Personal Statement Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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hotdoglaw
Posts: 103
Joined: Tue Jan 26, 2010 10:48 am

Personal Statement Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Postby hotdoglaw » Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:33 pm

Here is my personal statement. Any input would be appreciated!!!

I.
I keep a rare daguerreotype in my bedroom; I’m always worried about people breaking in and stealing my most prized possessions, one of which is this daguerreotype that I keep in the bedroom. It is the only image of Phineas Gage left, or, more likely, that ever existed. My wife hates sleeping with the silvery image, a large iron rod in his hands and the one shut eye, the left eye. He’s wearing fancy clothes: a nearly-black suit, patterned black vest, bowtie and one of those old-timey collars that looks flimsy and just decorative. The edge of a white handkerchief sticks out from his breast pocket, mostly concealed by the large diagonal bar. I figure if I keep the picture in my bedroom the chances of someone stealing it are less. One day I’ll sell it. When it is worth more, I’ll sell it. For now, when my wife falls asleep and the night is quiet outside my window and everywhere other than the dim pixels of my computer, I look up at old Phineas, his one proud eye looking down on me, and don’t feel so alone.
My wife is happy as a housewife; I work long hours, though that’s not being wholly truthful. I work long hours, but don’t work hard. I’m writing a research paper on Phineas Gage. I spend most of my free time and some of my not-free time writing it. It is shaping up well. He is an institution, almost, when you talk to the neurologists and psychiatrists and neurosurgeons, but people in general don’t know much about him. Also, my wife says she’s happy, but who knows if she really is?
Phineas survived the iron rod mainly due to his fantastic strength, I tell her at dinner.
“Can you pass the Collards?” She said just before.
“Good. Eat lots of iron. Phineas wouldn’t have survived if he wasn’t in such great physical condition,” I say.
“Yeah,” says she taking the bowl of greens with both hands as if its weight were enormous.
“How are they? I tried a new recipe.”
“What was that?”
“What –the recipe?”
I don’t think she listens to me well, my wife. She does lots of little things that annoy me. We sometimes dabble in philosophics and she once called Copernicus “Copernishus.” It was awful and embarrassing. I was glad our guests cancelled that night. On the other hand sometimes she has really good points and even though she never finished college, and I did, I don’t know how to respond because her point is so good, but I respond anyways.
II.
We were driving back from Bar Harbor Maine; we rented bicycles in Acadia park, hiked mount Cadillac, drank lemonade by Jordan Pond as Mallards navigated through the milfoil and aimlessly floating lily pads; Maine is for those with a terminal love of the outdoors; there isn’t much by the way of anything else, other people included. The average age clocks in at over forty years; neighbors are scarce. But by our cabin, past a quarter mile flank of seasonally abandoned houses, a few people live fulltime, the big blue house on the corner…the Nascar type with bronze belt buckles and inner-lips just beginning to brown from Skoal. Usually I drive, but I couldn’t find my wallet so my wife drove and I just sort of looked out the window and occasionally fiddled with the radio buttons. Finally, since nothing was on I turned the radio off.
“Are you tired?” I asked her. She had been driving since we left and now we were in Vermont and the road, the name of which I cannot remember, was rather dangerous since it was mainly a truck route, was winding, and had a strange ability to attract deer.
“No, I’m fine,” she said from beneath her big plastic sunglasses.
“It’s just that you’ve been driving so long. I thought maybe you’d want to take a break and pull over somewhere and get something to eat,” I told her. The truth is I wasn’t really hungry, but something about watching her drive my car bothered me. She had a license, but that doesn’t mean anything; the farthest she’d driven in the past three years was to buy groceries.
“I’m not really hungry,” she said and reached for the radio. I pushed her hand away and it stayed silent for a little too long.
I told her, “I’m hungry though and I have to pee so let’s pull over at the next rest stop.”
“Okay, chief,” she said bitterly and reached for the radio again.
The rest stop was deserted, moths orbiting the tall lamps leaning in the side grass, when she parked in the lot. I bought some chips and candy from the vending machine that stood guard by the entrance to the bathrooms. The building was concrete and square like a bunker. I told my wife that she was done driving, that watching her swivel nervously at a 55 M.P.H. crawl had become too painful. She ran her mouth about my wallet and driving without a license and I watched her mouth move silently; my mind was so blighted by her onslaught of syllables…her nasal voice…I knew what she said without hearing any of it; I told her to shut up and sped off onto the highway.
