|Phineas P. Gage|
Gage and his "constant companion"—
|Born||July 9, 1823 (date uncertain)
Grafton Co., New Hampshire[a]
|Died||May 21, 1860
In or near San Francisco
|Cause of death||Status epilepticus|
|Resting place||Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, California (skull in Warren Anatomical Museum, Boston)|
|Known for||Personality change after brain injury|
|Home town||Lebanon, New Hampshire[a]|
Phineas P. Gage (1823 – May 21, 1860) was an American railroad construction foreman remembered for his improbable[B1]:19 survival of an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying much of his brain's left frontal lobe, and for that injury's reported effects on his personality and behavior over the remaining twelve years of his life—
Long known as the "American Crowbar Case"—
One of "the great medical curiosities of all time,"[M8] Gage is a fixture in the curricula of neurology, psychology, and related disciplines (see Neuroscience),[M7]:149 "a living part of the medical folklore"[R]:637 frequently mentioned in books and scientific papers;[M]:ch14 he even has a minor place in popular culture. Despite this celebrity, the body of established fact about Gage and what he was like (before or after his injury) is small,[b] which has allowed "the fitting of almost any theory [desired] to the small number of facts we have"[M]:290—
A report of Gage's physical and mental condition shortly before his death implies that his most serious mental changes were temporary, so that in later life he was far more functional, and socially far better adapted, than in the years immediately following his accident. A social recovery hypothesis suggests that Gage's work as a stagecoach driver in Chile fostered this recovery by providing daily structure which allowed him to regain lost social and personal skills.
- 1 Life
- 2 Death and exhumation
- 3 Brain damage and mental changes
- 4 Factors favoring Gage's survival
- 5 Early medical attitudes
- 6 Theoretical use and misuse
- 7 Portraits
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Gage was the first of five children born to Jesse Eaton Gage and Hannah Trussell (Swetland) Gage, of Grafton County, New Hampshire.[a] Little is known about his upbringing and education beyond that he was literate.[M]:17,41,90[M9]:3
Town doctor John Martyn Harlow described Gage as "a perfectly healthy, strong and active young man, twenty-five years of age, nervo-bilious temperament, five feet six inches [1.68 m] in height, average weight one hundred and fifty pounds [68 kg], possessing an iron will as well as an iron frame; muscular system unusually well developed—
Gage may have first worked with explosives on farms as a youth, or in nearby mines and quarries.[M]:17-18 He is known to have worked on construction of the Hudson River Railroad near Cortlandt Town, New York,[M9]:3 and by the time of his accident he was a blasting foreman (possibly an independent contractor) on railway construction projects.[M]:18-22,32n9 His employers' "most efficient and capable foreman ... a shrewd, smart business man, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation",[H]:13-14 he had even commissioned a custom-made tamping iron—
On September 13, 1848, Gage was directing a work gang blasting rock while preparing the roadbed for the Rutland & Burlington Railroad south of the town of Cavendish, Vermont. Setting a blast entailed boring a hole deep into an outcropping of rock; adding blasting powder and a fuse; then using the tamping iron to pack ("tamp") sand, clay, or other inert material into the hole above the powder.[c]
|Video reconstruction of tamping iron passing through Gage's skull (Ratiu et al.)[R1]|
As Gage was doing this around 4:30 p.m., his attention was attracted by his men working behind him. Looking over his right shoulder, and inadvertently bringing his head into line with the blast hole, Gage opened his mouth to speak; at that same moment (possibly because the sand had been omitted) the tamping iron sparked against the rock, and the powder exploded. Rocketed from the hole, the tamping iron—
Despite nineteenth-century references to Gage as the "American Crowbar Case"[d] his tamping iron did not have the bend or claw sometimes associated with the term crowbar; rather, it was a pointed cylinder something like a javelin,[K] round and fairly smooth:[H]:5
The end which entered first is pointed; the taper being [eleven inches (27 cm) long, ending in a 1⁄4-inch (7 mm) point][V]:17... circumstances to which the patient perhaps owes his life. The iron is unlike any other, and was made by a neighbouring blacksmith to please the fancy of its owner.[B1]:14
Gage was thrown onto his back and gave some brief convulsions of the arms and legs, but spoke within a few minutes, walked with little assistance, and sat upright in an oxcart for the 3⁄4-mile (1.2 km) ride to his lodgings in town.[H]:5 About thirty minutes after the accident physician Edward H. Williams, finding Gage sitting in a chair outside the hotel, was greeted with "one of the great understatements of medical history":[M5]:244
When I drove up he said, "Doctor, here is business enough for you." I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct. The top of the head appeared somewhat like an inverted funnel, as if some wedge-shaped body had passed from below upward. Mr. Gage, during the time I was examining this wound, was relating the manner in which he was injured to the bystanders. I did not believe Mr. Gage's statement at that time, but thought he was deceived. Mr. Gage persisted in saying that the bar went through his head. Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor.
Harlow took charge of the case around 6 p.m.:
You will excuse me for remarking here, that the picture presented was, to one unaccustomed to military surgery, truly terrific; but the patient bore his sufferings with the most heroic firmness. He recognized me at once, and said he hoped he was not much hurt. He seemed to be perfectly conscious, but was getting exhausted from the hemorrhage. His person, and the bed on which he was laid, were literally one gore of blood.
With Williams' assistance[e] Harlow shaved the scalp around the region of the tamping iron's exit, then removed coagulated blood, small bone fragments, and an ounce [30 g] of protruding brain. After probing for foreign bodies and replacing two large detached pieces of bone, Harlow closed the wound with adhesive straps, leaving it partially open for drainage;[M]:60-1 the entrance wound in the cheek was bandaged only loosely, for the same reason. A wet compress was applied, then a nightcap, then further bandaging to secure these dressings. Harlow also dressed Gage's hands and forearms (which along with his face had been "deeply burned") and ordered that Gage's head be kept elevated.
