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 hear about trepanation, and why did you decide to have it done?
HP: The first time I heard about trepanation was when I was a kiddie. I was really into Bob Dylan and John Lennon, and I remembered that Lennon had mentioned that he wanted it done. He had spoken to Bart Huges about it, and Bart had said that he didn't think Lennon's cranial sutures had healed anyway, because he was such a creative person. At the time, I just thought "Wow! That's a bit freaky" and didn't think much more about it. Then later on, I did a lot of acid, which kind of mashed my head up a bit. I remember getting these pressure or tension headaches, and thinking that John Lennon said he was going to do it to relieve the pressure. By the mid-nineties, I started to realize that it wasn't dangerous, and decided that I was going to it if I could find somebody to give me a hand. But that proved to be quite difficult, so then I let it drop for a while. One of my initial reasons for wanting to have it done was for more mental energy and clarity. I had been working in Cheltenham, and got made redundant. I bought a computer, got online, and eventually got in touch with Pete Halvorson in the States, who had trepanned himself in the early 1970s. I was going over for a wedding anyway, so we arranged to meet so he could help me with it.
M: Didn't Bart Huges decide to trepan himself after taking acid, because he believed that trepanation was the next step in expanding his consciousness?
HP: Yeah...certainly the first self-trepanners in the 60s and 70s - they all knew Bart - and me, we'd all done a lot of acid. I once found a website that theorized that taking too much acid encouraged people to trepan, which is just ridiculous. I just think that the kind of people who take acid are more experimental, so might be more likely to try that kind of thing if they're really into consciousness expansion. I never thought "Why don't I trepan myself?" while I was tripping. But actually, Amanda Fielding was tripping when she first did hers. She knows Pete, and had her first trepanation around the same time as Pete, in the early 70s. She paid a doctor to do it back then, and found another to re-do it a few years ago because the bone had grown back. I spoke to her on the phone just after I was trepanned. Bart's theory about trepanation wasn't as a result of a 'trip' though, he'd studied medicine.
M: So do you subscribe to Huges' theory that trepanation can lead to a higher level of consciousness by increasing the blood brain volume?
HP: Yes and no. It certainly does initially when you're trepanned. In fact, Pete now has doctors down in Mexico who will do the operation, and they take MRI scans pre- and post-trepanation. After the operation the ratio of brain blood volume to cerebrospinal fluid is increased. I'm not sure if that's true for everyone. Maybe it depends on the size of the hole. It's probably variable from person to person, depending on the person's unique physiology, and on whether the bone grows back. What Huges was saying was that it allows the heart beat to pulsate through the brain better. Funnily enough, I know a woman with an autistic son. Autistics have trouble with empathy don't they? When I told her about my trepanation, she said her son had hit himself on the head with a hammer and fractured his skull when he was younger, and that afterwards he was noticeably more empathetic. He stayed like that until the wound healed, so I guess the blood was moving to that part of the brain to heal it. Because she'd noticed that it had an effect on her son, she didn't think that I was barking mad. There have been a few other cases of people who have been accidentally trepanned and reported similar kinds of effects.
M: How exactly did you perform the trepanation?
HP: I used a hand trepan initially, but that wasn't proving to be terribly successful. Then there was a problem with the people who owned the property we were staying in, so we decided we'd have to just leave it. I wrapped my head up in a towel and we got out of there. A couple of days later, we had another go. We abandoned the hand trepan and got an electric drill instead. I injected myself with a local anaesthetic and then slashed a big T-shaped incision in my scalp, right down to the bone. I was sat there in the bathroom feeling quite relaxed and they started with the drill. It didn't take that long at all, probably about 20 minutes. Eventually I could feel a lot of fluid moving around. Apparently, there was a bit too much fluid shifting around, because they'd gone a little bit too far and I was leaking some through the hole, but this wasn't especially dangerous as there are three layer of meninges before you get to the brain.
M: How did you feel immediately afterwards? Even though you didn't do the trepanation specifically to treat your depression and chronic fatigue, was there any improvement in your condition?