“Open those chips for me,” I said.
She struggled pathetically until the bag made a weak popping sound and my wife tossed it onto my lap.
I put a greedy bunch of chips in my mouth, but they tasted metallic and like chalky dirt. I coughed and spat chips onto my sweater.
“My cashmere sweater, shit. Don’t eat those chips. I think they’re spoiled. Do we have a bottle of water?”
“I don’t know,” she said and began looking for loose bottles of water under her seat.
I switched on the cabin-light and looked at the bag of chips; the expiration date was 07/82.
“I can’t find any water bottles,” she told me, “don’t drive so fast. I don’t like when you speed.”
“I’m not fucking speeding,” I spat and was suddenly furious and aware that I was driving too fast, but the taste of metal worms in my dry mouth, my wife wheezing complaints through her nostrils and the forward-void of the highway, became a crushing feeling of frustration, as if twenty-six years of sour grapes shoved away in the attic of my skull came crashing through the ceiling of my mouth.
I looked over at my wife; she was looking out the window and became a sort of minimalist sketch of herself, the squiggle of light on her neck only insinuating a neck, alluding to another figure in the car, gently heaving with each breath. I was alone, aside from this white zag of moonlight, gently pulsing.
“Honey,” she said without turning her head, “why do you keep that photograph of Phineas Gage in our bedroom?” Her voice didn’t sound like her voice, but as if someone else hijacked her body, was talking with her mouth, unfamiliar with its trained motions.
It was silent; the green clock on the dashboard said 1:17; the road shot white blips out from the black distance, rapidly; it was silent. I sighed.
“I already told you, one day that daguerreotype, because it is a daguerreotype not a photograph, will be worth a lot of money…Hell, it probably is worth a fortune right now, but it’s only going to become more and more valuable. Let me worry about the finances.”
“Honey,” she said without turning her head, “why do you keep that painting of Phineas Gage in our bedroom?” I was sweating in the cold car.
“Look: my friend Crusty works for the Baltimore Police Department and he told me that break-ins happen all the time, but,” I paused for dramatic effect, “things in the bed room are eighty five times less likely to be stolen.”
“Crusty volunteers for the police department, he doesn’t work there. Plus he is an idiot, but that isn’t even really my point,” she said to the window, “My point is that, rather than put the picture or daguerreotype, whatever, in the closet or the corner with a sheet over it, you put it on the wall; you put it on the wall facing our bed. I mean, you tell me, does that seem normal to you?”
“I’m writing a research paper. It’s my method. I’m trying to get in his head. Plus, who are you to tell me about normal? We pay for that fucking psychiatrist and all your boo-hoo poor-me pills, like you have so much to worry about, and it doesn’t do shit other than dwindle away our savings. You still spill your misery out on everyone. We had such a nice time on vacation and then we get back in the car and you’re queen bitch.”
“I don’t like the picture.”
She kept silent looking out the window as we drove through Massachusetts, awake, gazing through Delaware and home.
My wife doesn’t have a sleeping problem, but I do. No matter how dark our room is, the silvery picture picks up some light from outside and seems to glow gently. She was fast asleep when we got home, but I stayed up watching Phineas, his face shifting back and forth as my eyes lied to my brain in the dark.

III.
The case of Phineas P. Gage, railroad foreman for the Rutland and Burlington railroad, has since been known as the American Crow bar case. Gage was 25, September 13th 1848, in Cavendish, Vermont; the weather was warm even though it was windy. At this time, holes were drilled into rock walls and blasted, the process was long and laborious; blasting powder was added, a fuse, sand, then an iron rod was used to tamp down the charge. Today we might call the task “chiseling.” This was one of Gage’s duties and, at around 4:30 PM, possibly due to having forgotten the sand, “the powder exploded, carrying an instrument through his head an inch and a fourth in [diameter], and three feet and [seven] inches in length, which he was using at the time. The iron entered on the side of his face...passing back of the left eye, and out at the top of the head.” This is according to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal report in the March 1869 issue.
