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Curator Corner - Do you suffer from fear of dolls?Me too!

Welcome to the second edition of the Curator Corner. In celebration of Halloween, how about we learn about some creepy dolls?Doll for procedural training.

Happy Halloween! It’s the time of year when Childs Play is playing in a rotation with Halloween and Friday the 13th. I recently saw that USA Network was having a Chucky marathon. As a tribute to Chucky and all the dolls that make our hearts race, this edition of the Curator Corner features procedure dolls from the Mountain Home collection, a recently acquired group of early 20th century artifacts from Mountain Home VAMC in eastern Tennessee. Some of these dolls are super creepy. Our graduate student intern, Amy Ackman, made them even more dreadful in the photo. This image deters the desire to work late in collection storage. Also, Amy may have an alternate career path in the horror film industry. 

Some people are afraid of dolls (pediophobia), and others love them to the point of creating extensive collections. Regardless of your personal feelings about them, dolls serve a variety of essential roles as learning devices. Some people use dolls to simulate the experience of being a parent before jumping into the deep end. While not exactly a doll, instructors use manikins to show millions of people how to perform lifesaving CPR. They are also used to instruct first responders how to perform first aid. Medical professionals also use manikins to perfect their skills before working on living patients. One example is managing a patient’s airway to ensure the flow of oxygen while giving critical care. 

The creepy doll contenders in our collection include 10 dolls, of varying sizes, complete with “accessories”; a bed, pulleys, ropes, and steel bars. If we didn’t know their purpose, these dolls might be considered part of a torture chamber. Fortunately, we know that these were procedure dolls, used to train Medical staff on various procedures for traction and fractures. The dolls clearly illustrate the part of the body that needs to be immobilized and the method. Each doll in the collection shows a different type of procedure.   

We have been unable to find any resources that show these types of specific medical dolls were mass-produced. So, it seems likely that readily available dolls were used with custom-made furniture, hardware, and other materials to create these 3-dimensional representations of procedures that staff needed to study.  

So, are the dolls still a little creepy? I believe they are, but they were also an essential part of medical care. Today medical professional use manikins and 3D prints to practice medical techniques. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a new doctor or nurse practicing on an inanimate object instead of me. 

For those of you uneasy around dolls, you can rest easy knowing that the dolls are locked up in collection storage at night. 

Procedure doll from the Mountain Home collection. This one shows how to use traction for a broken hip or tibia.
Procedure doll from the Mountain Home collection. This one shows how to use traction for a broken hip or tibia.

By Kurt Senn, Curator, National VA History Center

Note: Photographs courtesy of the National VA History Center.

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