Archibald McIndoe and the Guinea Pig Club

Yesterday evening Mark and I went along to the opening event for a new exhibition at Surgeons’ Hall Museum. The exhibition is called “Skin Deep: the restoration of form and function” and is about the history of elective and corrective facial surgery. Although plastic surgery is a relatively modern phenomenon, there are examples of surgery to alter or construct the face going back as far as 800 BC. Yes, that’s right, BC.
To launch the exhibition, the museum had invited along Dr Emily Mayhew to talk about Archibald McIndoe and the Guinea Pig Club, the subject of her book “The Reconstruction of Warriors”. McIndoe was a pioneer of plastic surgery, developing new techniques to treat men who had suffered permanent facial disfigurement as a result of injuries received during World War 2. The experimental nature of the surgery is what gave the group of men their name, The Guinea Pig Club. This is a challenging subject, but the feeling I had listening to the stories of McIndoe’s work and the camaraderie of the Club members, was one of admiration. This was not just for the surgical advances being made by McIndoe, but also his determination that his patients would return to having a full life once surgery was complete, and the bravery and determination of the Club members themselves. Dr Mayhew’s talk was illustrated by photographs of the Club from the 1940s and also by more recent photographs of the Club taken by Nicola Kurtz.
We then had a look around the exhibition. As always, it’s amazing to see objects which illustrate just how long surgery in various forms has been around, as well as the advances that have been made. The exhibition also features artwork by Joyce Gunn Cairns inspired by objects in the museum’s collection. The museum has extended opening hours over the summer period, so there’s plenty of opportunity to go along and see the exhibition.

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