Andrea M. Knepper
January 16, 2012
Dr. Dione Johnson
Phineas Gage, a 25 year old rail line worker, experienced a severe brain injury, and survived. Phineas and his work crew excavated rock in order to clear the way for a new rail line in Cavendish, Vermont (Neurophilosophy.com, 2006). This entailed drilling holes into the rock, filling the rock with gunpowder, a fuse, and sand. Once these items were placed into the hole, an iron rod was used to tamp them into place, directing the blast into the rock. The exact reason for the misdirection of the blast is unsure, though it has been speculated upon that the fourth step, adding sand, was skipped. The gunpowder exploded prematurely, driving the iron tamp directly through the left cheek, and exited out the top of Gage’s skull. Gage remained conscious during his transportation to a local doctor. Harlow, the physician who treated Gage, began to clean his wounds (Neurophilosophy.com, 2006). Harlow removed bone fragments, and replacing larger skull fragments still attached by skin and muscle. Harlow then closed the entrance and exit wounds. Gage seemed to be recovering, but fell ill with a viral infection, putting him into a semi-comatose state. Gage recovered from the infection, and began to live a normal life. It quickly became evident that Gage was suffering from mental incapacities due to his brain injury (Bellows, 2006). Dr. Harlow documented that Gage “was fitful, irreverent, indulgent at times in the grossest profanity, manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating”. Gage seemed to possess the personality of a child. The cerebral cortex suffered damage when the rod was expelled from Gage’s brain. The cerebral cortex, with regions surrounding the cerebral cortex, is crucial to cognitive function (Willingham, 2007). One surrounding region, the...
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