HP: Something definitely happened after the operation. There was a shifting around of fluids, and I felt an intense sense of peace and relaxation. It was a little bit trippy in that nice shiny sort of way. If I were to compare it to drugs it would be like acid mixed with some kind of opiate. It certainly seemed to help with mental clarity and overall well-being, and I remember that feeling lasting for quite a while. Afterwards I reduced my dose of antidepressants for a while. But I don't think it's long-lasting, because it's probably healed over. I don't know whether that's because I need a bigger hole or because of my under-active thyroid, which I was diagnosed with just recently. Sometimes, when I've been trying different thyroid medications, it kind of feels like I did post-trepanation so I'm wondering if it's not permanent for me because of my condition. I think we'll have to wait and see what those doctors Pete now has working on it say about it.
M: So are you thinking of re-opening the hole or making another one?
HP: I don't know. I mean surely it takes years for the bone to grow back over a half-inch hole, because Amanda's was smaller than half an inch I think and she's just had hers redone 30 years later. I'm not sure whether the bone's grown back over the hole in my skull. It's hard to tell really, because the skin grows back over it so you can't see it.
M: Do you advocate trepanation for everyone? Is it a miracle cure that can be used to treat any ailment?
HP: No, it's not something that I would advocate it for everyone. After all the press stuff I was contacted by various organizations, like the ME [Myalgic Encephalomyelitis] Society, asking me to go and give lectures, and there were people writing to me from all over the world asking me if they should have it done. I'd tell them that they should make their own decisions. It's just something that I decided to try, to see what it was like, so there's no reason why I should be counselling them on whether or not they should have it done too. It's definitely not a miracle cure either. Having said that, I'd be a bad one to ask about the overall long-term effects, because I think my thyroid condition makes it hard to really know. Sometimes when my thyroid meds are working OK, I think I'm feeling the same buzz that I was getting post-trepanation. Maybe for me, whilst the hole was still open, it was enough to kind of boost my brain up to feel that way all the time. My head is a bit of a random one to test it on anyway, particularly as I'd done a bit too much acid to begin with.
M: You say it's not dangerous, but neurologists say that there is a danger of infection and brain damage. According to the news stories, you had to be rushed to hospital.
HP: Actually, I wasn't rushed to hospital. We went to see Bill's doctor, who was a GP but he was into alternative kind of therapies. When he checked me over the following morning he said that we'd pierced the first meninges, but he didn't seem overly concerned. He told me to eat Jello and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. I had a cough, so I was a bit like a whale - every time I coughed, some fluid would come out of the hole in my head. He gave me some medicine for that and also prescribed me some kind of Chinese herbal remedy. I think maybe we did it in the wrong place because there is an artery there somewhere which is quite close to the surface, so in retrospect maybe we should have done it in a slightly different place. I was aware of the risk of meningitis, but we were taking precautions, and everything was well sterilized in an autoclave. But it shouldn't be that dangerous really. The trepan I used was tapered, so that it would have been impossible for me to go into the brain.
M: How do you feel about the media coverage of your trepanation? Was it accurate?
HP: The media went mad. Apparently, back in Utah, where I was trepanned, they stared thinking that we had started up a cult, and were showing films in the local schools warning kids about it. It was just a totally hysterical reaction from everybody, especially the media. Pete had got this documentary crew [from the ABC 20/20 programme] because he's quite interested in promoting trepanation. He's got his website and he thinks everybody should have it done. The idea at the time was to try and make out that I did more of the operation, so that he wouldn't get busted. I started it off, then they [Pete and Bill] took over from there. That's what we wanted to get across in the documentary - that they weren't in any way imposing it on me. But the people at ABC were absolute bastards, because they set us up. Pete joked, off camera, that we'll call it a religious practice so that we couldn't get prosecuted, then the guy repeated that in the programme, which annoyed us a bit.
Back in England, my ex-boyfriend sold the story to the News of the World, and he made it look really, really bad. The story made me look like a real idiot; it was on something like page 30, with the headline "Missing graduate lost in America leaking brain fluid". We'd talked to a solicitor about trying to stop it, but he said that there was nothing we could do. That story was just complete nonsense too. It completely mis-portrayed the whole thing, trying to make Pete look some a cult leader or something. In fact, I had contacted him, and dragged him into this unnecessary mess that he didn't need. Afterwards, he got arrested for practising medicine without a licence, and it cost him lots of lawyers' fees. But then he did encourage the publicity.
