It was 202 years ago this week that the first modern plastic surgery procedure was performed.
Dr. Joseph Carpue’s efforts to reconstruct the nose of a patient—a British military officer who’d lost the protuberance to the toxic effects of mercury treatments—were regarded as nothing short of groundbreaking.
How extraordinary it is to contrast that revolutionary event against the relatively commonplace occurrence that is a turn under the plastic surgeon’s knife today.
Carpue was a celebrated English surgeon who was also a popular lecturer on anatomy. He travelled extensively in his day in pursuit of exposure to techniques that might enhance the skills that he delivered back to the operating theatre.
He observed the reconstructive nose surgery firsthand in India, where it was long practiced as an import from its birthplace, years earlier, in ancient Egypt. In it, doctors perform the reconstruction using a flap of skin taken from the patient’s forehead.
Dr. Carpue would go on to perform many rhinoplasties over the course of his career, and to write about them copiously, including his “Account of Two Successful Operations for Restoring a Lost Nose from the Integument of the Forehead.” The doctor’s pioneering efforts in plastic surgery, along with his experimental work with electricity and medicine, attracted the attention of medical world.
Last year, about 22 million plastic surgeries were performed around the world, including more than 730,000 rhinoplasties.