What was supposed to be just another day on the job for 25-year-old Phineas Gage turned out to be anything but, with events transpiring to make him a legend – in neurology anyway.
On that fateful day, Phineas Gage suffered a traumatic brain injury when a very large iron rod went through his head.
Despite this, he survived and became one of the first to demonstrate a clear link between brain trauma and personality change.
On September 13, 1848, Gage was helping excavate rocks to make way for a railroad track on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad near Cavendish in Vermont.
Just prior to the accident, Gage was preparing for an explosion by compacting a bore with explosive powder using a tamping iron.
A spark created from the tamping iron ignited the powder, driving the iron straight through Gage’s skull.
It entered under the left cheek bone and exited completely through the top of the head, and was later recovered some 30 yards away, smeared with blood and brain matter.
To have an idea of extent of damage this iron would have caused, you need to realise its size.
The tamping iron was 3 ft 8 in. (1.11 m) in length and 1.25 inches (3.18 cm) in diameter at one end and tapered over a distance of about 1 ft., to 0.25 inches (0.6 cm) in diameter, weighing approximately 13 pounds (6 kg).
After the rod passed through his head, it is not known whether or not Gage ever lost consciousness, but within minutes of his injury, at the astonishment of the men on his crew, he was walking and talking and he sat upright in an oxcart for the 3/4 mile ride to his house where he was attended to by Dr. Edward H. Williams.
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