I happened to have mentioned to one of the journalists that I had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, and they thought that would make a good headline. It had nothing to do with my chronic fatigue or depression, specifically, but the papers decided to link those things up. The journalists thought it must have been out of desperation. That's why they reported that I was drilling a hole in my head as a last ditch attempt to feel better. They felt it had to be something really severe to make me do that. But it wasn't out of any kind of desperation at all. It was basically a consciousness expansion experiment.
this is just as bad as getting a nose job cause some
celeb. did it just because its john lennon and not some britney spears wannabe DOESNT justify putting this out
there as "a possiblity for helping people" we have doctors
for a reason people, this lady is not brave, shes stupid
and dont be tricked by the fact that it isnt 'cosmetic'
per-say, she didnt need this surgery, it is just as cosmetic
as a nose job.
ummm. i dont have a soft spot on the top of my head....
We went to see Bill's doctor, who was a GP but he was into alternative kind of therapies. When he checked me over the following morning he said that we'd pierced the first meninges, but he didn't seem overly concerned. He told me to eat Jello and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. I had a cough, so I was a bit like a whale - every time I coughed, some fluid would come out of the hole in my head. He gave me some medicine for that and also prescribed me some kind of Chinese herbal remedy.
The body's ability to withstand the mind's delusions can be truly impressive.
every time I coughed, some fluid would come out of the hole in my head.
... .. Wow.
I think people need trepanation like they need a hole in their head....
Wow. It sounds like you had a really productive interview. Do you have any personal impressions of her or why you feel she went through it, and whether it gave her what she wanted out of it? Did she feel she got the experience she was after?
And did she show you where they did it?
OK. This is fucking ridiculous.
I believe that there is a relationship between her alleged CFS and the surgical act, insofar as it would reveal an underlying personality abnormality (F60.4 perhaps?). Alternatively, we should considera Briquet's Syndrome, which is related to F60.4. The reality is that, strictly speaking, any of these (Pop psychiatry, without assessing this person) would not explain this most aberrant act.
From an anthropological perspective, I would like to interview her and know more about her previous psychiatric history.
This is rubbish. I vote for Munchausen's (F68.1). After this, the phone will ring off the hook. Didn't she contact you? As well, I recall the mention of her locale. Best Practice to feed the delusion. Job well done! That's my "Pop Psych" diagnosis. P.S.: Is this Peer Reviewed Blogging?
Loved the interview. I have vivid memories of the very weird Utah news articles on the topic, as I was reading both the salt lake tribune and desert news at the time. I think alien invasion was the only thing the neither newspaper managed to link to the trepanation. It was almost as if both papers has started copying and pasting from the weekly world news.
Fascinating. It never occured to me that this would be something people would voluntarily do to themselves. I think she was incredibly brave to go through with it, but her experience afterwards seems to be more to do with endorphins than the actual hole, itself.
Amazing experience. Even more amazing how people respond to it, especially the media. People just have to have some kind od opinion even if they never had any similar experience, although their response to that kind of news is often totaly wrong.
Given that cerebral blood flow is apparently so tightly regulated, I would be surprised if this helped.
I read in a paper by Raichel that there are dramatic cyclical changes in blood flow across the day and ginormous changes during seizures. Do people have higher consciousness at different times of day? Are seizures good?
An Australian 'Pop Psychology' perspective... "Mate, she's a kangaroo short in the top paddock" Good interview though Mo.
"If I were to compare it to drugs it would be like acid mixed with some kind of opiate."
Was this due to the local anasthetic rather than the hole?
This is a saddening story - not for her I just now feel theres probably no hope for civilization.
In response to Peter;
"This is a saddening story - not for her I just now feel theres probably no hope for civilization."
An individual is not a representation of civilization; you must look at averages and majorities to accurately evaluate civilization traits or behaviors.
I think that endorphins are a source as Erin pointed out.