Late that evening Harlow noted: "Mind clear. Constant agitation of his legs, being alternately retracted and extended like the shafts of a fulling mill. Says he 'does not care to see his friends, as he shall be at work in a few days.'"
Despite his own optimism, Gage's convalescence was long, difficult, and uneven. Though recognizing his mother and uncle (summoned from Lebanon, New Hampshire, thirty miles away)[H]:12[M]:30 on the morning after the accident, on the second day he "lost control of his mind, and became decidedly delirious". By the fourth day he was again "rational ... knows his friends", and after a week's further improvement Harlow entertained, for the first time, the thought "that it was possible for Gage to recover ... This improvement, however, was of short duration."
Beginning twelve days after the accident[M]:53 Gage was semi-comatose, "seldom speaking unless spoken to, and then answering only in monosyllables", and on the thirteenth day Harlow noted, "Failing strength ... coma deepened; the globe of the left eye became more protuberant, with [granulation tissue][f] pushing out rapidly from the internal canthus [as well as] from the wounded brain, and coming out at the top of the head." By the fourteenth day, "The exhalations from the mouth and head [are] horribly fetid. Comatose, but will answer in monosyllables if aroused. Will not take nourishment unless strongly urged. The friends and attendants are in hourly expectancy of his death, and have his coffin and clothes in readiness."
Galvanized, Harlow "cut off the [granulation tissue] sprouting out from the top of the brain and filling the opening, and made free application of caustic [i.e. crystalline silver nitrate][M]:54[H1]:392 to them. With a scalpel I laid open the [frontalis muscle, from the exit wound to the top of the nose][H1]:392 and immediately there were discharged eight ounces [250 ml] of ill-conditioned pus, with blood, and excessively fetid." ("Gage was lucky to encounter Dr. Harlow when he did," wrote Barker. "Few doctors in 1848 would have had the experience with cerebral abscess with which Harlow left [Jefferson Medical College] and which probably saved Gage's life."[B]:679-80 See § Factors favoring Gage's survival, below.)
On the 24th day, Gage "succeeded in raising himself up, and took one step to his chair". One month later he was walking "up and down stairs, and about the house, into the piazza", and while Harlow was absent for a week Gage was "in the street every day except Sunday", his desire to return to his family in New Hampshire being "uncontrollable by his friends ... got wet feet and a chill." He soon developed a fever, but by mid-November he was "feeling better in every respect ... walking about the house again". Harlow's prognosis at this point: Gage "appears to be in a way of recovering, if he can be controlled."
Subsequent life and travels
By November 25 (73 days after his injury) Gage was strong enough to return to his parents' home in Lebanon, New Hampshire, traveling there in a "close carriage" (an enclosed carriage of the kind used for transportation of the insane).[H]:12[M]:92 Though "quite feeble and thin ... weak and childish" on arriving, by late December he was "riding out, improving both mentally and physically",[H2] and by February 1849 he was "able to do a little work about the horses and barn, feeding the cattle etc. [and] as the time for ploughing came he was able to do half a day's work after that and bore it well." In August his mother told an inquiring physician that his memory seemed somewhat impaired, though slightly enough that a stranger would not notice.[M]:ix,93-4
In April 1849 Gage returned to Cavendish and paid a visit to Harlow, who noted at that time loss of vision (and ptosis) of the left eye,[g] a large scar on the forehead (from Harlow's draining of the abscess)[H1]:392 and
upon the top of the head ... a deep depression, two inches by one and one-half inches [5 cm by 4 cm] wide, beneath which the pulsations of the brain can be perceived. Partial paralysis of the left side of the face. His physical health is good, and I am inclined to say he has recovered. Has no pain in head, but says it has a queer feeling which he is not able to describe.[H]:12-13
New England and New York (1849–1852)
In November 1849 Henry Jacob Bigelow, the Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, brought Gage to Boston and, after satisfying himself that the tamping iron had actually passed through Gage's head,:149 presented Gage to a meeting of the Boston Society for Medical Improvement and (possibly) to a Medical School class.
Unable to return to his railroad work (see § Early observations, below) Gage was for a time "a kind of living museum exhibit" at Barnum's American Museum in New York City (not the later Barnum's circus—
Chile and California (1852–1860)
In August 1852, Gage was invited to Chile to work as a long-distance stagecoach driver there, "caring for horses, and often driving a coach heavily laden and drawn by six horses" on the Valparaiso–Santiago route.[M]:103-4[H]:14 After his health began to fail in mid-1859,[H]:14-15[h] he left Chile for San Francisco, arriving (in his mother's words) "in a feeble condition, having failed very much since he left New Hampshire ... Had many ill turns while in Valparaiso, especially during the last year, and suffered much from hardship and exposure." In San Francisco he recovered under the care of his mother and sister,[H]:15 who had relocated there from New Hampshire around the time he had gone to Chile.[M]:103-4 Then, "anxious to work", he found employment with a farmer in Santa Clara.[H]:15
In February 1860[h] Gage began to have epileptic seizures.[M]:14[H]:16 He lost his job, and (wrote Harlow) as the seizures increased in frequency and severity he "continued to work in various places [though he] could not do much".
Death and exhumation
On May 18 Gage "left Santa Clara and went home to his mother. At 5 o'clock, A.M., on the 20th, he had a severe convulsion. The family physician was called in, and bled him. The convulsions were repeated frequently during the succeeding day and night,"[H]:15 and he died in status epilepticus,[M3]:E in or near[M3]:B San Francisco, late on May 21, 1860, just under twelve years after his injury. He was buried in San Francisco's Lone Mountain Cemetery.[h]
In 1866, Harlow (who had "lost all trace of [Gage], and had well nigh abandoned all expectation of ever hearing from him again") somehow learned that Gage had died in California, and made contact with his family there. At Harlow's request the family had Gage's skull exhumed, then personally delivered it to Harlow,
About a year after the accident, Gage had given his tamping iron to Harvard Medical School's Warren Anatomical Museum, but he later reclaimed it
The iron bears the following inscription, commissioned by Bigelow in conjunction with the iron's first deposit in the Museum (though the date it gives for the accident is one day off):
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.
