The ‘grandfather of plastic surgery’ who gave First World War soldiers new faces

In December 1917, a battle correspondent was proven into the working theatre of Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup, the place a person lay stripped to the waist, smeared in orange-tinted iodine, a face drawn on his chest like a masks. “These spots here are the eyes,” defined the surgeon, waving his scalpel. “This is where the nose will go, and here you see the mouth we shall give him.”

The affected person’s face had been shattered a number of days earlier. His nostril could be constructed up with cartilage taken from his ribs, and his disfigured face then lined with the residing pores and skin from his chest; the tissue, fed naturally by blood, would develop in its new place and the scars would fade. Overwhelmed, the journalist fled from the theatre. “A revolution has come,” he later wrote within the Yorkshire Evening Post. “A new face is grafted on, and grows there, and becomes a real face, not a mask that hides horror.” The surgeon’s identify was Harold Gillies, and his pioneering makes an attempt at facial reconstruction are the topic of this meticulously researched new e-book by medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris, writer of an equally gore-flecked research of the surgeon Joseph Lister known as The Butchering Art.

Plastic surgical procedure had been round in a primitive kind because the French revolution, however makes an attempt at facial reconstruction had been restricted. Gillies, a Kiwi who had joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1914 straight from St Bartholomew’s medical faculty, was on go away in Paris in June 1915 when he watched the French surgeon Hippolyte Morestin take away a most cancers tumour from a affected person’s face, then cover it with a flap of pores and skin taken from their very own neck. “It was the most thrilling thing I had ever seen. I fell in love with the work on the spot,” wrote Gillies, and by the subsequent year he had requisitioned his personal ward in Aldershot to deal with the grotesque procession of disfigured males disembarking from the hospital trains. Short staffed, he recruited medical college students, retired docs and even a vet to his staff.

The work was not for the faint hearted. One nurse, Mary Borden, lifted the bandage from a soldier’s head and half his brain slipped out. She had a breakdown – and you may perceive why. Even the notoriously sarcastic battle artist Henry Tonks, who made earlier than and after drawings of Gillies’s sufferers, was chastened by what he noticed, christening Gillies’s ward “the chamber of horrors”. As a Daily Mail reporter put it: “Nowhere does the sheer horror and savagery of modern warfare appeal so vividly to the mind and senses… a face ravaged by shrapnel cannot fail to arouse a certain amount of repulsion.”

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