Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Tin Noses Shop

I don't read novels to learn things. I read novels to get away, to go to different countries, different worlds, or different times. I read novels to solve mysteries, to laugh, to cry, or to get indignant.

Sometimes I even read novels to think.

But occasionally I come across something new I've never heard before. And this is one thing I learned new this week.

We all know war is brutal. We know that healthy men sometimes don't come back alive. Those that do may come back without limbs, or having lost their minds.

Worse than losing a limb, is losing your face. Our faces is what we present to the world. It's our calling card. It's how we are recognized. When damage is done to our face it can be frightening for others as well as detrimental to ourselves. We may not see our own face, but we are certainly emotionally attached to it.

As well, our face is the sole provider of  three of our senses, our ability to eat, our necessity to breathe and our ability to talk.

Many soldiers lost their face. Sometimes this was the result of poking their heads out of trenches to see what was going on and having their face shot off.

Coming home to loved ones as not whole is difficult for anyone. Coming home without a face is something else. A waiting wife or girlfriend might not have an issue with a lost arm or leg, but if her sweetheart is someone that she can't even look at, it can be devastating for both. Certainly guilt on her part, and rejection on his.

Going out in public is another problem. People are understanding of a soldier with a missing limb. In fact he is often hailed as a hero (not that losing a limb isn't detrimental, it is), but when you don't have a face people can literally scream in fear and children will hide. 

Plastic surgery was not an advanced practice at the time (even now it's  pretty hard to reconstruct a face). But someone came up with tin masks, which doesn't sound that great on the surface, but it's what was done with the metal that's amazing.

They would create molds of the soldiers face and then build the missing sections out of copper. They would then fit the mask to the soldier and paint the copper so that it perfectly matched his skin color.

You can see this process here.

WWWI's "The Tin Noses Shop" - The Art of Early Prosthetics

Certainly it didn't solve problems of function, and they weren't able to move, so it would still look strange to the onlooker, but it allowed a soldier to go out in public and not look so frightening. 

Facial prosthetics has come a long way since then, but the artistry of what they did was certainly amazing.  

So which came first? The prosthetics used in WWI or the tin man of Oz? Who inspired who?