The Brain Injury of Phineas Gage


Phineas Gage, with the tamping rod that injured him
Originally from the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus; now in the Warren Anatomical Museum, Harvard Medical School.

What makes you YOU? Spotlight tells the story of a man whose brain injury seemed to change who he was. Doctors studied his case to learn how the brain affects who we are as people.

Transcript


Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2  

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

Have you ever thought about what makes you you? What makes you friendly or shy? Why do you like one food, but hate another? Do you like to stay up late into the night, or go to bed early? Are you able to play sports easily? Or are they difficult to play? Everyone has different answers to these questions. The answers help define who a person is. But are the answers to these questions what makes you you, and different from other people?

Voice 2  

Scientists and thinkers have asked these questions for many years. They ask: What makes us human? Is it the brain? This organ controls our bodies, what we like, and how we speak. Or is there something more to us? In today’s Spotlight we look at a story that asks these questions. We tell the story of Phineas Gage and his brain injury.

Voice 1  

Phineas Gage is one of the most famous cases of brain injuries. Gage was from the United States. He was born in New Hampshire, in 1823. When Gage was 25, he began to work as a railroad foreman. He helped build the tracks for trains. And he directed others where and what to build. In those days, trains needed to be on flat ground. It was difficult for them to go up hills. So Gage also cleared paths through hills and mountains. He had to destroy particular areas by exploding them. Then he and his men could build the tracks on flat ground.

Voice 2  

But one day, there was an accident. Gage needed to move a very large rock out of the way. He began by making holes in it. Then, he pushed explosive powder into the holes using a long iron bar. He lit the explosive. He had performed this process many times. But this time, Gage was not paying attention. The explosion happened too early. He should have taken out the iron bar. But the iron bar was still in the hole. When the explosion happened, the bar shot up into the air. It went right through Gage’s head. It left a hole more than three centimetres wide in his skull. The iron bar landed about 25 meters away.

Voice 1  

Gage was extremely hurt. The explosion threw him to the ground. But he was still alive! For a few minutes, his body was shaking. But after a few minutes, he began talking. At first, he was not even in much pain. Other workers at the work place helped him up from the ground. Gage went to the closest doctor in Cavendish, Vermont. The doctor’s name was Jon Harlow. Harlow wrote about the case later. He remembers:

Voice 3  

“The picture presented was terrible to someone who was not used to military surgery. But Gage suffered like a hero. He recognized me immediately. He said he hoped he was not hurt much. He seemed to be perfectly awake. But he was very tired because of the wound. He and his bed were covered in blood.”

Voice 2  

Dr. Harlow did not believe Gage would live. But Harlow cared for the wound and sent Gage home. Gage was fine for a while. But the wound became very painful. And he soon began to grow sick. Gage’s wound was infected. Harlow continued to care for the wound as best as he could. For several weeks, Gage was in a coma. He could not speak, or eat. He seemed to sleep, but for many days.

Voice 1  

But after a time, Gage recovered. At least he seemed to. His wound healed. After more than three weeks, he was able to stand, and walk. He even asked for his old job back. But they would not let him work. Something about him had changed. To his friends, he seemed like a child. It was difficult for him to make plans. He did not seem to understand money. And there were some things he could not remember. Dr. Harlow wrote,

Voice 3  

“Before his injury he had a well-balanced mind, though he did not go to school. People thought he was an intelligent business man. And he did everything with energy. Now his mind was completely changed. His friends and everyone he knew said he seemed “no longer Gage.”

Voice 2  

Gage’s injury made it difficult for him to live a normal life. It was hard for him to get a job. And sometimes it was difficult for him to make friends. Physically, his body was weak. And there were many things he could not do that he could before. But after a time he found work as a horse carriage driver in the country of Chile. In this job, he was able to develop social skills. Even though he was missing part of his brain, the rest of his brain changed in response. Gage would never be like he was before. But some of who he was remained and grew again.

Voice 1  

Sadly, Gage did not live a long life. In 1859, he began to have health problems. He moved to be closer to his mother and sister in San Francisco, in the U.S. There, he died at the age of 36.

Voice 2  

At the time, many doctors and scientists were interested in Gage’s story. But each expert had different ideas about what his case meant. Some said that it showed that parts of the brain had different jobs. Some said that the injury showed that all parts of the brain worked the same way. When one part failed, other parts could take its place.

Voice 1  

Experts today have more information about the part of the brain that Gage injured. It is called the frontal lobe. This part of the brain controls emotions, problem solving, memory, language, judgement, and sexual behaviour. It generally controls how a person acts, and how they communicate.

Voice 2  

Scientists are still learning about the mysteries of our brains. Stories like those of Gage can show us the amazing way the human body can heal. But we still have a long way to go to understand how the brain works.

Voice 1  

Do you know anyone who has suffered from a brain injury? How did it change them? Were they ever ‘themselves’ again? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on our Facebook page - just search for Spotlight Radio.

Voice 2  

The writer of this programme was Dan Christmann. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this programme and voiced by Spotlight. This programme is called ‘The Brain Injury of Phineas Gage’.

Voice 1  

Look for our listening app in the Google Play store and in iTunes. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight programme. Goodbye.

Question:

Is there anything you would change about yourself? Why?

Comments


Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on October 10, 2017

When you injury your Brain you will become not you!
GOD bless you