Phineas Gage was working on the construction of a rail road when a tragic accident occurred, causing him severe brain damage. A once happy, loyal, hard-working man was transformed into a completely different person. His accident had a monumental influence on early neurology and several theories on the brain and its functions. His skull and the iron rod that caused him damage can be seen at Harvard University School of Medicine.
13, 1848 a construction worker named Phineas Gage was working on the railroad
when the iron tamping rod he was using ignited explosive powder. The explosion forced
the rod out of his hands and through his left cheek, brain, and skull, landing
80 feet away. Gage was taken to Dr. John
Martyn Harlow and Dr. Edwards H. Williams, still conscious. Dr Williams who
wrote I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my
carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct. Mr. Gage, during the
time I was examining this wound, was relating the manner in which he was
injured to the bystanders. I did not believe Mr. Gage's statement at that time
but thought he was deceived. Mr. Gage persisted in saying that the bar went
through his head… Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out
about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor. Phineas
Gage’s tragic accident lead to new discoveries in Neurology and in turn, his
story aided in the advancement of tumor removal.
Gage’s personality changed after the
accident. Before the accident, he was a happy, loyal, and hardworking employee,
but after the accident Gage was an aggressive drunk who could not hold down a job.
Dr. Harlow noted in his report that, “Previous to his injury, although untrained
in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those
who knew him as a shrewd, smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in
executing all his plans of operation. In this regard, his mind was radically
changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was 'no longer
Gage.' Dr. Harlow also said that due to Gage’s injury, his social skills were
impaired which caused him to act inappropriately. His behavioral change helped philosophers
in understanding the localization of brain function, and helped prove that the
frontal lobe is where our personalities comes from. The story of Phineas Gage
also paved the steps to surgical brain tumor removal.
Phineas Gage is not the only person to survive severe
brain damage due to a metal rod, in 2003 a man in California had a drill pushed
through his eye socket into his skull, that had to be surgically removed. In
2012, an iron rod fell from a construction site and went through a worker's
head. These are only a few of the many cases involving injury due to a metal rod.
Although the exact location of the accident
is unknown, there is a memorial stone to commemorate him on High Street and Main Street, Cavendish, Vermont. Both Gage’s real
skull and the iron rod are displayed at Harvard University School of Medicine for visitors to come learn his story and learn what his tragic accident has
helped both in the health field and science field.