Hole in the Head

Phineas Gage was a construction foreman for the Rutland and Burlington Railroad. On the morning of September 13, 1848, this 25 year old railroad man survived one of the most bizarre and brutal accidents ever recorded in medical history.

Phineas was packing a load of explosives into the earth, when the charge accidentally exploded. An iron tamping rod that he was using was propelled like a rocket and hit him in the head. The rod was 3 feet 7 inches long and weighed 13 pounds! It hit Phineas in the left cheek, went straight through his skull and brain and came out the top of his head.

His co-workers loaded him into an oxcart and took him to a hotel where there were two doctors. They cleaned out the terrible wound, and all the time Phineas never lost consciousness. Over the next couple of weeks, he bled severely, became quite confused, and lost the sight in his left eye. However, he lived for 13 more years which astounded all those who treated him.

The most amazing thing about what happened here is that the head is usually very sensitive to injury, especially injuries that damage the brain. The main problem with head injuries is the bleeding and swelling that usually occur. However, Phineas suffered a massive injury and survived. It was noted, at the time, that the injury did cause a change in personality. This was the result of destruction of some of the areas of the brain that are responsible for personality.

The skull of Phineas Gage and the metal rod that injured him are currently on display at the Warren Anatomical Museum (Boston, MA).


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