In 1940 Gage's headless remains were moved to Cypress Lawn Cemetery as part of a mandated relocation of San Francisco's dead to new resting places outside city limits (see Colma, California#cemetery relocations).[M]:119-20
Brain damage and mental changes
Extent of brain damage
Debate about whether the trauma and subsequent infection had damaged both of Gage's frontal lobes (left and right), or only the left, began almost immediately after his accident.[i] The 1994 conclusion of Hanna Damasio et al., that the tamping iron did physical damage to both lobes, was drawn not from Gage's skull but from a "Gage-like" one—
In addition, Ratiu et al. noted that the hole in the base of the cranium (created as the tamping iron passed through the sphenoidal sinus into the brain) has a diameter about half that of the iron itself; combining this with the hairline fracture beginning behind the exit region and running down the front of the skull, they concluded that the skull "hinged" open as the iron entered from below, then was pulled closed by the resilience of soft tissues once the iron had exited through the top of the head.[R]:640[M1]:830
Van Horn et al. concluded that damage to Gage's white matter (of which they made detailed estimates) was as or more significant to Gage's mental changes than cerebral cortex (gray matter) damage.[V]:abstr Thiebaut de Schotten et al. estimated white-matter damage in Gage and two other famous patients ("Tan" and "H.M."), concluding that these three cases "suggest that social behavior, language, and memory depend on the coordinated activity of different [brain] regions rather than single areas in the frontal or temporal lobes."[T1]:12
First-hand reports of mental changes
Gage displayed significant changes in behavior after his injury, but the nature, extent, and duration of these changes have been difficult to establish.[M]:89[M9]:12-15 Only a handful of sources give direct information on what Gage was like (either before or after the accident),[b] the mental changes described after his death were much more dramatic than anything reported while he was alive,[M]:375-6 and few sources are explicit about the period of Gage's life to which each of their various descriptions of him (which vary widely in their implied level of functional impairment) is meant to apply.[M9]:6-7
Early observations (1849–1852)
Harlow described the pre-accident Gage as hard-working, responsible, and "a great favorite" with the men in his charge, his employers having regarded him as "the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ"; he also took pains to note that Gage's memory and general intelligence seemed unimpaired after the accident (outside the periods of delirium).[M]:30,91 Nonetheless these same employers, after Gage's accident, "considered the change in his mind so marked that they could not give him his place again":
The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operations, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. A child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, he has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart business man, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was "no longer Gage".[H]:13-14
This description ("now routinely quoted", says Kotowicz)[K2]:125 is from Harlow's observations set down soon after the accident,[M]:90,375[M9]:6-9 but Harlow—
In the interim, Harlow's 1848 report, published just as Gage was emerging from his convalescence, merely hinted at psychological symptoms:[M]:169
The mental manifestations of the patient, I reserve to a future communication. I think the case ... is exceedingly interesting to the enlightened physiologist and intellectual philosopher.[H1]:393
That there was no difference in his mental manifestations after the recovery [is] not true ... he was gross, profane, coarse, and vulgar, to such a degree that his society was intolerable to decent people.
Harlow's interest in phrenology prepared him to accept the change in [Gage's] character as a significant clue to cerebral function which merited publication. Bigelow had [been taught] that damage to the cerebral hemispheres had no intellectual effect, and he was unwilling to consider Gage's deficit significant ... The use of a single case [including Gage's] to prove opposing views on phrenology was not uncommon.[B]:672,676,678
Later observations (1852–1858)
In 1860, an American physician who had known Gage in Chile described him as still "engaged in stage driving [and] in the enjoyment of good health, with no impairment whatever of his mental faculties".[M9]:8 Together with the fact that Gage was hired by his employer in advance, in New England, to be part of the new coaching enterprise in Chile,[H]:15[M9]:15 this implies that Gage's most serious mental changes had been temporary, so that the "fitful, irreverent ... capricious and vacillating" Gage described by Harlow immediately post-accident became, over time, far more functional and socially far better adapted.[M1]:831[M9]:2,15
This conclusion is reinforced (writes psychologist Malcolm Macmillan) by the responsibilities and challenges associated with stagecoach work such as that done by Gage in Chile, including the requirement that drivers "be reliable, resourceful, and possess great endurance. But above all, they had to have the kind of personality that enabled them to get on well with their passengers."
Macmillan writes that this contrast—
Phineas' survival and rehabilitation demonstrated a theory of recovery which has influenced the treatment of frontal lobe damage today. In modern treatment, adding structure to tasks by, for example, mentally visualising a written list, is considered a key method in coping with frontal lobe damage.[M4]
rise early in the morning, prepare himself, and groom, feed, and harness the horses; he had to be at the departure point at a specified time, load the luggage, charge the fares and get the passengers settled; and then had to care for the passengers on the journey, unload their luggage at the destination, and look after the horses. The tasks formed a structure that required control of any impulsiveness he may have had.[M2]
En route (Macmillan continues):
much foresight was required. Drivers had to plan for turns well in advance, and sometimes react quickly to manoeuvre around other coaches, wagons, and birlochos travelling at various speeds ... Adaptation had also to be made to the physical condition of the route: although some sections were well-made, others were dangerously steep and very rough.
