September 8, 2014

1943. Russia's "Forgotten Casualties"

Treating Those Made Impotent by War Wounds
Source: Soviet officer sharing cigarettes with German prisoners, 1943

From Newsweek, February 8, 1943, p. 78:
"War Surgery for Sex"

The "forgotten casualties" of any war are the men deprived of sexual powers by wounds. In potentiality, it is a fate that every fighting man fears; in actuality, it is a condition that often produces madness and suicide. It is a tragedy that has even found a spot in Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover," Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises," and Toller's "Eugene the Miserable."

Last week William Downs, Moscow Correspondent of CBS and Newsweek, cabled news of an extraordinary surgical technique that has been developed by Russians to combat this type of injury, one that has not thus far been reported in American medical journals. It promises to rescue many victims from the extreme mental depression which is one of the wound's worst features. The dispatch follows:

The present fighting in Russia has brought a greater number of these genital organ cases than any previous war. Low-sweeping fragments of shells, mines, and explosive bullets have inflicted such mutilation upon an estimated 2.3 per cent of all Red Army casualties.

Soviet scientists attacked the problem and now are achieving almost miraculous success. Today some 40 Soviet soldiers, who in the past would have been hopelessly maimed, are now living normal lives through plastic surgery.

Working on the principles developed by Dr. Bogoroz of Rostov, scientists and doctors at Botkin Hospital in Moscow developed the technique. In the Botkin laboratories and operating room, Prof. Anatoly Frumkin, chief of Botkin's plastic-surgery section, devised a series of operations which in six to eight months can restore the adult male external sexual organ completely. (Doctors make no claim that they can restore glands if castration has occurred. In such cases surgery is helpless, although the last war proved that 20 per cent of those castrated by wounds retained sexual ability even if they were unable to father children.)

The initial surgery is basically a simple plastic operation. A lateral incision is made between the patient's lower ribs and a length of gristle is removed. Then, an inch and a half apart, two parallel incisions are cut vertically in the abdomen and a strip of skin is peeled down, the bottom of which is left attached to the lower abdomen. The skin is formed into a tube in which the gristle is placed and attached to the stump of the damaged organ. While the graft to the stump is forming, the now tubular strip is nourished through its attachment to the abdomen.

After several weeks, when the graft is completed, the upper end of the tube is severed from the lower abdomen. The most difficult phase of the operation then follows. It involves constructing a urinary canal which is built by a smaller tube of flesh within the larger one, and at the same time connecting it with internal ducts. When that is completed successfully, the soldier is ready for life again.

Importance of the treatment was stressed last week by Dr. Boris Shimeleovitch, director of the Botkin Hospital, who commented:

"Young soldiers brought here on the verge of suicide are as much mental cases as surgical. However, when they see other men undergoing plastic treatment and when they have talked with similarly wounded comrades, one can notice a psychological change within as little as one hour."