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Reconstructive Surgery in India
In 1792 Tippu Sultan’s soldiers captured a Maratha cart–driver named Cowasjee (Kawasji) in the British army and cut of his nose and an arm. A year later, a kumbhar (potter) vaidya in Puna reconstructed Kawasji’s nose. Two British surgeons in the Bombay Presidency, Thomas Cruso and James Findlay witnessed this skilful procedure and noted the details. In October 1794, this account was published in The Gentleman’s Magazine of London, describing it as an operation ‘not uncommon in India and has been practiced for time immemorial’! This procedure, similar to that cited in the Sushrut Samhita, ultimately changed the course of plastic surgery in Europe and the world. It was different from Sushrut’s, in that Kawasji’s graft was taken from his forehead. Sushrut grafted skin from the cheek. To aid healing, he prescribed the use of three herbs and cotton wool soaked with sesame seed oil in dressing the graft. After the graft healed, he advocated cutting off the tissue joined to the cheek (Sutrasthan 16/18).
Regarding cosmetic surgery, Sushrut could also reconstruct ear lobes and enumerates fifteen ways in which to repair them. Guido Majno in The Healing Hand: Man and Wound in the Ancient World (1975), notes that, “Through the habit of stretching their earlobes, the Indians became masters in a branch of surgery that Europe ignored for another two thousand years.” Sushrut meticulously details the pre–and post–operative procedures. After stitching, for example, he prescribes dressing the lobe by applying honey and ghee, then covering with cotton and gauze and finally binding with a thread, neither too tightly nor too loosely. Torn lips were also treated in a similar manner (Sutrasthan 16/2–7, 18, 19).
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