need not be reminded of it. My team and I use pantomime, dialogue, gory discretion, and the visitor's fetid imaginations to create surgeries not usually considered - near misses, ricochets, spent rounds, concussions, and so on. All procedures are researched in advance from original manuals of the period, and patients and staff are coached on how to react to medicines and procedures. I avoid amputations because they are complicated to set up and look ridiculous and offensive if done wrong or over the top. Also, according to Alfred Bollet's book "Civil War Medicine: Challenges and Triumphs" only 21 percent of surgeries were amputations.

    Once you are done with whatever surgery you are simulating, you can bandage the patient (or have your assistant surgeon close the wound and bandage, since that's his job in the first place), and issue post op instructions, and go on to the next person. Your attendants take the patient off the table and into whatever room you have set up as a recovery area.

    It's best to arrange one table with your instruments at close hand, and the other farther back with the drugs. Washing the instruments in non-potable water (be it from a nearby stream or whatever) is appropriate. Once you are done with them, your steward should give them a final cleaning in warm soapy water, then dry them and apply a light coat of sweet oil to keep Madame Rust from dropping by.

    Most field hospitals were probably a lot quieter than we think. Most patients will be in shock, or semi-stoned on some form of opiate, with occasional moans or screams. That eerie silence is what might attract the visitors in the first place.

    I encourage you to customize these recommendations to your needs and research. I think you and your patients and staff and the visitors will get a better idea of how a hospital actually worked. I apologize for not replying sooner. I don't hit the fora that often and I am just catching up. Good luck with your endeavors!
    Last edited by NoahBriggs; 04-27-2013 at 10:39 PM. Reason: Those **** typos . . .
    Noah Briggs

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