As many of you know, my primary focus during the War Between the States is the medical side, and that of my impression. My team and I work hard to put on a field hospital several times a year. Today, I’m taking you inside that field hospital and going to share a few inside secrets, though not all of them. So come with me inside the makings of a field hospital.
When our team is asked to put on a field hospital, a lot of planning starts almost immediately. My co-surgeon, Joel, and I get together and pull out so many of our resources, what we’ve been reading, and primary sources for reference. Between us, our library covers quite an extensive amount of information, and we are still learning and collecting! We sit down and consider the event, what may have or did happen there, who will be there (because we can’t do this without our patients!), and what we have or haven’t shown before. We want to bring many of the aspects of medical care during the war to life, as well as many of the wounds and ways of treatment. Though we’ve been doing this for a number of years now, we have by no means exhausted the possibilities!
Once we have a sketch of what we want to consider, then we have to sit back and see how we can pull it off. Believe me, this is not just something where we show up, ask some guys to have a wound, and then walk in front of a crowd. HOURS of planning, logistics, and research goes into each and every field hospital we do, and that doesn’t even count the days of making special FX for each one! More on that in a moment.
Once we have a case scenario sketched out, then we start looking at logistics. Do we have strong enough guys to carry this one in? Who do we have who can play this role well? Do we have our nurses for this event? Will we need orderlies? Are we having just a Confederate field hospital or are both sides being brought in? Are our tried and true “patients” going to be available at this event, and what about those who expressed interest in helping us in the past. Will we use them? Do we have the sponges, sutures, buckets, surgical tools, etc., we need? Once we have an answer to these questions, then we move on to further logistics.
Some of these logistics include who needs what kind of makeup, prosthetic, SFX and do we have it or still need it? Do we have enough blood (the boys love this part). Who’s going to haul the turn-of-the-century door we use as our operating table to the event? Do we have all the herbal medicines we need (thank you to our amazing living resources for help with this and making sure we have period herbs for display!). Do we need to build anything we haven’t had for a previous demo or hospital? Do we have all the surgical tools needed to pull off that surgery according to the 1862 Surgeon’s Handbook, and so much more.
Once we answer these questions, then comes the fun part – making the SFX. **Warning before we go any farther, if you have a squeamish stomach, you might want to skip the pictures.**
Being raised with a Mom who was an actress, I learned many things beyond just giving a good performance. I learned how to design and draw makeup sketches and figure out what would be needed. I learned how to make stage blood and make things look different than they really are. Then I took it to a whole other level and learned how to use these skills to make a semblance of the wounds we would be recreating. For days to a week, my kitchen may have limited usability for food preparation because of being covered in SFX in different stages of readiness as we are nearing an event. If you ever walk into my house during one of those times you might see things like liquid latex, cotton, tissues, baking soda, yarn, marshmallows, coffee, food coloring, corn starch, corn syrup, makeup, scissors, trays, compotes, spirit gum, among other things. In one bowl will be something dark blood-red (yes kids, the blood is actually fake ;) ), while liquid latex is trying over a prosthetic or on a tray to be made into something else. Then there’s creating or altering prosthetics so that we can actually throw an arm or leg after an amputation! :D The kids seem to love that one! You might also see knives, raw or seared meat, and bloody bandages if you peaked under the set dressing of our field hospital, so be sure not to look too closely.
All these things allow us to make the wounds and horror of war come alive. We have created sword wounds, disemboweled intestines, shrapnel wounds, bullet wounds, and even gangrene that actually moved! Joel said, ‘leave it to the nurse to make real-looking gangrene!’ We’ve portrayed gunshot wounds to the head, knee, buttocks, leg, hand, gut, ankle, and ribs. We’ve had powder burns, collapsed lungs, broken bones, gun explosions, soldiers in shock, the medical staff running out of anesthesia, and more! All of the cases we do we can back up in the literature. Sometimes we will pull a scenario from battle reports and show how they would have been treated! Yet we try to do it in a tasteful way that’s not too gory for a family events.
But that’s not all that makes our field hospital come to life; it’s our team. Our incredible nurses display compassion, comfort, record keeping, and soothing of pain, while trying to bring to life the experiences and heart of the women who actually did those things. Our head nurse, Lisa, is amazing at capturing the compassion and care for the wounded, and comforting them while they undergo surgery.
Our surgeons fighting to stop bleeding, remove a limb, or save a life. Our soldiers, from many units graciously agree to become our patients, dive into the roles, putting themselves in the shoes of the one who is bleeding out, one who is in excruciating pain every time we move their arm with the bullet in it, or one who must cope without anesthesia because the hospital just ran out.
They capture the grit of the wounded soldier who’s so afraid he’s calling for his momma or sister, or wife while his buddies grab hold of him; or the one who’s trying to stay calm while he can’t breathe. They convey the fear of the one who’s trying to comfort his brother while he’s going through surgery, praying he won’t have to write their mother that her other son is dead. Our guys get so into the roles I never know what they are going to do or say, or in which direction they are going to take the scenario.
But that’s good, because those doctors and nurses had no idea what was coming in to them or how those patient’s were going to respond in their agony, and neither do we.
We roll with what we are given, we play off each other, we pull on all the accounts we have read and studied and try to make it real. We reach down deep inside ourselves to keep fighting, keep operating, while their performances are seeming more real than acting, and making our hearts ache. Most importantly, we work as a team. Every surgeon and nurse on this team works together as one, and I know that I can personally rely on every one of them.
Our team and our patients work together, play together, and at times pray together. We try to bring a small part of what these men went through to the public eye so that this untold part of the horror of war isn’t forgotten, and the price those men paid isn’t overlooked. We teach, educate, study, plan, and then we perform, in hopes of bringing another side of history to life.
We help people understand how medicine so greatly improved during and after the war, and so the suffering and sacrifice of these men will not have been in vain. I pray we do it well.
If you would like to experience this for yourself, or even have a small taste of what medicine and surgery would have been like during the War Between the States, please be sure to drop by Hurricane Shoals Park (Maysville, GA) on Saturday morning, September 21st and see us in action!
We’d love for you to stay and ask questions and talk to us as well, for we love to share our passion with others! This year’s hospital is sure not to disappoint. See you there!