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The Broken Man: The Story of Phineas Gage

The Broken Man: The Story of Phineas Gage
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It is not everyday that someone gets to suffer a brain injury and live to tell the tale, not until and unless you are Phineas Gage. Phineas was a humble American railroad construction foreman, until a large iron rod was shot through his head and he became a living medical miracle.

It was September 13, 1848, Gage and his crew were blasting rocks while preparing the roadbed for the Rutland & Burlington Railroad, which is on the south of the South of Cavendish in Vermont. It was at this time when the fateful accident happened. At around 4:30 PM when Gage was addressing his men, he had lowered his head in line with the blast hole. This was when a rod was blown through the left side of his head through his jaw, fracturing his jaw and his cheekbone, causing severe injuries to his brain, face and even his left eye. And as they say, the rest is history. Phineas went from being a mild-mannered man to possibly one of the most famous survivors of brain injury in the history of the world.

There are many 19th century references that describe Phineas Gage as simply the “American Crowbar Case”. What these reference don’t tell you is the sad story that followed. As rightly described by some of his friends, he was not the same person anymore. Phineas started having several neurological problems after the accident. At one point, he could not recognize his family, friends and sometimes even lost control of his mind. While the very next day, he was very rational, polite and his usual self. Over the years, time took a toll on him and the suffering went almost for 12 years.

He was no longer organized and found it very hard to stick to a plan. Eventually, the guy who was considered a role-model for all foreman, ended up being fired and no one would take him back. However, Gage was not someone to give up — he started working at a stable in New Hampshire and drove coaches to Chile. During this time, he encountered several neurological troubles. His condition worsened, there were days when he could not speak properly, he had lost all sense of decency and there were days when he only uttered profanity.

His long struggle ended in May 1860, while still 36, Phineas Gage drew his last breath after a series of seizures. Now, he is remembered as one of neuroscience’s most famous patients. But looking at Gage’s life, especially after the accident, it would not be wrong to say that the price overwhelmed the fame.

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