Phineas Gage was an ordinary man. At the age of 25, Gage works as a railroad worker. A freak accident left him with a damaged brain and skull. Miraculously, he survived the accident. However, the accident made him the different man that he was before. Phineas Gage’s story is one of the most famous survival stories in history. His case also played a significant role in the world of neuroscience.
Phineas P. Gage was born on 9 July 1823 in Grafton Country, New Hampshire. Gage was the first child of Jesse Eaton Gage and Hannah Trussell. No one exactly knew Gage’s childhood life. A certain fact shows that Gage was illiterate. In his 20s, Gage was described as a perfectly healthy man with a little bit of temperament. He also never suffered from any harmful injury prior to his accident.
In July 1848, he got a job as construction worker in the Hudson River Railroad. Four months after his employment, he took the position as a blasting foreman near Cortland Town, New York. Using his own tamping iron, he and his crew were tasked to blast rock formations for railway constructions.
On 13 September 1848, Gage and his crew were gang blasting rock to prepare the roadbed for the Rutland & Burlington railroad. Gage’s job as blasting foreman involves drilling a hole on the ground then filling it up with gun powder and fuse. The packed hole must be tampered with a tampering iron to create an effective explosion.
At 4:30 p.m, Gage was busy working. Due to the spark from the iron and rocks, the hole which previously had been packed with gun powder exploded. The 0.6 kg iron rod flies out. The rod entered Gage’s cheek, went through his left eye socket, and flew out through his skull.
Not only surviving the accident, Gage still has the ability to speak and walk. After a doctor examination, he was treated with medical care. Gage still had the ability to remember everything prior to the accident. After a few months, Gage returned to his parent’s home in New Hampshire.
Effects of the accident
Several reports indicated that the accident had a major impact on Gage’s personality. The man who used to be hard-working was turned into an alcoholic with high temperament and incapability to hold down a job. Many of his friends often describe Gage as “no longer Gage”.
Eventually, he became one of the exhibits at Barnum’s American Museum, showcasing his injury and his tamping iron. He adopted several jobs the following years, including farmer in California and Stagecoach driver in Chile. Unfortunately, he died on 21 May 1860 at the age of 36.
Impact on neuroscience
Gage’s case was studied by various neurologists. His case influenced the theory of the localization of brain function. This theory indicates that certain parts of the brain are responsible for certain actions. Gage’s personality change also indicates that the brain’s frontal cortex is responsible for various high-end functions such as reasoning, language, and social cognition.