Steve Komula, a history interpreter at Fort Snelling, will bring his character, Dr. Daniel Hand, at a special event at the Fillmore County History Center on Saturday, July 20.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
Steve Komula, a history interpreter at Fort Snelling, will bring his character, Dr. Daniel Hand, at a special event at the Fillmore County History Center on Saturday, July 20. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Need a "Hand" with a diagnosis?

Consult history and see how practiced medicine could be...interpreted, really.

"We normally interpret the 1820s, when Fort Snelling was built, but we also have special events every summer and hold a Civil War weekend in August," said Fort Snelling history interpreter Steve Komula. He portrays Dr. Daniel Hand, a Civil War surgeon who will pay a house call to the Fillmore County History Center on Saturday, July 20.

The interpreter explained how he became Dr. Hand. "Last year, I was asked to be Dr. Daniel Hand. He was actually a St. Paul surgeon when the war broke out, and he ended up with the First Minnesota Regiment, which blocked a Confederate charge at Gettysburg. He served with the U.S. Volunteers, the national army raised to fight in the Civil War. He lived through the war, came back to St. Paul and tried to use what he learned while he was in the war. He became a member of the Ramsay County Medical Society and a professor at the University of Minnesota. Toward the end of his life, one of his patients was James J. Hill, the Empire State builder."

Komula's presentation as Dr. Hand will encompass three different topics. "The common perception or misperception about Civil War medicine is that doctors were butchers who were too happy to amputate, and that they didn't have anesthesia," he explained. "Most amputations were done under anesthesia, and there were 70,000 amputations done during the war."

Komula said, overall, there was a survival rate upwards of 75 percent, whether it was a finger amputation or a leg amputation, though there's a big difference between the two.

"Anesthesia was one of the few advances in medicine made in the 19th century and the Civil War...the war occurred during the final decades of the Middle Ages of medicine. Nothing was sterilized, nothing was cleaned," he added.

However, he pointed out, "Most doctors were caring people whose medical knowledge was limited, even though they were on the cusp of change. The greatest risk during the war was not from a bullet, but that two out of three soldiers died of disease - either diarrhea or pneumonia."

Lasting changes came about because of the war, Komula explained. The admission of women into medicine happened because of the Civil War - they were, before the war, hospital stewards and men were nurses, but there was a severe manpower shortage during the war. The first women nurses were nuns and they were good nurses.

"Dorothea Dix, who dealt with the mentally ill, helped train nurses and Clara Barton started the American Red Cross after the war," Komula stated. "The U.S. Sanitary Commission was the precursor to the American Red Cross. Two of the first women to graduate from reputable medical colleges were Elizabeth Blackwell and Mary Walker, who was eventually given a contract as a doctor and, after the war, won the Congressional Medal of Honor. Both helped usher at least a thousand women into medical college, and at the end of the war, there were over 20,000 women in the medical field. The war was a huge page in medical history."

Komula will appear at the history center in period costume - an Army officer's medical uniform "indicating that I'm a member of the medical corps, which operated under a yellow flag with a green H on it" - and incorporate volunteers from the audience to assist him, or if brave enough, be a patient while he "practices" medicine.

Dr. Daniel Hand will visit the infirm at the Fillmore County History Center on Saturday, July 20, at 1 p.m. The museum is located at 202 County Road 8 and Highway 52 in Fountain. For more information, call (507) 268-4449 or log onto www.fillmorecountyhistory.wordpress.com/brochures.