Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why

Some History and Reasoning
Ælflæd of Duckford

A half-life of the SCA ago, first-aid personnel at events were called "healers" and there was no overall structure. At big events one group of healers would compete with another to be considered the official group of the day, or a healer would go onto the field only to find that the fighter preferred his buddy who was off at the other end of camp eating lunch, or one healer would be administering first aid while two others offered conflicting "advice" on what he was doing wrong. Doctors would tell nurses that they were outranked and to shove over. EMT's would tell pathologists that they were outranked because the guy was still alive. Things got nasty. Healers were ready to start hurting each other. Wounded fighters were saying, "Never mind; just let me die in peace."

Independently, over the SCA, people started mumbling and planning to cause this to be an office, organized up to the corporate level. Which start-up group would win out? What theories would hold? There was a popular heresy in Atenveldt for a while that if a chirurgeon declared a fighter unfit to go back on the field, nobody—not the fighter, the marshal and the king all put together—not the seneschal with a forest ranger in tow—could naysay the chirurgeon. It was a cool theory, and would've given chirurgeons quite a bit of sway in crown tournaments, but it was an unpopular plan among fighters, marshals, kings and seneschals. (The forest rangers stayed out of it.) It didn't stick.[1]

Another plan was that there had to be a warranted chirurgeon present at every SCA event, or else it couldn't be an official activity (meaning no awards, illegal to use sites that only allow non-profit groups, insurance wouldn't be in effect, and all the other problems related to distinguishing SCA events from private parties). Beside the fact that it didn't match what Corpora already said about events, and had been published without the board having discussed it (or heard of it), it gave chirurgeons more responsibility than anyone needs. If there were only one single warranted chirurgeon in a whole state, he or she could either go to every single official event or singlehandedly spoil the SCA for everyone. Most little shires wouldn't be able to have events at all.

About the time this was being discussed a couple of people pointed out that if the SCA approved that plan, it would be saying we will have medical services at every event we put on. The liability involved in failing to provide a promised service (especially a life-and-death service) could easily destroy the Society. From that it was published that autocrats and seneschals should never promise to have chirurgeons at events. To say "If we have any they'll be in this place" or "We'll try to have some" is fine.

The idea of every group having a chirurgeon didn't quite work out well, either. Some groups had four or five super-qualified people. Some groups had zero. It was a shame for one barely-qualified new first-aid person to outrank someone with ten years' mundane experience in an ambulance or emergency room just because the first-aid guy was a warranted officer. So that plan fell by the wayside in favor of the idea of guilds. In a guild structure, it doesn't matter how many are from which area. There's a central point for record keeping (at kingdom level), there's someone autocrats can check with about who in their area is qualified, a place that people can complain, and a structure for the exchange of current information. People outrank others only through knowledge, experience and service, not through living in a bigger barony or having more SCA rank or mundane credentials. That, I believe, is the state of the world as I write.

What does a person have to do to become a chirurgeon? It may be a little different in each kingdom, but you'll need to get a First Aid card, CPR training (preferably infant and adult), you need to be an SCA member, and have an SCA authorization card (so you could go onto the field at a tournament or war). By the time you get all that, you'll probably be in contact with a chirurgeon in your area who will let you know the particulars necessary for you to become an apprentice. Even someone with overwhelming mundane qualifications needs to be an apprentice, because part of what needs to be learned is how to interact with the populace and other officers at events. There are things chirurgeons know about armor and its effects (and how to get it off) which can't be known to someone who's just joined the Society. After observing and assisting at a few events the apprentice may be promoted to journeyman (if your kingdom has that level), and from there someday to the master-level of the guild. I don't know the requirements, and it doesn't matter at this point. People in your kingdom will let you know.

How is "chirurgeon" pronounced? The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language says ki rûr jən, so that it would start like "chiropractor." This doesn't mean it means chiropractor. What it means is "surgeon," but that doesn't mean they're pronounced the same way. The Oxford English Dictionary shows the pronunciation beginning "kəir" (-and then some symbols I can't even approximate; sorry). [2]  Both Webster's and Funk & Wagnall's agree that the word begins with a hard sound and that it has three syllables. There is, however, a persistent rumor going around the Society that it's pronounced exactly like "surgeon." The first time I saw the word I looked it up. I had my dictionary-pronunciation corrected once by someone who ultimately implied that it was none of my business anyway since I wasn't a chirurgeon. This is an excellent example of what happens when people ask other SCA members for answers instead of checking reliable non-SCA sources. My advice is to check the latest EMT and medical school magazines for first aid news and check dictionaries for pronunciations.

