Blood and guts on BBC

August 19, 2008 § 6 Comments

A new five-part series on the history of surgery starts on BBC Four this Wednesday (photo credit). Titled “Blood and Guts”, the series chronicles the development of trauma, transplant, cosmetic, heart and brain surgery, tracing the steps from the cutting edge operations of today back to their beginnings.

The series will be hosted by Michael Mosley, who also hosted the brilliant Medical Mavericks. That series was both informative and entertaining, so hopefully “Blood and Guts” will too. With an entire programme (60 min) devoted to each speciality, there will probably be time to dig deeper than the somewhat sensationalist title of the series could indicate.

Here is a clip from the first programme, “Into the brain”, and here is the trailer for the series:

Somehow connected to the TV-series is the book of the same name by Richard Hollingham, with a foreword by Mosley. Probably published in connection with it. Go here to read an excerpt from the book.

All very exciting. The only catch is, I don’t have BBC Four… I’ll just have to wait for the Norwegian Broadcasting to pick it up. In the meantime I’m enjoying these 10 little-known facts about the history of surgery, kindly supplied by the BBC:

  1. The father of transplant surgery, Alexis Carrel, was a French surgeon who learnt how to repair flesh from the best seamstresses in Lyon in the early 1890s. He died under suspicion of being a Nazi collaborator.
  2. The first man to have a hand transplant was New Zealander Clint Hallam, in 1998. Eventually, Clint asked to have the hand amputated as it wasn’t working out as well as he’d hoped.
  3. An estimated 100,000 people worldwide (including 50,000 in the USA alone) have been lobotomised, including some children, largely thanks to the dedication of the infamous Walter Freeman. He invented the so-called ‘ice-pick’ lobotomy, using the sharp instrument to break through the skull into the brain.
  4. Nose jobs first emerged in Europe in the 16th century when a breakout of syphilis raged across the continent. As well as rashes and sores, a tell-tale sign was the sinking of the nose into itself. It was seen as an amoral and unclean disease.
  5. The “father of plastic surgery” was Italian Gaspare Tagliacozzi, who developed an “arm flap procedure” to replace the nose. A patient’s arm had to be strapped to their nose for more than a month to allow the skin to grow from the arm onto the face. This skin would later be shaped into a nose.
  6. Surgery (in particular using heart-lung machines) is only possible because of an anti-clotting agent called heparin, which is found in cows. The anti-clotting needs to be reversed at the end of the operation so that the patient doesn’t bleed. Protamine, which comes from salmon sperm, is used to reverse the effect.
  7. In 1946, Sir Harold Gillies, who had famously pioneered plastic surgery during the First World War, performed a hugely controversial operation – a sex change – on Laura Dillon. Laura became Michael Dillon.
  8. One of the first steps towards mind control was demonstrated on a bull in Spain in the Sixties. Professor Delgado believed electro-stimulation of the brain could control behaviour. He proved his case by standing in a bull ring with an enraged bull. He then stopped the animal in its tracks at the touch of a button.
  9. In 1903, American socialite and beauty Gladys Deacon had hot wax injected into her face, at the age of 22, to perfect her nose. It melted and destroyed her looks. She ended up in a psychiatric hospital where she died, in 1977, at the age of 96.
  10. In the 18th century, tooth decay in aristocrats soared because of increasing access to sugar. They began implanting paupers’ teeth to replace the rotten ones. At best, these dropped out after a month or two, at worst, the recipients caught syphilis or gonorrhoea.

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§ 6 Responses to Blood and guts on BBC

  • rlbates says:

    I’ll have to check and see if we get BBC Four and then remember when the show airs. It sounds like it will be very interesting, as are the 10 facts you listed.

  • Øystein says:

    I had to order the book yesterday. Maybe the series will be available online as well.

  • Protamine, which comes from salmon sperm,
    There’s a fact I didn’t know!
    I don’t have BBC four either but the local PBS is pretty good at finding interesting stuff like this. Hopefully they will broadcast it eventually.

  • Charlotte says:

    You can watch it on Iplayer if you don’t have BBC Four – at

  • Øystein says:

    Cool. Thanks!

    Well, not so cool actually. When trying to watch the programme I got this message:

    Rights agreements mean that BBC iPlayer television programmes are only available to users to download or stream (Click to Play) in the UK. However, BBC Worldwide is working on an international version, which we will make available as soon as possible.

  • nelc says:

    salmon sperm?

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