Monday, December 12, 2011

L'Inconnue de la Seine

I am a huge fan of Radiolab, and happened to hear their story of the Resusci Anne, or CPR Annie, recently. I thought Pallimed Arts readers would enjoy this as it fits well into our field.

Most of us at some time have at least seen CPR Annie, others of us have actually pounded on her chest, and preformed mouth to mouth as we went through the CPR steps.  The same face has been used since the beginning of CPR training in the 1960s and Annie remains the most popular CPR manikin face.

This face is not just a plastic computer generated face either. There is a unique history to Resusci Anne.  The designer of Annie is Asmund Laerdal, a Norwegian toy maker.  Laedral agreed to participate in this new training idea when friend Dr. Peter Safar, the father of CPR, asked. Laedral, however, needed inspiration and so while visiting his parents he noticed an attractive mask of a woman's face on their wall and knew immediately this would be his model. The face he saw was actually a death mask, known as "L'Inconnue de la Seine"

If you need a refresher on Death Masks, Amber talked about it in a post a while ago. They are plaster casts made of someone's face, soon after death, used as a memento.

"L'Inconnue de la Seine" actually means the 'unknown woman of the Seine'.  The story goes that this beautiful woman was pulled out of the river Seine in Paris in the 1880's.  Her beauty struck the workers at the morgue, so a death mask was created. The reason for her death was guessed to be suicide and from there her legend grew. In time reproductions were created and people captivated by her unknown identity and beauty began to display the mask in their homes as art.  

Her identity to this day is unknown, but this has not stopped her allure. She was a bit of a sensation, especially in the 1920's and 30's, and well known writers such as Richard le Gallienne, Jules Supervielle, Claire Goll  and Anias Nin mentioned L'Inconnue in their works.  

The Radiolab episode commented on the irony of this whole story. The unknown beautiful lady who drowned, is now symbolically resuscitated in CPR classes around the world, over and over again.

I found a deeper irony in my research. Both Peter Safar and Asmund Laerdal had children who required resuscitation. Asmund's son nearly drowned in 1954 at the age of 2, and his Asmund, despite not knowing CPR, was able to revive him. Dr. Safar had a daughter with severe asthma, who had a tragic asthma attack in 1966. Dr. Safar was able to resuscitate her with CPR, however she had anoxic trauma and died several days later.

I would highly recommend a listen to Radiolab's piece, as they interview Laerdal's son and do a superb job telling this story.   Most of all, the next time you do CPR training, remember the story of the "L'Inconnue de la Seine" as you do your, "Annie, Annie, are you okay?"

1 Responses to “L'Inconnue de la Seine”

Susan said...
December 13, 2011 at 6:11 AM

I love this!  Great background on something so familiar...