Monsters and Dust

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The sequence of events on the last night that Isabelle had her original face are still mysterious, but clearly horrifying. Isabelle claimed she only took a sleeping pill to sleep, though the event has been widely reported as a suicide attempt. In her own words, Dinoire said that "after a very upsetting week, with many personal problems, I took some pills to forget...I fainted and fell on the ground, hitting a piece of furniture.2 Whatever her intent, while she was soundly asleep, her normally gentle pet labrador retriever destroyed her face, perhaps out of confusion while trying to revive her. Her injuries were not life threatening, but the damage was extensive, and she was left with no lips and severe injuries to her nose, chin, and cheeks. When Dinoire woke up with the lower half of her face mostly gone, she felt no pain and didn’t realize that she was injured until she had trouble smoking a cigarette, and looked in a mirror.  At the hospital, she implored the doctors, “You’re not going to leave me like this!”3 She was unable to eat or speak, and had limited feeling in the skin that was left. She looked frightening, with a skeletal nostril and grin. She couldn’t stand to look in the mirror.

Isabelle’s injuries coincided with a confluence of new technologies that made face transplants a possibility, but with unknown results and with obvious ethical predicaments. The everyday travails of living may have been enough to make Isabelle want to retreat to unconsciousness, but she awoke to an extraordinary physical and psychic journey she met with resolve. The desperation that originally pushed Isabelle to attempt suicide seems to have also pushed her into the role of the first face transplant recipient, because when presented with the option of years of conventional reconstructive surgeries, she replied that she would rather not live.  One of the doctors, Dr. Dubernard, took one look at her and knew she was the one.  As he explained, “Once I had seen Isabelle’s disfigured face, no more needed to be said. I was convinced something had to be done for this patient.”4