Saturday 20th December

Today was my last day talking to visitors about ‘And The Band Played On…’ and the range of interesting conversations I had seemed a fitting goodbye to the installation.

This morning, one woman pointed out the increasing gravity of the soldiers’ impairments as medical innovations allow people to live with more and more severe injuries. She appeared to view this positively, impressed at the conservation of life, but her friend questioned whether everyone would want to live with such serious disabilities. It was clear that she would not. In addition to fearing a decreased quality of life, she seemed repulsed by the idea of having someone else’s hands transplanted on to her arms, no matter how functional they were. In contrast, a visitor in the afternoon told me the story of a fair-haired veteran who had received a hand from a dark-haired donor. Not only did he not mind having someone else’s hand, the thick black hair that grew on it did not bother him because the transplant allowed him to hold his baby daughter.

Hank - hands
Hank’s transplanted hands

The woman who had been revolted by hand transplants was sympathetic to the families of facial transplant patients and wondered if they were able to accept the new appearance of their relatives. The next visitors who came in, however, a couple with a friend in the Guinea Pig Club, were horrified by the idea that someone’s family could reject them. As the woman commented, “they are still the same person inside.”

A commonality across all the visitors today though was an aversion to war. One man repeated, “I do not want to go to war,” several times. Another remarked, “it would be better if we just didn’t have wars.” A woman explained that her nurse sister would have been interested in the medical aspects, but for her, the installation simply shows how “war causes such sadness.” She said that men of the soldiers’ age ought to be out doing things, but she imagined that there would be so many things they could no longer do with those injuries. Another visitor stated, “it doesn’t change my views, because I already disliked war, but it really shows why we shouldn’t go to war.” I tend to agree.