Monsters and Dust

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Isabelle Dinoire- A Ghost Story


"It takes an awful lot of time to get used to someone else's face."

—Isabelle Dinoire, the first patient to undergo a complete face transplant 


"She's perfect.''

—Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard, lead surgeon on the operation that resulted in the first face transplant


Isabelle Dinoire tried to end her life with an overdose of sleeping pills, but lost only her face. She awoke from her sorrowful sleep profoundly disfigured. Her pet dog had destroyed her face while she was unconscious, leaving her with extraordinary decisions to make and a painful recovery to endure. Despite this, she decided to keep living, and so began her journey as a medical and metaphysical pioneer. After considerable reservations about the ethical problems of appropriating a dead woman’s face, and undergoing psychological evaluations gauging her ability to cope with the associated stress,1 she received the first face transplant. While her recovery was complicated, the operation is regarded as a success in the medical community — a sentiment easy to agree with while viewing her astonishingly average-looking features and smooth, mobile skin in photos taken a couple of years after her recovery.

But those results are literally surface-deep. The face is metaphorically and psychologically the most distinguishing human physical feature. It gives visual form to individuality. The implications of continuing a life with someone else’s face are known only to Isabelle and the few other patients who have received transplants since her operation and recovery. These patients make tangible a curiously uneasy relationship between technology and the superstitions of identity in its physical expression.