Some people find calling Phineas P. Gage’s case as the American Crowbar Case misleading; modern crowbars are bent with an iron claw at one end; Gage’s iron was more like a javelin. The doctors who saw Phineas reported extensively on the favorable factors in the case, as a means to account for why he was still alive. The brain is important after all; we think we need it to live. Harlow writes, “The end which entered first is pointed; the taper being [twelve] inches long...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.” Perhaps the iron bar became Phineas’ “constant companion,” a term often used by Harlow, because he had it custom made. Phineas must have felt a tremendous debt to the blacksmith and the tool whose superior craftsmanship saved his life; another tool may have not passed through his head so gracefully. The bar weighed thirteen and one quarter pounds, but you would have thought it weighed nearly nothing watching it fly eighty feet through the air effortlessly, propelled by the terrific explosion.
The railroad workers removed their hats and placed them on their chests as they stood over their lifeless foreman’s strewn torso. Gage’s hand twitched slightly, the brain sending the body its silent electrical suggestions even into death, but then Gage sat up and said, “Oh my God, did you see that?”
They tried to help him up, but he pushed them away, stumbled and regained his balance and began to walk unassisted and as if nothing had happened. He looked down at the blood half covered by his shadow in the dusty air.
“Gage, we better get you to a doctor,” one of the workers suggested in a way that seemed defiant among the stunned silence of the other workers.
“Yes, probably you are right. Let me just get my tamper,” said Gage and then walked eighty feet to the iron rod, picked it up, wiped the blood onto his sleeve and paced back.
His lodgings and any possible medical care would be found 3/4th a mile away in town. At the time there were no real safety laws and so there was no doctor on the work site, though if there were it would have not made much of a difference. A few workers jumped into the cart with Gage who sat upright for the entire trip and seemed to almost enjoy the feeling of wind against his face and open wounds. Other workers stayed at the site, took an early lunch break and ate silently, while still others made bets whether or not Phineas would survive the cart ride back to Cavendish.
Dr. Edward H. Williams was the first physician to arrive at Gage’s bedside. Williams writes, “I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct. 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....” Williams then tells of how Gage got up to vomit and, from the exertion, pressed “about a half teacupful of brain” out onto the floor.
About an hour later, Dr. John Martyn Harlow showed up and took over Gage’s case. Harlow records, “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. Pulse 60, and regular. His person, and the bed on which he was laid, were literally one gore of blood.” So there was Phineas, one (or both) frontal lobes impaled by his trusted tool, lying in a pool of gore, fully cognizant of the world outside his window, the hunger building in his stomach, etcetera, etcetera. I’m lying in bed thinking about Phineas lying in bed observing me upright from his silvery world; the birds are chirping because it is almost another day. My sheets are clean and white.
IV.
Before the cabin became ours it belonged to my Uncle. He lived in Atlanta Georgia, but his family was from Maine; by the time I met his parents they were nothing more than shrunken old country folks, cooking food and migrating from chair to chair in a house which had grown too big for them. They owned the cabin, but lived in this big white house a few counties over. Their parents owned it before them and theirs before them. It was almost as if the cabin was never built, but was always there like the trees and streams that surrounded it. We wanted a vacation, this was about three years ago, so I called up my uncle during my lunch break and asked him if we could stay at the cabin. He paused a long pause of thought and then explained that he hasn’t been there in so long and the place is probably falling apart and, that said, if I were willing to fix it up not only could I stay there, but could keep it.
“I’m not well enough to take proper care of the place anymore,” he said, “Who knows how long I’ll be here, anyway. Plus, my kids are so ignorant of nature that they think apples come from Fairway.”
“God forbid…You’ll be around for a long time. Last time I saw you, you were swimming back and forth across Lake Saint George.”
“Do you think losing my hair will make me a faster swimmer?”
The phone was quiet for a moment.
“Look,” he said, “last time I was there a gofer had died in the well. The water was bad from it and the roof was leaky over the garage. Also, the floor boards in the hallway are dangerous; I wouldn’t even step foot in the hallway. Really it is uninhabitable and if you don’t take care of it then it’s going to fall apart completely. If you want to go then go, but take care of the well and especially the floor because I can’t.”
