War, Politics, and Voice: The Vocal Fold Paralysis of George Orwell

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In 1936, like many individuals who felt the menace of fascism, George Orwell traveled to Spain to lend his support to the cause of the Republic, battling a right-wing coup. Spain, during its Civil War, was an eye-opening experience for him, yielding insights that allowed, and even compelled him to write Animal Farm and 1984. Spain was also a close brush with death. In May of 1937, in a trench on a windswept ridge near Huesca, Orwell was shot through the neck by a sniper, leaving him with a paralyzed vocal fold.


A thorough review of firsthand accounts of Orwell’s injury and subsequent care was made. These are presented in the context of current knowledge of ballistics, penetrating neck trauma, and vocal fold paralysis.

Results and Conclusion:

Orwell survived largely because of the nature of his wounding with a high-velocity jacketed military round. His recovery followed a course in many ways typical for patients with vocal fold paralysis. His writings leave us a unique and extraordinary account of the experience of being shot, of the medical care of the day, of the handicap of paralytic dysphonia, and of survival and heroism under extraordinary circumstances.

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