Review: Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery – Into the Brain

August 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews


BBC4, Wednesday 20th August, 9pm Alert Me

I think my own poor brain may have blocked out most of the frankly disturbing images I witnessed last night.  As I tentatively switched on Blood and Guts with duvet at the ready hovering just under my eyes lest the site of head gloop get too much, I took a deep breath as I realised things were about to get gory.

Michael Mosely’s venture into the 120 year old history of neurosurgery has an appealing format that handily proves rather helpful for the squeamish.  The two stories running through the show see shots of the live brain surgery of Katherine, a young girl, who is being operated on in a London hospital to rid her of the part that causes epileptic fits, spliced with the tracing of the chronological development of the practice.  The great advantage I find to this is that, just when the site of her pulsating brain popping out of the back of her head while she chats happily away to the surgeons is getting a little too much, there comes a welcome release of atmospheric music and the scenes changes.  Mosely reposes in some dusty archive where the brains are safely tucked away in jars telling the story of the surgical pioneers while the viewer gets their breath back.

We hear the poignant story of Howard, who was a victim of the lobotomy, the procedure pioneered in the first half of the twentieth century.  Having been forced to the surgeon’s table when just eleven by his step mother, who sounds like an evil witch, his is the first lobotomised brain to be scanned.  Other highlights include the guy who has electrodes implanted in his brain to stop his arthritis (who though being cured, incidentally ends up looking rather inebriated as he can’t seem to stand still and keeps manically smiling- but that’s cool, he’s happy) and the experiment where Mosely’s mind is interfered with by magnets.  This, though pretty impressive, made me considerably uncomfortable at the thought of the mind-controlling potential of contemporary science as my imagination wondered, envisaging us all walking around with electrodes in our brains and being made to perform a horrific synchronized dance routine by some evil dance Lord.  Obviously, this is not the worst that could happen, but it’s what popped into my head at the time.

All in all, Blood and Guts is a fascinating and insightful look into the intrepid adventure of discovering the mysteries of the brain and an eye-opener into just what wonders can be achieved in modern day surgery.  It will leave you in utter awe of the daily marvels surgeons carry out, if a little apprehensive of the moral minefield that is messing with people’s minds.

Don’t miss Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery

By Susan Allen