“How do I get in?” I asked.
“There’s no lock on the door. We don’t have robbers in Maine and even if we did, what would they steal?”
At dinner, I told my wife that we had my uncle’s permission to use the cabin, but that the house isn’t in the greatest condition. I knew she wouldn’t be satisfied with my vague description, but also knew that she’d refuse to go if she knew the full extent of the situation.
“Not the greatest condition…what’s that mean?” She asked, scooping spaghetti with garlic and oil onto my plate.
“I mean…no one lives there. The paint is probably all gone. He said there were a couple of loose boards that he knew about, but there could be more.”
“Well, that sounds fine. I just need a vacation, you know? I’d love to get away even if it is just to some disheveled cabin. I feel like my life is a rotation from the kitchen to the living room to the super market,” she said as she scooped coq au vin alongside the spaghetti.
“We might have to spend some money fixing the place up,” I told her.
“How is it?” She asked pointing at my plate.
“Good. We might have to spend some money.”
“Well,” she said, “that’s what you make the big bucks for. Plus, it’s still probably going to be cheaper than renting a cabin.”
“That’s true.”
We left that Thursday afternoon. I drove. The car was loaded up with a cooler and food and bags until I could hardly see out the back window. My wife slept and sang with the radio. Our phones lost service as we wound around the dirt roads approaching the cabin. We parked on the grass lawn behind the bushes; two dirt lines in the tall grass seemed to insinuate a driveway. My wife stepped out and lifted her sunglasses and I pulled the key out of the ignition and looked up at the tall red structure, the still porch, the trees wrapping around the left side and off into the distance.
“This is so exciting,” my wife said.
“Should we bring up the bags now or should we check it out first?” I asked.
“What’s that?” She was pointing at the stout stone structure protruding above the tall grass.
“That’s the well. There’s no running water here. You have to pump it, but it is bad now. That’s one of the things he told me. A gofer is dead in it, so we have to get someone to come fix it up. Until then we’ll buy bottled water.”
The front door stuck in place for a moment and then slid roughly across the unfinished wood floor. My wife and I decided we’d split up and explore the place. She went right, towards what I guess might have been a garage at one time, and I went left. I came into the kitchen. There were two huge, almost industrial sized sinks, and a red well-pump on the counter. Clean dishes were drying on a rack next to the pump and outside the window I could see the clothes line moving in the wind. I sat down at the wooden table for a moment and admired the antiques: a rusty sign advertising eggs, a small bronze sculpture, an old Dr Pepper sign. I walked through the dining room, furnished minimally, four chairs and a table, and up the creaking stairs.
The room might have been an attic at some point, but was converted into a bedroom, maybe for a young girl. A bed with a large white canopy stretching to the ceiling was in the center of the room. A tall window illuminated the magazines on the sill and the black trunk lined with bronze. I picked up a few magazines, addressed to my uncle, 1981 hunting magazines. Then I glanced across the room; two large wooden closets lined the wall. One closet had a large lock holding the door shut and the other had a fancy doorknob, but they both seemed new, the wood looking lighter than anything else in the cabin. I turned the fancy knob and inside, across a metal rod, women’s clothes were hung on hangers, fancy dresses and that sort of thing. There were shoes on the floor, too. I knocked on the locked closet and fiddled with the lock and then heard a scream come up the stairwell and then my wife shrieking, “Help me! Help!”
I ran down, tripping on the steps and falling into the wall. I ran through the dining room and kitchen, passed the front door and there, in the hallway, saw my wife standing upright in the floor. She was up to her hips in the floor, a snapped board dragged its jagged wood along her leg; blood was coming out significantly. She put her hands around my neck and I slowly pulled her out. Her jeans were ripped and reddened and she was crying.
I put her in the car and we drove to the hospital which was about twenty minutes away. They patched her up pretty quickly because there wasn’t anyone else there aside from the doctors and nurses, of course. They gave her a prescription for pain pills, though it looked to me like nothing more than a bad scratch; she’s pretty sensitive about pain. We had to drive another half hour to find a pharmacist. I walked across the street while she got the Vicodin and picked up some butter and milk and eggs and tea, some potatoes and water bottles too. We drove back and I carried her up the stairs to the bed with the canopy. She told me she felt like a princess with the white canopy all around her. “You look like one too,” I told her. She took some Vicodin and relaxed and I went downstairs to make dinner. My wife is a homebody so she usually makes dinner, but I figured I could fix something without her helping me.
