I am a lifelong fan of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! – from reading the stories as a kid in the Sunday newspaper comics section to collecting the books to visiting the museum in New York to watching the different television series based on them. One of the most famous and unbelievable stories and drawings was that of one Phineas Gage, who in 1848 “survived a 3.5-foot-long rod lodged into his skull!” (You can see the original cartoon here.) Believe it or not, it has happened again! A man in Israel recently survived falling onto a rod that penetrated his skull in a similar manner and also lived to tell about it.
“When I got to the trauma room, I saw a man with an iron rod though his head – it just went through, one side to the other. After we ensured the patient was breathing, we conducted various imaging tests to find out where the rod was positioned, what it had hit and whether it could be removed.”
Dr. Samuel Moscovici, a senior member of Hadassah Medical Center at Ein Kerem’s Neurosurgery Department, described to The Jerusalem Post seeing 46-year-old Kamel Abdel Rahman, who was rushed to the hospital from an apartment he was building where he took a wrong step and landed head-first on the point of a sharp metal rod. Rahman was actually shouting so his family knew he was conscious, but that wasn’t much help to the doctors, who were afraid pulling the rod out would rupture an artery in the brain. They took the risk and removed the rod, but still did some arterial damage. That required a new tactic.
Another surgical team was brought in to repair the arteries, repair the leakage of the cerebrospinal fluid and use fat taken from the patient’s abdomen to hermetically close the skull base – all of that endoscopically through the patient’s nose. After ten hours, they closed everything up and waited.
“You could certainly say he was the patient that every surgeon dreams about.”
Dr. Samuel Moscovici, his staff and Rahman’s family were thrilled when he woke up, spoke, stood up and walked with no apparent difficulties. After four weeks in the hospital, Rahman was released last week. Will he now join Phineas Gage at the Ripley’s Museum?
“This is the bar that was shot through the head of Mr Phinehas[sic] P. Gage at Cavendish Vermont Sept 14,[sic] 1848. He fully recovered from the injury & deposited this bar in the Museum of the Medical College of Harvard University. • Phinehas P. Gage • Lebanon Grafton Cy N–H • Jan 6 1850”
That’s the description of Gage’s skull and the authentic iron bar which are on display at Harvard Medical School’s Warren Anatomical Museum in Massachusetts. According to the Ripley’s site, Gage’s rod took a different route through his skull after the railroad employee filled a hole in rock with blasting powder and was tamping it down with — you guessed it … a tamping rod – when the powder exploded, driving the rod up through his skull and into the air before landing 80 feet away. The rod entered point first through his left lower jaw, passed his left eye, went through the left side of his brain and the frontal lobe before leaving through the top of his skull. According to reports, Gage eventually sat up, spoke and walked to a cart which took him to a local doctor who cleaned and treated the wounds. Gage lost the sight in his left eye but seemed to retain his faculties, with only a few minor personality changes. He managed to go back to work and travel for 12 years more years before his death, when the rod and his skull were donated to the Harvard school for study.
Gage’s miraculous recovery and the physical and psychological reports from the time changed how the medical world looked at the brain – data which probably helped the team at Hadassah Medical Center save the life and mental faculties of Kamel Abdel Rahman 150 years later. He most likely would rather have that than a spot in the Sunday comics or at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.