Thus Gage's stagecoach work—
A neurological basis for such recoveries may be found in emerging evidence "that damaged [neural] tracts may re-establish their original connections or build alternative pathways as the brain recovers" from injury. Macmillan adds that if Gage made such a recovery—
Exaggeration and distortion of mental changes
Macmillan's analysis of scientific and popular accounts of Gage found that they almost always distort and exaggerate his behavioral changes well beyond anything described by anyone who had direct contact with him.[b] In the words of Barker, "As years passed, the case took on a life of its own, accruing novel additions to Gage's story without any factual basis";[B]:678 even today (writes Zbigniew Kotowicz) "Most commentators still rely on hearsay and accept what others have said about Gage, namely, that after the accident he became a psychopath",[K2]:125 Grafman has written that "the details of [Gage's] social cognitive impairment have occasionally been inferred or even embellished to suit the enthusiasm of the story teller ...",[G]:295 and Goldenberg calls Gage "a (nearly) blank sheet upon which authors can write stories which illustrate their theories and entertain the public."
For example, Harlow's statement that Gage "continued to work in various places; could not do much, changing often, and always finding something that did not suit him in every place he tried"[H]:15 refers only to Gage's final months, after convulsions had set in.[M]:107[M9]:6 But it has been misinterpreted as meaning Gage could not (or would not) hold a regular job after his accident, "was prone to quit in a capricious fit or be let go because of poor discipline",:8-9 "never returned to a fully independent existence",:1102 "spent the rest of his life living miserably off the charity of others and traveling around the country as a sideshow freak", and ("dependent on his family" or "in the custody of his parents") died "in careless dissipation". In fact, after his initial post-recovery months spent traveling and exhibiting, Gage supported himself—
Other behaviors ascribed to the post-accident Gage which are either unsupported by, or in contradiction to, the known facts include mistreatment of wife and children (of which Gage had neither); inappropriate sexual behavior, promiscuity, or impaired sexuality; lack of forethought, of concern for the future, or of capacity for embarrassment; parading his self-misery, and vainglory in showing his wounds; "gambling" himself into "emotional and reputational ... bankruptcy" irresponsibility and untrustworthiness; aggressiveness and violence; vagrancy and begging; plus drifting, drinking, lying, brawling, bullying, psychopathy, inability to make ethical decisions, loss of all respect for social conventions, acting like an "idiot" or a "lout", and dying "due to a debauch" after "alienat[ing] almost everyone who had ever cared about him." None of these behaviors is mentioned by anyone who had met Gage or even his family,[b] and as Kotowicz put it, "Harlow does not report a single act that Gage should have been ashamed of."[K2]:122-3 Gage is "a great story for illustrating the need to go back to original sources", writes Macmillan, most authors having been "content to summarize or paraphrase accounts that are already seriously in error."[M]:315
Nonetheless (write Daffner and Searl) "the telling of [Gage's] story has increased interest in understanding the enigmatic role that the frontal lobes play in behavior and personality", and Ratiu has said that in teaching about the frontal lobes, an anecdote about Gage is like an "ace [up] your sleeve. It's just like whenever you talk about the French Revolution you talk about the guillotine, because it's so cool."[K] Benderly suggests that instructors use the Gage case to illustrate the importance of critical thinking.
Factors favoring Gage's survival
Harlow saw Gage's survival as demonstrating "the wonderful resources of the system in enduring the shock and in overcoming the effects of so frightful a lesion, and as a beautiful display of the recuperative powers of nature", and listed what he saw as the circumstances favoring it:
1st. The subject was the man for the case. His physique, will, and capacity of endurance, could scarcely be excelled.[H]:18
(For Harlow's description of the pre-accident Gage, see § Background, above.)
2d. The shape of the missile—
being pointed, round and comparatively smooth, not leaving behind it prolonged concussion or compression.[H]:18
Despite its very large diameter and mass (compared to a weapon-fired projectile) the tamping iron's relatively low velocity drastically reduced the energy available to compressive and concussive "shock waves".
3d. The point of entrance ...—
[the tamping iron] did little injury until it reached the floor of the cranium, when, at the same time that it did irreparable damage, it [created the] opening in the base of the skull, for drainage, [without which] recovery would have been impossible.[j]
Barker writes that "[Head injuries] from falls, horse kicks, and gunfire, were well known in pre–Civil War America [and] every contemporary course of lectures on surgery described the diagnosis and treatment" of such injuries. But to Gage's benefit, surgeon Joseph Pancoast had performed "his most celebrated operation for head injury before Harlow's medical class, [trephining] to drain the pus, resulting in temporary recovery. Unfortunately, symptoms recurred and the patient died. At autopsy, reaccumulated pus was found: granulation tissue had blocked the opening in the dura." By keeping the exit wound open, and elevating Gage's head to encourage drainage from the cranium into the sinuses (through the hole made by the tamping iron), Harlow "had not repeated Professor Pancoast's mistake".
