Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Reconstructive Surgery at the Science Museum

The lay public and media usually equate plastic and reconstructive surgery with cosmetic surgery. Most related TV shows focus on boobs and bums with a few notable exceptions.

Debate continues amongst plastic surgeons as to how the public understanding of reconstructive surgery can be improved.

Challenging the publics perception of disfigurement does seem to be making some progress. This is mainly through high profile individuals, such as Katie Piper, and related media. Recent successes in face transplantation have also generated interest.

I was pleased to come across the Science Museum 'Brought to Life' website, which explores the history of medicine. It is funded by the Wellcome Trust and uses some of their material.

Reconstructive surgery features prominently. The section gives an introduction to the history and contribution of plastic surgery. Gillies and McIndoe, as always, are given pride of place.

Talking of the Wellcome, they are currently displaying the winners of their Wellcome Image Awards 2011. I am sure an image from within the sphere of plastic and reconstructive surgery could be a winner!

Image: Indian method of nose reconstruction, illustrated in the Gentleman's Magazine, 1794. Wellcome Library, London, UK

1 comment:

  1. Too much stress is laid on the article in The Gentleman’s Magazine by Ayurvedic proponents to establish the authenticity of Sushruta’s rhinoplasty. But the fact of the matter is that there is no reference at all to Sushruta in the Gentleman’s Magazine. It is a clear evidence that Sushruta was not known in 1794 and this fictitious figure was created only several decades after 1794. The Gentleman’s magazine of October 1794 edition gives a bizarre account of a curious operation of making a nose from a forehead flap of one Cowsajee. It is quite weird to note that the so-called operation was performed not by an Ayurvedic physician but by an illiterate man belonging to ‘brick-maker’ caste. The condition of the patient mentioned in the Magazine causes further doubt. It is alleged that Cowsajee, the patient, was caught by Tipu sultan’s men and they cut off his nose and one hand. It is also stated that he lived “for about 12 months without a nose.” On the face of it everything appears uncanny, inscrutable and strange. How could Cowsajee escape infection when his one hand and nose were amputated? This account is sent in the form of a letter addressed to the Gentleman’s Magazine by a person who had not divulged his name and address, but only the initials “B.L.” To give credence to this story, he has also given the names of two surgeons, Thomas Cruso and James Trindlay, who were alleged to have witnessed the operation. The surgeons’ identity has not been proved and they have not given any statement. They have not also published such a feat in any medical journal. Even the details of the grafting procedure and the figure of the patient were all diagrams and painting, and were published at third hand in London in 1794. In those days scholars belonging to Asiatic Society invented stories to become famous. William Jones, for instance, gave several arguments to prove that a group of Egyptian priests had in some remote age settled down in India. Reuben Burrow tried to prove that the Binomial Theorem was known to ancient Indians. It is against this backdrop that we have to view the letter sent to The Gentleman’s Magazine describing skin grafting by one ‘B.L.’ was fabricated in view of the fact that without sterile technique, anesthesia and antibiotics an illiterate ‘brick maker’ could not have performed plastic surgery.