05 January 2011

The Unbelievable Story of Phineus Gage

I've always been fascinated by the story of Phineus Gage and came across it again recently and re-read the story of his horrible accident and his miraculous recovery. Gage was a railroad construction foreman who is remembered for his survival of an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head. His case influenced 19th-century thinking about the brain and where it's functions are located within the brain. Gage's was probably the first case to suggest that damage to specific regions of the brain might affect personality and behavior.

Phineas' accident and recovery was termed "the case which more than all others is calculated to excite our wonder...". Gage was 25 years old on September 13, 1848. He was working as foreman of a work gang blasting rock for a roadbed in Vermont. His job, after a hole was drilled into a body of rock, was to add gunpowder, a fuse and then tamp down the charge using a large iron rod. Around 4:30 PM the powder exploded, throwing the rod (which he was using at the time) through his head. The instrument was an inch and a fourth in diameter and 3'7" in length. It entered the side of his face, shattering the upper jaw and passing the back of his left eye and out of the top of his head. The rod weighed 13 1/4 pounds. Within a few minutes of the accident, Phineus was able to speak and walk with little or no assistance.