Quoting Erin: I think she was incredibly brave to go through with it
Brave? Not the word I would have chosen to describe someone who voluntarily undergoes a potentially deadly procedure with no rational justification...
This is excellent !
Now, if only all my neurotic patients would self-trepan themselves, it would be so wonderful.
I find the whole procedure quite funny. It smells more like new age fiction to me, than science. But, who knows? Maybe, she really feels better :)
If John Lennon said it, then it is crazy.
I find the comments quite funny, but they do reveal more about the biases of their authors than the procedure. No one has any evidence that it doesn't work. Maybe some trials are in order. Although I think you'd have a hard time finding volunteers without a history of drug abuse. The correlation is more likely to be due to increased icp amongst druggies than a wish for 'consciousness expanding'. For a specific condition like depression it could be doable though as its benefits could be measured and volunteers might be more forthcoming especially amongst the suicidal treatment resistant variety.
I think that this could and should be looked into, I agree with Michael that this needs to go though some trials, I personally would volunteer being an 18 year Male clean of all drugs and with a drug free past. However I would want to do it at a Hospital. I Believe that this could help in some cases of depression and might be use to help those suffering from its condition. If you or a friend have a link to a Hospital where they would be willing to run test let me know at
how funny...i visited this site a couple of times when it was first established to look at the comments...have just followed a link here and i find you people still banging on about this as though i committed some terrible crime...jesus...this happened ten years ago and i'm still alive and luckily have a sense of humour...pete and the others were trepanned in the sixties...it's hardly up to date current affairs is it to be getting so pious and uptight about? (does anybody know there's a war on?)...boris and a couple of others seem to be the only contributors on here with any sense ...unfortunately, when i did this interview most of the comments were made in a light-hearted manner which doesn't come out terribly well in the written article (but i find talking about head-drilling amusing, not that i do talk about it much...i'm not an evangelist about it or anything... it's just something i tried once and it's kind of a funny story to tell sometimes over a pint...the jury's still out as far as i'm concerned on the long-term effects but pete has had some encouraging results with the trials he's got some docs involved with)...but, christ, haven't you people got anything better to do, or enough problems in your lives, than to have to have opinion about something as trivial and 'not your business' as this...we were all consenting adults...if you knew anything about it at all you'd know that trepanation has been, and still is, done in some cultures under the most appalling conditions and the survival rate isn't far off of 100%, it is so safe...so under the conditions we did it with sterile equipment etc. there was really no risk at all...perhaps you guys need a hole in those narrow, judgemental craniums of yours so you can get with the programme and start worrying about some serious issues...like the fact that in some african countries 60% of the population are infected with hiv...or that there are still children dying in the world for lack of food and/or medication....that's "terribly sad"...as for me, yes, i've almost definitely lived a more exciting life than most of you and i'm quite experimental and open-minded (ha ha) to new experiences, but i always make sure i know the facts, or at least a variety of opinions before i make my mind up about something (or in many cases, just leave it open - ha ha)...and as for my brain, well, despite all attempts it's not particularly damaged or addled...i gather you have all been spying on my and know me to be a stupid, pathetic individual with a low intellect...well i have a degree; am incredibly well read; keep up with current affairs; take an interest in history, physics (esp. quantum); metaphysics (confirmation of me being "weird" no doubt), philosophy and bits and pieces of other academic disciplines; oh, and i've been known to complete the cryptic crosswords in (what were) the broadsheets...and whilst we're on the subject of what a great person i am, in more general way, i have loads of friends and a good social life, am very kind-hearted (so i'm told), love my mum and dad and am perfectly capable of doing all the things that nice, well-balanced people are capable of doing (and a few more...lol...)
so, enough from me...have to say i quite enjoyed that little rant...but you step slightly out of line and you always get the drones kicking up a fuss...
Interesting interview. For anyone who thinks this idea is 'out to lunch', try pressing down on the soft spots at the top of your head and feel the pressure release that results. It's easy to imagine that this operation could help, even though it's not as well-known as in past centuries. I want to hear more about this topic.
Interesting. It seems that none of the negative experiences after the trepanning had anything to do with the trepanning, according to the author. Still, whatever floats your boat...