Feature

Django’s Hand

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b5348 (Published 16 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5348
  1. David J Williams, consultant anaesthetist and senior clinical tutor1,
  2. Tom S Potokar, consultant plastic, reconstructive and burns surgeon, and senior clinical tutor2
  1. 1Department of Burns and Plastic Surgery, Morrison Hospital, Swansea SA6 6NL
  2. 2Swansea University Medical School, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP
  1. Correspondence to: David Williams davidj.williams{at}swansea-tr.wales.nhs.uk
  • Accepted 16 November 2009

The jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, limited by burn injuries, developed a musical technique that created a new musical genre. David Williams and Tom Potokar analysed archive photographs to construct a three-dimensional computer model of his injuries.

Jean-Baptiste Reinhardt, better known by his gypsy name “Django” meaning “I awake”, was a Manouche Gypsy born in a “roulotte”, a wooden caravan, near Liberchies, Belgium, on 23 January 1910. He was the son of a travelling musician and learnt to play the violin aged nine before teaching himself to play a banjo guitar, with which he soon supplemented the family income by playing the popular accordion “musette” waltzes. He had exceptional natural talent and a promising future as a professional musician. Although almost illiterate and unable to read music, he had an incredible ability to play a tune perfectly after hearing it once, and could improvise tirelessly for hours at a time.

However, on 26 October 1928 disaster struck. A carelessly dropped cigarette ignited a bunch of highly flammable celluloid flowers, turning Django’s roulotte into an inferno. He grabbed a blanket to shield himself from the flames and managed to escape, but sustained burns to the left side of his body as well as to his left hand, which had been holding the blanket.

He was admitted to the Hôpital Lariboisière in Northern Paris, but fearing that the doctors would amputate his leg, on 22 November he fled back to the gypsy encampments where he was treated with traditional remedies. His wounds became infected and he was admitted to the Hôpital Saint-Louis on 23 January 1929 for debridement and cautery with silver nitrate under chloroform anaesthesia.1 2 3 4 5 6

The burns slowly healed, but resulted in severe contractures of the left ring and little fingers which made conventional guitar technique …

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