Summary: This month marks the 100th anniversary of World War I, one of the darkest chapters in western history. And yet, many wonderful things emerged from the ashes, including plastic surgery, which continues its mission to improve the lives of the patients it touches.
A Solemn Anniversary
This week marks the centenary of the start of World War I. It’s been 100 years since one of the most horrifying–and least discussed–conflicts in human history began. It’s true there will be plenty of reflection and remembrance in the weeks to come, which is fitting for such a solemn anniversary. But it’s worth mentioning how World War I fits into the history of modern medicine, which was just finding its feet during those years. Indeed, it was the modernization of World War I and, perhaps, the outbreak of the 1918 flu pandemic that really shaped medicine we know today.
The Birth of Plastic Surgery
But it’s also worth noting that World War I is generally seen as the birthplace of plastic surgery. Sir Harold Gillies was a New Zealand doctor, an otolargyngologist (the fancy word for an ear, nose, and throat doctor), who spent a lot of time repairing shrapnel wounds in soldiers under his car. It was this care–repairing the wounds and trying to give his patients as normal an appearance as possible–that would become the foundation of many modern plastic surgery practices.
For a profession that is often marginalized and described as cosmetic or elective in pejorative terms, it’s nice to remember the noble origins of plastic surgery–a lineage that remains today.
This Mission is to Help People
Indeed, plastic surgery today is still in the business of improving people’s lives. Whether you’re looking for a breast augmentation or a facelift, plastic surgery offers an avenue for becoming happy with yourself, for escaping the immense daily pressure to look young and perfect. Plastic surgery, at its heart, is about improving your quality of life, giving you the confidence and freedom you deserve.
It’s true that plastic surgeons aren’t necessarily performing these operations on the battlefield (though, to be sure, there are many plastic surgeons that work with the VA or with veterans to help erase the scars of battlefield traumas). The vast majority of procedures are performed in absolute safety. But that doesn’t mean those procedures aren’t changing lives.
For example, Austin plastic surgeon Dr. John McFate began work as plastic surgeon to honor his mother, who passed away from breast cancer. He now does extensive work with breast reconstruction in Texas, performing surgeries that allow cancer survivors to feel more complete again.
This type of redemptive quality was at the heart of plastic surgery 100 years ago, and remains the profession’s soul today: helping people live full, confident, satisfying lives.