An ode to trepanation

Later on today, I'll be travelling to Bristol to meet Heather Perry and interview her about the self-trepanation she performed. If you have a question for Ms. Perry, submit it here.

The first migraine-plagued caveman

who countered his aching cranium

with crudely pounded flint (and lived)

surely shared his medical breakthrough.

Headcutting is old as woodcutting.

Aztec shaman or Greek physician,

a good doctor knew the value

of airing out a fevered brain.

In dark ages before Lister and Pasteur,

chirurgeons didn't know a virus,

from a curse, but they needed a name

for the rusty saw they used to open

a blow-swelled skull: the trepane

saved careless courtiers from coma.

Modern surgeons' steel is clean, but treat

tyro trepanation with trepidation. Teen

mystics sing high of tuning third eyes

and praise their cordless doorknob drills

for opening new windows of perception

even as they lie blinded, bacterial feasts.

Trepanation, by Lucy A. Snyder.


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My recent post on head trauma got me thinking. The practice of trepanation (the drilling of holes in the head) is thousands of years old. While looking up information on the practice I came upon this woodcut. The engraving is, I believe, from 16th century England. Over at wikipedia, editors…
The operation of Trepan, from Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery: Trepan, Hernia, Amputation, Aneurism and Lithotomy, by Charles Bell, 1815. (John Martin Rare Book Room at the University of Iowa's Hardin Library for the Health Sciences.)Trepanation, or trephination (both derived from…
Last month, I travelled to Bristol to meet 37-year-old Heather Perry, one of a very small number of people to have voluntarily undergone trepanation for non-medical reasons. As we ate a pub lunch, I asked Heather about her experience. Below is a transcript of our conversation. M: How did you first…
The procedure known as trepanation, in which a hole is scraped or drilled in the skull, is an ancient form of neurosurgery that has been performed since the late Stone Age. Exactly why ancient peoples performed trepanation has remained a matter of debate: some researchers argue that it was…