4th. The portion of the brain traversed was, for several reasons, the best fitted of any part of the cerebral substance to sustain the injury.[H]:18
Precisely what Harlow's "several reasons" were is unclear, but he was likely referring, at least in part, to the understanding (slowly developing since ancient times) that injuries to the front of the brain are less dangerous than those to the rear, because the latter frequently interrupt vital functions such as breathing and circulation.[M]:126,142 As surgeon James Earle wrote in 1790, "[A] great part of the cerebrum may be taken away without destroying the animal, or even depriving it of its faculties, whereas the cerebellum will scarcely admit the smallest injury, without being followed by mortal symptoms."[M]:128
Ratiu et al. and Van Horn et al. both concluded that the superior sagittal sinus must have remained intact, both because Harlow does not mention loss of cerebrospinal fluid through the nose, and because otherwise Gage would almost certainly have suffered fatal blood loss or air embolism.[R]:642[V]:17 Harlow's moderate (in the context of medical practice of the time) use of emetics, purgatives, and (in one instance) bleeding[M]:59-60 would have "produced dehydration with reduction of intracranial pressure [which] may have favorably influenced the outcome of the case", according to Steegmann.:956
As to his own role in Gage's survival, Harlow merely averred, "I can only say ... with good old Ambroise Paré, I dressed him, God healed him",[H]:20 but Macmillan calls this self-assessment far too modest. Noting that Harlow had been a "relatively inexperienced local physician ... graduated four and a half years earlier",[M]:12 Macmillan's discussion of Harlow's "skillful and imaginative adaptation" of "conservative and progressive elements from the available therapies to the particular needs posed by Gage's injuries" emphasizes that he "did not apply rigidly what he had learned", for example foregoing an exhaustive search for bone fragments (which risked hemorrhage and further brain injury) and applying caustic to the granulation tissue instead of excising it (which risked hemorrhage) or forcing it into the wound (which risked compressing the brain).[M]:58-62
Early medical attitudes
Barker notes that Harlow's original 1848 report of Gage's survival and recovery "was widely disbelieved, for obvious reasons"[B]:676 and Harlow, in his 1868 retrospective, recalled this early skepticism:
The case occurred nearly twenty years ago, in an obscure country town ..., was attended and reported by an obscure country physician, and was received by the Metropolitan Doctors with several grains of caution, insomuch that many utterly refused to believe that the man had risen, until they had thrust their fingers into the hole [in] his head [see Doubting Thomas], and even then they required of the Country Doctor attested statements, from clergymen and lawyers, before they could or would believe—
many eminent surgeons regarding such an occurrence as a physiological impossibility, the appearances presented by the subject being variously explained away.
According to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, it was the 1850 report on Gage by Bigelow—
Nonetheless (Bigelow wrote just before Harlow's 1868 presentation of Gage's skull) though "the nature of [Gage's] injury and its reality are now beyond doubt ... I have received a letter within a month [purporting] to prove that ... the accident could not have happened."[B2]
Standard for other brain injuries
As the reality of Gage's accident and survival gained credence, it became "the standard against which other injuries to the brain were judged", and it has retained that status despite competition from a growing list of other unlikely-sounding brain-injury accidents, including encounters with axes, bolts, low bridges, exploding firearms, a revolver shot to the nose, other tamping irons, and falling Eucalyptus branches.[M]:62-7
For example, after a miner survived traversal of his skull by a gas pipe (extracted "not without considerable difficulty and force, owing to a bend in the portion of the rod in his skull") his physician invoked Gage as the "only case comparable with this, in the amount of brain injury, that I have seen reported".[l]
Often these comparisons carried hints of humor, competitiveness, or both.[M]:66 The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, for example, termed Gage "the patient whose cerebral organism had been comparatively so little disturbed by its abrupt and intrusive visitor"; and a Kentucky doctor, reporting a patient's survival of a gunshot through the nose, bragged:
If you Yankees can send a tamping bar through a fellow's brain and not kill him, I guess there are not many can shoot a bullet between a man's mouth and his brains, stopping just short of the medulla oblongata, and not touch either.
Similarly, when a lumbermill foreman returned to work soon after a saw cut three inches (8 cm) into his skull from just between the eyes to behind the top of his head, his surgeon (who had removed from this wound "thirty-two pieces of bone, together with considerable sawdust") termed the case "second to none reported, save the famous tamping-iron case of Dr. Harlow" (though apologizing that "I cannot well gratify the desire of my professional brethren to possess [the patient's] skull, until he has no further use for it himself").
As these and other remarkable brain-injury survivals accumulated, the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal pretended to wonder whether the brain has any function at all: "Since the antics of iron bars, gas pipes, and the like skepticism is discomfitted, and dares not utter itself. Brains do not seem to be of much account now-a-days." The Transactions of the Vermont Medical Society was similarly facetious: "'The times have been,' says Macbeth [Act III], 'that when the brains were out the man would die. But now they rise again.' Quite possibly we shall soon hear that some German professor is exsecting it.":53-4
Theoretical use and misuse
Though Gage is considered the "index case for personality change due to frontal lobe damage",
In investigating reports on diseases and injuries of the brain, I am constantly being amazed at the inexactitude and distortion to which they are subject by men who have some pet theory to support. The facts suffer so frightfully ...
In the nineteenth-century controversy over whether the various mental functions are or are not localized in specific regions of the brain (see Cerebral localization), both sides managed to enlist Gage in support of their theories.[B]:678[M]:ch9 For example, after Dupuy wrote that Gage proved that the brain is not localized (characterizing him as a "striking case of destruction of the so-called speech centre without consequent aphasia") Ferrier made a "devastating reply" in his 1878 Goulstonian Lectures, "On the Localisation of Cerebral Disease", of which Gage (and the woodcuts of his skull and tamping iron from Harlow's 1868 paper) were "an absolutely dominating feature".
Throughout the nineteenth century, adherents of phrenology contended that Gage's mental changes (his profanity, for example) stemmed from destruction of his mental "organ of Benevolence"—
Harlow wrote that Gage, during his convalescence, did not "estimate size or money accurately [and] would not take $1000 for a few pebbles";[H1]:392 by this he may have been implying damage to phrenology's "Organ of Comparison".[B]:675-6
Psychosurgery and lobotomy
It is frequently asserted that what happened to Gage played a role in the later development of various forms of psychosurgery—
There is simply no evidence that any of these operations were deliberately designed to produce the kinds of changes in Gage that were caused by his accident, nor that knowledge of Gage's fate formed part of the rationale for them[M3]:F... [W]hat his case did show came solely from his surviving his accident: major operations [such as for tumors] could be performed on the brain without the outcome necessarily being fatal.[M]:250
Somatic marker hypothesis
Antonio Damasio, in support of his somatic marker hypothesis (relating decision-making to emotions and their biological underpinnings), draws parallels between behaviors he attributes to Gage and those of modern patients with damage to the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala.:ch3 But Damasio's depiction of Gage:ch1 has been severely criticized by Kotowicz:
Damasio is the principal perpetrator of the myth of Gage the psychopath… Damasio changes [Harlow's] narrative, omits facts, and adds freely ... His account of Gage's last months [is] a grotesque fabrication [insinuating] that Gage was some riff-raff who in his final days headed for California to drink and brawl himself to death ... It seems that the growing commitment to the frontal lobe doctrine of emotions brought Gage to the limelight and shapes how he is described.[K2]:125,130n6
As Kihlstrom put it, "[M]any modern commentators exaggerate the extent of Gage's personality change, perhaps engaging in a kind of retrospective reconstruction based on what we now know, or think we do, about the role of the frontal cortex in self-regulation.[K1] Macmillan[M]:116-19,326,331 gives detailed criticism of Antonio Damasio's various presentations of Gage (some of them in joint work with Hannah Damasio and others).
