The art of toreo presents an inherent danger and risk of serious injury or death for each participant. In fact, injuries by the horn of a bull have been all too prevalent this past year. In each instance of injury, a well equipped medical team, consisting of several surgeons, doctors, and other medical personnel, is on site ready to operate if necessary. The goal of my research was to understand the ins and outs of medical care, the role of the physician, and the nature of horn trauma and other injuries associated with bullfighting. As a pre-medical and hispanic studies student, as well as an aficionado of toreo, the project was extraordinarily relevant and revealed a unique practice of medicine within a cultural realm rich with tradition. I interviewed a number of surgeons, including the chief surgeons of the Madrid and Sevilla bullrings, as well as retired bullfighters who have experienced a number of impressive injuries. All but one of the interviews was in Spanish.
I approached the project with two misconceptions: (1) that taurine surgery was a specialty of its own and (2) that bullfighters live lives fraught with disease, injury, and chronic pain, ultimately leading to significant physical consequences and a diminished life expectancy. From these two points, I sought to understand as much as could learn about all things relevant to health and healthcare in bullfighting. I quickly discovered that physicians have practices of their own or work in a public hospital and that the skills attained in becoming a surgeon qualify a physician to practice taurine surgery. There is no residency, no training program, nor a certification exam. There is, however, an international society for taurine surgeons, in which they seek to improve care for professional toreros and other individuals injured by bulls, such as participants in public events like the running of the bulls, popularized by Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. I discovered that bullfighters are generally young, athletic, strong, and understand the necessary steps in rehabilitation to make a complete recovery from injury. Granted, significant, life-altering injuries or death can occur, but these events are rare. The most frequent injuries, such a penetrating horn wound to the thigh muscle, is very manageable with no significant long-term consequences. Other injuries, such femoral vein and artery lacerations, wounds to the neck and face, or tossings resulting in head, neck and spine injuries, can present complications and lead to devastating consequences.
Without such talented medical professionals, the world of bullfighting would be diminishing quickly and many of today’s best bullfighters would be forced to retire or even dead. Through the project, I got a clearer picture of bullfighting from a very unique perspective and a better understanding of the nature of being a physician, even though medical practice was examined under extraordinary circumstances.