I have a friend who's an RN who wants to join the Society but does not want to be a chirurgeon. What should I tell her? Tell her "good luck." Actually it's probably not that bad. In the past it seemed that if a person came along and said, "Hi, I was on my way to work at the hospital and I wondered what you were doing," the response would be "do you want to be a chirurgeon?" before "We're in the Society for Creative Anachronism." I think this has calmed down some, at least where I am. This is a harder question than it first appears, and let me switch the topic somewhat to make a clearer story.

What if a guy joins who owns a metal-supply business and a welding shop, but he really doesn't want to do metal work for a hobby. He's looking for a place to get away from his regular work where he doesn't even have to think about it. He'd like to just be a herald, sing, do leatherwork, make mead—nothing in the world involving metal or even the discussion of metal. How long do you think that will last? Maybe he'll be frustrated at shabby face-bars or at people paying top dollar for little sheets of steel. Maybe he'll hold out, but as he begins to be considered for awards people might express the idea that he doesn't do all that he can for the Society, that he seems not to really want to become fully involved, and isn't sharing his main talent which is metalworking.

My first inclination is to say that if a nurse, doctor, fireman, whoever, comes to fighter practice, just leave them completely alone and don't even mention the fact that chirurgeons exist. It probably wouldn't save them in the long run, though.

If you know someone with medical training who doesn't want to be a chirurgeon, please be charitable in your opinion. It's a stressful job, and they may want absolutely nothing to do with the Society if they can't just come and rest. We don't bully every typist into becoming a chronicler, nor every artist into being arts officer. (If you have been bullying every typist, etc., try to stop.)

What problems are chirurgeons likely to have to deal with?

Wounded combatants, naturally, and the occasional ambulance and emergency room people. (You might want to consider having good mundane clothes at hand; depends on your temperament, your neighborhood, and the reputation of the Society where you are.)

Marshals who resent people paying critical attention to what they're doing. Autocrats who are not with-it about the need for a well-situated area for first-aid personnel and their equipment.

Lack of equipment. (You may have to do some of your own fundraising, but DO NOT even think of charging money for first aid—yowza. Sell cookies or something. Raffle off a cloak.)

Drunks at camping events. Drunks alone, or in combination with fires, knives, guy ropes, other people's fists.

Dangerous sites (bubonic plague is our local favorite; one of the few plague areas in the country is right near Albuquerque, so people have to be reminded to be careful of fleas who might want to jump from a cold squirrel to a warm bod).

Heat exhaustion, sun poisoning/dehydration, elevation sickness (one way or another), asthma, allergy attacks, headaches, hangovers, breaks, sprains, bruises, cuts, thorns; the regular school-nurse sorts of things.

Unreliable fellow chirurgeons.

Goofy old-timers who are still wary of chirurgeons because they're afraid they'll try to keep them out of a tournament or something.

What can chirurgeons do besides be on call for emergencies? Hang out and have fun at events. Away from events the best thing I've seen chirurgeons do is to write informative articles on such things as recurring wounds caused by flaws in local armor design, what foods keep well in coolers for two days, what insects might be at a site and how to ward them off, what to do about dehydration or heat exhaustion if no chirurgeon is there, and historical trivia (medieval first-aid or medicine, to make us appreciate that we're only playing). Aside from being interesting and educational, articles like that make people more aware of the chirurgeons.

What's some advice for non-chirurgeons dealing with chirugeons? Other officers should be as helpful as possible. Members of the populace should try to be aware of safety, and be considerate. Don't stand and scream "HEALER" for a little cut which can be carried down to wherever they are. Don't be critical of visible mundanities when they're such things as cots and stretchers. Use your imagination a little. If you feel a chirurgeon is being too pushy or isn't listening to your opinion of your own condition, remember that they're volunteers and you're lucky they're there. If you want to ignore their advice, you generally can, and you can do it without getting hateful and obnoxious. Show them courtesy.


[1] From the beginning of time to this day, though, a chirurgeon can try to persuade the king and marshal not to let someone fight for medical reasons. He just can't unilaterally declare someone unfit to fight. If the chirurgeon and king and marshal all agree, that's it and the fighter's off the field until he's better.

[2] New Note: The original had a hand-written schwa, but with html I can use a real one, so the original note is left in only for historical purposes and the discussion of the pronunciation:
That ə mark is as close as I can come to showing an upside-down e. The marking intended is a "schwa," which is the symbol dictionaries use for a flat, non-descript vowel sound. Kind of the sound in "duh" or "uh-huh."

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