Two daguerreotype portraits of Gage, identified in 2009 and 2010,[m] are the only likenesses
Authenticity was confirmed by photo-overlaying the inscription on the tamping iron, as seen in the portraits, against that on the actual tamping iron, and matching the subject's injuries to those preserved in the life mask.[W]:342-3[L] However, about when, where, and by whom the portraits were taken nothing is known, except that they were created no earlier than January 1850 (when the inscription was added to the tamping iron),[M9]:4 on different occasions, and are likely by different photographers.[W1]:8
The portraits support other evidence that Gage's most serious mental changes were temporary (see § Social recovery, above).[M2] "That [Gage] was any form of vagrant following his injury is belied by these remarkable images", wrote Van Horn et al.[V]:13 "Although just one picture," Kean commented in reference to the first image discovered, "it exploded the common image of Gage as a dirty, disheveled misfit. This Phineas was proud, well-dressed, and disarmingly handsome."[K]
- Anatoli Bugorski—scientist whose head was struck by a particle-accelerator proton beam
- Eadweard Muybridge—another early case of head injury leading to mental changes
- Cognitive neuropsychology
- Cognitive rehabilitation therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Rehabilitation (neuropsychology)
- Macmillan[M]:14-17,31n5,490-1 discusses Gage's ancestry and early life. The birthdate July 9, 1823 is given by a Gage genealogy without citation,[M]:16 but is consistent with agreement among contemporary sources that Gage was 25 years old on the date of his accident, and with his age (36 years) as given in undertaker's records after his death in May 1860.[M]:108-9 Possible homes in childhood and youth are Lebanon or nearby East Lebanon, Enfield, and/or Grafton (all in Grafton County, New Hampshire), though Harlow refers to Lebanon in particular as Gage's "native place"[H]:10 and "his home"[H]:12 (likely that of his parents),[M]:30 to which Gage returned ten weeks[M3]:C after his accident.
- Macmillan[M]:116-19,ch13-14[M3]:C[M6] compares accounts of Gage to one another and against the known facts, as well as contrasting Gage's celebrity—
he is mentioned in 91% of a sample of introductory psychology textbooks published 2012–2014:198— with what was, until recently, the lack of any major study of him and the dearth of papers solely or mainly about him.[M]:1-2,11
Until 2008[M9]:2-3[M1]:830 the available sources offering significant information on Gage, and for which there is any evidence at all (even merely the source's own claim) of contact with Gage or his family, were limited to Harlow (1848, 1849, 1868);[H1][H2][H] Bigelow (1850);[B1] and Jackson (1849, 1870). Macmillan notes that descriptions of Gage's behavior total just 300 words[M]:90 and emphasizes the primacy of Harlow's three publications as sources.[M]:94,333,375 (Harlow's original case notes have not been located.[M]:90 A Warren Museum curator referred to the "stately elegance" of Harlow's writings on Gage.) However, all of these sources were difficult to obtain prior to 2000;:196 in particular, Macmillan was able to identify only 21 copies of Harlow's 1868 paper[H] worldwide.[M]:371-2
Macmillan & Lena[M9]:3-6,8 present previously unknown sources found since 2008.
- Macmillan gives background on Cavendish (at the time called Duttonsville), the location and circumstances of the accident, and the steps in setting a blast.
[M]:13,23-9[M7]:151-2[M3]:A The blast hole, about 1 3⁄4 inches (4.5 cm) in diameter and up to 12 feet (4 m) deep, might require three men working as much as a day to bore using hand tools. The labor invested in setting each blast, the judgment involved in selecting its location and the quantity of powder to be used, and the often explosive nature of employer-employee relations on this type of job, all underscore the significance of Harlow's statements that Gage had been a "great favorite" with his men, and that his employers had considered him "the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ" prior to the accident.[M]:13,22-3,25
- :54[T2] Barker: "Harlow always refers to the bar by its proper title, as a tamping iron. Bigelow's reference to a crowbar ... gave the case its nickname, which is still encountered today."[B]:678
- Williams family lore holds that Harlow did not appear on the scene until two days after Gage's accident, but nonetheless "sought eventually to take the whole glory of the successful outcome" of the case, even though Williams "was given full credit by all those who knew of his connection" to it. However, these stories conflict with every other account of the case, including Williams' own.[M]:279-84
- In keeping with usage of the day:107 Harlow used the term fungus (a word possibly related to the Greek word for "sponge") in reference to the sponge-like granulation tissue.[M]:53
- Though the tamping iron's passage forced the left eye from its orbit by one-half its diameter, Gage retained "indistinct" vision in it until the tenth day, when vision was permanently lost.[H]:6,8,13 Ratiu et al. conclude that "the optic canal was spared ... [the vision loss] secondary to acute glaucoma or swelling of the optic nerve and compression against the rigid walls of the optic canal".[R]:640 Harlow added that Gage could "adduct and depress the globe, but [not] move it in any other direction".
