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   Volume 82 - Issue 17   email:   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
"I wish the best for this community for the next four years and hope to return as your MLA four years from now."
- Evan Berger  
Former MLA and Minister   


John Kinnear photo
Phineas Gage in later life. The tamping bar was 3 feet 8 inches long. He lost the sight of his left eye. (No kidding).
Looking Back - John Kinnear

The hot topic these days seems to have to do with whether or not to protect our brains from unwanted trauma. For most of us it is a no brainer (excuse the pun). After witnessing that nasty hit that Raffi Torres put on Marian Hossa in game 3 of the Coyotes/Blackhawks playoff game you have to wonder just how much trauma the brain can take. The twenty five game suspension that followed sends the blunt message to lay off this kind of moronic behaviour.
While I personally have survived some pretty wicked wacks to the head I won't deny that more adequate protection would have helped minimize the mental damage that reveals itself on occasion in my column. Having said that I thought it might be fun to look back at a famous case of brain damage and a parallel modern day incident and see if we might learn something from them.
Amongst the remarkable collection of artifacts at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. there is a special human skull on display. No it is not that mysterious crystal skull that William Shatner of the program “Weird or What” was going on about. It is of a typically modern Homo Sapien with one minor exception. It has a 1 1\2 inch hole in the top of it. Human beings have been spearing, hammering and shooting things into each other's skulls since the beginning of man's history but how this particular hole came to be is quite extraordinary.
The skull belonged at one time to a 25 year old blasting foreman by the name of Phineas P. Gage who on Sept. 13, 1848 make a critical mistake that was to make him and his skull famous.
It seems that Phineas was co-ordinating a blasting crew preparing rail bed for the Rutland and Burlington railroad in Vermont the day he committed that mind altering mistake. The blasting going on that day involved a technique of putting explosive powder and fuse in a drilled hole, filling the hole with sand, tamping it and then lighting the fuse.

Gage inadvertently tamped a loaded hole without sand in it and ignited the explosives there in. The force of that detonation drove that l" diameter steel tamping rod right under his left cheekbone and straight out the top of his head whereupon it flew like a javelin and landed some distance away.
The amazing thing about all this was that Gage survived this horrendous accident. He apparently appeared momentarily dazed but was able to help himself to the doctor who cleaned and dressed his wounds as best he could. Phineas lost the sight of his left eye and suffered some near fatal infections but eventually recovered, physically that is. His mental state was another story.
After the incident Gage was transformed from a usually sedate and responsible man to an irritable, unpredictable type given to swearing a lot. This once dependable employee became a derelict and wanderer, unable to keep a job and died in obscurity 13 years later. What happened to Phineas shows us that not only does the brain govern simple things like walking, talking etc., it also controls our sense of right and wrong. The area from whence this control comes from is known as the frontal lobes.
On investigating I discovered that decades ago people who referred to themselves as "psychosurgeons" deliberately damaged the frontal lobes of people to control otherwise uncontrollable mentally infirm types. (If you are squeamish you should stop reading now) The tool they used for this mutilation was none other than a modified ice pick which was forced through the eye sockets and moved around in the frontal lobes. That's right folks, that's how the first lobotomies were done. (I think I'm going to be sick!)
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   Volume 82 - Issue 17   email:   $1.00   
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