- Gage's death and original burial are discussed by Macmillan.[M]:108-9[M3]:D§corrections Harlow gives Gage's date of death as May 21, 1861,[H]:15 but because bound, consecutive interment records show that Gage was buried May 23, 1860,[M]:122n17 Macmillan concludes that May 21, 1860 is the correct death date;[M]:122n15[M9]:6 this is confirmed by a contemporary obituary. (Harlow's informant was Gage's mother;[H]:15[M9]:6 Macmillan[M]:376 points out that, when combined with Gage's recorded age at death—
36 years plus an unspecified number of months— the 1861 date obscures the fact that Gage was born just a few months after his parents' April 27, 1823 marriage.) This implies that certain other dates Harlow gives for events late in Gage's life— his move from Chile to San Francisco and the onset of his convulsions— must also be mistaken, presumably by the same one year; this article follows Macmillan[M]:122n15 in correcting those dates (each of which carries this annotation).
- [M]:3,71 Early attempts to estimate the extent of damage include those by: Harlow;[H1]:389 Edward Elisha Phelps; Bigelow;[B1]:21-2 Harlow;[H]:17-19 Hammond; Dupuy; Ferrier; Bramwell; Cobb;:1349:54-6 Tyler & Tyler.[T2] See Macmillan (2000), Ch. 5.
- [H]:18 Harlow's full text, "The point of entrance outside of the superior maxillary—
the [tamping iron] did little injury ..." refers to the first point at which the tamping iron contacted bone; elsewhere he describes the initial penetration (i.e. of the tissue of the face) as "immediately anterior and external to the angle of the inferior maxillary bone",[H]:16 consistent with the analyses of Macmillan; Ratiu et al.; and Van Horn et al.[B1]:13-14[H]:5[M]:73-4
- In addition to the "attested statements" mentioned by Harlow (which Harlow had gathered at Bigelow's request) and his own examination of Gage, Bigelow pointed out that the accident had occurred "in open day" with many witnesses, and that "in a thickly populated country neighbourhood, to which all the facts were matter of daily disucssion at the time of their occurrence, there is no difference of belief, nor has there been at any time doubt that the iron was actually driven through the brain. A considerable number of medical gentlemen also visited the case at various times to satisfy their incredulity."[B1]:13,19-20[M]:42
- [M]:66 Immediately after Harlow's presentation unveiling Gage's skull and iron, Bigelow ("in one of those coup dramatiques which were now and then incidents of his surgical communications [and] without giving notice that he intended to do so"):123 actually produced this patient, Joel Lenn, together with "the gas pipe which had pierced his head from the right forehead to left occiput, and the hat he had been wearing (with entrance and exit holes) ... This coup de théâtre must have been a painful coda for Harlow, eclipsing the pinnacle of his medical career."[B]:679
A side effect of Lenn's post-accident medical treatment was to rid him of a 17-foot tapeworm. Months after the accident, his surgeon reported, "He seems to be perfectly rational, and will reply correctly in monosyllables to questions, but is entirely unable to connect words. He succeeds best, when excited, in swearing in French."
- The 2009-identified image is from the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus.[T][W2][W][W1] Like almost all daguerreotypes it shows its subject laterally (left-right) reversed, making it appear that Gage's right eye is injured. However, all Gage's injuries, including to his eye, were on the left; therefore in presenting the image in this article a second, compensating reversal has been applied so as to show Gage as he appeared in life.[L][W][W1]
The 2010-identified image is in the possession of Tara Gage Miller of Texas; an identical image belongs to Phyllis Gage Hartley of New Jersey.[L] Unlike the Wilgus portrait, which is an original daguerreotype, the Miller and Hartley images are 19th-century photographic reproductions of a common original which remains undiscovered, itself a daguerreotype or other laterally reversing early-process photograph;[W1] here again a compensating reversal has been applied.[L]
- [B1]:22n:149[M]:ii,42 The life mask is often mistakenly referred to as a death mask.[M3]:G
For general readers
|H.||Harlow, John Martyn (1868). "Recovery from the Passage of an Iron Bar through the Head". Publications of the Massachusetts Medical Society 2 (3): 327–47. Reprinted: David Clapp & Son (1869) [scan]|
|K.||Kean, Sam (May 6, 2014). "Phineas Gage, Neuroscience's Most Famous Patient". Slate. Reprinted in Skloot, Rebecca, ed. (2015). The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 143–8.|
|M.||Macmillan, Malcolm B. (2000). An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-13363-6 (hbk, 2000) ISBN 0-262-63259-4 (pbk, 2002).
• See also "An Odd Kind of Fame § Corrections".
|M1.||—— (September 2008). "Phineas Gage—
|M2.||—— (July 2009). "More About Phineas Gage, Especially After the Accident". www.brightbytes.com. Retrieved 2016-05-16.|
|M3.||—— (2012). "The Phineas Gage Information Page". The University of Akron. Retrieved 2016-05-16. Includes:
A. "Phineas Gage Sites in Cavendish".
|M4.||Macmillan, Malcolm B.; Aggleton, John (March 6, 2011). Phineas Gage: The man with a hole in his head. Audio interview with Claudia Hammond; Dave Lee. Health Check. BBC World Service. Originally broadcast December 7, 2008.|
|T.||Twomey, S. (January 2010). "Finding Phineas". Smithsonian 40 (10): 8–10.|
For younger readers
|F.||Fleischman, J. (2002). Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science. ISBN 0-618-05252-6.|
For researchers and specialists
|B.||Barker, F.G. II (1995). "Phineas among the phrenologists: the American crowbar case and nineteenth-century theories of cerebral localization" (PDF). Journal of Neurosurgery 82 (4): 672–82. doi:10.3171/jns.1995.82.4.0672. PMID 7897537. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 6, 2014.|
|B1.||Bigelow, Henry Jacob (July 1850). "Dr. Harlow's Case of Recovery from the Passage of an Iron Bar through the Head". American Journal of the Medical Sciences 20: 13–22.|
|B2.||—— (May 12, 1868). "Your favor of April 29th is before me" (Letter to M. Jewett). Records of the Warren Anatomical Museum, 1828–1892 (inclusive) (AA 192.5), Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.|
|D.||Draaisma, Douwe (2009). "Phineas Gage's posthumous stroll: the Gage matrix". Disturbances of the Mind. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-139-93611-8.|
|F1.||Fuster, Joaquin M. (2008). The prefrontal cortex. Elsevier/Academic Press. p. 172. ISBN 0-12-373644-7.|
|G.||Grafman, J. (2002). "The Structured Event Complex and the Human Prefrontal Cortex". In Stuss, D.T.; Knight, R.T. Principles of Frontal Lobe Function. pp. 292–310. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195134971.003.0019. ISBN 978-0-195-13497-1.|
|G1.||Gage, P.P. (1854). "Please give my iron bar to the bearer" (Note to unknown recipient). Records of the Warren Anatomical Museum, 1828–1892 (inclusive) (AA 192.5), Box 1, Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.|
|H1.||Harlow, John Martyn (December 13, 1848). "Passage of an Iron Rod Through the Head" (PDF). Boston Medical & Surgical Journal 39 (20): 389–93. doi:10.1056/nejm184812130392001. (Transcription)|
|H2.||—— (January 3, 1849). "Medical Miscellany (letter)". Boston Medical & Surgical Journal 39: 507. Reproduced in Macmillan (2000), p. 389.|
|K1.||Kihlstrom, J.F. (2010). "Social neuroscience: The footprints of Phineas Gage". Social Cognition 28 (6): 757–82. doi:10.1521/soco.2010.28.6.757. Archived from the original on 2014-10-06.|
|L.||"Letters: Readers Respond to the January Issue. Picturing Phineas Gage (Editor's note)". Smithsonian. March 2010. p. 4.
|L1.||Luria, A.R. (1963). Restoration of function after brain injury. Translated by O.L. Zangwill. New York: Pergamon Press, Macmillan.
|K2.||Kotowicz, Z. (2007). "The strange case of Phineas Gage". History of the Human Sciences 20 (1): 115–31. doi:10.1177/0952695106075178.|
|M5.||Macmillan, Malcolm B. (1996). Code, C.; Wallesch, C.W.; Lecours, A.R.; Joanette, U., eds. "Phineas Gage: A Case for All Reasons". Classic Cases in Neuropsychology (London: Erlbaum). pp. 243–62.|
|M6.||—— (2000). "Restoring Phineas Gage: A 150th Retrospective". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 9 (1): 46–66. doi:10.1076/0964-704X(200004)9:1;1-2;FT046. PMID 11232349.|
|M7.||—— (2001). "John Martyn Harlow: Obscure Country Physician?". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 10 (2): 149–162. doi:10.1076/jhin.10.2.149.7254. PMID 11512426.|
|M8.||—— (2004). "Inhibition and Phineas Gage: Repression and Sigmund Freud". Neuropsychoanalysis 6 (2): 181–192. doi:10.1080/15294145.2004.10773459.|
|M9.||——; Lena, M.L. (2010). "Rehabilitating Phineas Gage" (PDF). Neuropsychological Rehabilitation 20 (5): 641–658. doi:10.1080/09602011003760527. PMID 20480430. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 17, 2014.|
|R.||Ratiu, P.; Talos, I.F.; Haker, S.; Lieberman, D.; Everett, P. (2004). "The Tale of Phineas Gage, Digitally Remastered". Journal of Neurotrauma 21 (5): 637–643. doi:10.1089/089771504774129964. PMID 15165371.|
|R1.||Ratiu, P.; Talos, I.F. (2004). "The Tale of Phineas Gage, Digitally Remastered". New England Journal of Medicine 351 (23): e21. doi:10.1056/NEJMicm031024. PMID 15575047.|
|T1.||Thiebaut de Schotten, M.; Dell'Acqua, F.; Ratiu, P.; Leslie, A.; Howells, H.; Cabanis, E.; Iba-Zizen, M.T.; Plaisant, O.; Simmons, A.; Dronkers, N.F.; Corkin, S.; Catani, M. (2015). "From Phineas Gage and Monsieur Leborgne to H.M.: Revisiting Disconnection Syndromes". Cerebral Cortex: 1–16. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhv173.|
|T2.||Tyler, K.L.; Tyler, H.R. (1982). "A 'Yankee Invention': the celebrated American crowbar case". Neurology 32: A191. Images reproduced in Macmillan (2000), App. E.|
|V.||Van Horn, J.D.; Irimia, A.; Torgerson, C.M.; Chambers, M.C.; Kikinis, R.; Toga, A.W. (2012). "Mapping Connectivity Damage in the Case of Phineas Gage". PLoS ONE 7 (5): e37454. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037454. PMC 3353935. PMID 22616011.|
|W.||Wilgus, B. & J. (2009). "Face to Face with Phineas Gage". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 18 (3): 340–5. doi:10.1080/09647040903018402. PMID 20183215.|
|W1.||—— (July–September 2009). "Phineas Gage – Hiding in Plain Sight". The Daguerreian Society Newsletter 21 (3): 6–9.|
|W2.||—— (2009). "Meet Phineas Gage". www.brightbytes.com. Retrieved 2016-05-16.|
|W3.||—— (2010). "A New Image of Phineas Gage". www.brightbytes.com. Retrieved 2016-05-16.|
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- Macmillan (2000), ch. 13; Macmillan (2008), p. 830.
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- Macmillan (2000), p. 490; Macmillan (2008), p. 839 (fig.).
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