I put some of the bottled water and a bag of earl grey into a tea kettle I found. I found a clean looking knife and cut up some potatoes, melted some butter in a big pan that was hiding in a cabinet by the sinks. By the time the hash browns were done the tea kettle was whistling. I scrambled some eggs and brought all the stuff up to my wife who was wide awake and wearing one of the old dresses from the closet.
“I don’t get it,” she said, “there’s no lock on the front door but the clothes are so important that they get a lock. Look at this dress. It’s beautiful. What sense does that make –that there’s no lock on the door?”
“I can’t believe you are wearing that. You smell like moth balls.”
I sat in a chair by the bed and she ate propped up by a mountain of pillows.
“Breakfast in bed. What a wonderful vacation this is turning out to be.”
“How do you feel?” I asked.
“Okay.”
“I wonder what’s in that closet. I want to open it,” I told her.
“I saw some tools downstairs. You could probably pry it open with something…but you’d have to walk across that hall where I fell.”
“I’m going to take a look,” I said.
I went downstairs and tiptoed through the creaking hallway, around the hole where my wife’s leg was, and into the big wooden room. I thumbed through some old records, wondering if they were worth much, then found a liquor cabinet with some old bourbon and shot glasses; I found the tools my wife was talking about: a hammer, a few screwdrivers, a hand saw and crowbar among the rusty nails and screws that rolled around in the drawer. I took the crowbar and the quarter Bottle of booker’s, put a shot glass into my pocket.
Upstairs my wife was reading a hunting magazine and sipping her tea. I put the bourbon on the trunk and placed the shot glass next to it. I took the crowbar and tried prying the latch. The door creaked and something on the other side thumped down and was putting pressure against the closet door from inside. I kept working at it for awhile; my wife’s eyes moved back and forth from an article about cooking venison to me. I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand and poured a shot of whiskey. I looked over at her.
“Did you take your pills?” I asked.
“You mean from the psychiatrist?” She said without looking up.
“Yeah, did you?”
“Yes, yes. I told you, you don’t need to remind me.”
“Speaking of which, let me see that pill bottle,” I said.
She handed me the Vicodin disinterested. I poured another shot and washed down the two white pills. Finally the latch popped off of the door, the chain came spinning through the lock and the door flew open with a wave of canvases.
“Paintings,” my wife said sitting up in bed.
They were scattered around my feet, hundreds of images in different sizes. I picked one up. It was a sort of knit textile thing, a few feet by a few more feet. In the foreground two carriages were being pulled by big, dark horses and white women were sitting in the carriages looking very proper. In the far background there was a huge farm, a few different structures looking like old time barns all the same dark red color. The sky was blue and it was sunny. In the middle of the picture, between the women in carriages and the farm, there was a cotton field with a dozen or so black men and women; they really looked black; the thread was black, not brown. One woman had a basket of cotton. A shirtless man was being whipped by a white man with a hat.
“Look at this,” I said, placing the textile on her lap.
“Gosh, how old do you think this is?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Charlie is a closet confederate or something,” I suggested.
“I wonder if this was painted when they still had slaves or later,” she said dreamingly.
“Either way, I’ll bet it’s worth something.”
“Also, you don’t know that this is Charlie’s. It could belong to his parents or who knows. If this place is ours now, then it belongs to you and that doesn’t make you a confederate.”
I picked up another painting, something huge and abstract. It looked like a Hans Hoffman, cadmium reds and cornfield yellows, shapes huddled in crude geometries. I held it up for my wife. I began lining the paintings up against the wall. After about a dozen or so I found the daguerreotype. It was enormous and the serious man in the picture looked confident and proud although he only had one eye open. His eye wandered with my gaze, staring through me. His face had a certain primal urgency like some sort of ape, but his demeanor was like that of a prince. He had a pointed metal rod in his wide hands.
“Why’s he winking?” My wife asked.
“I’m not sure he is,” I responded.
“It’s sort of creepy…his right eye.”
“Really it’s his left eye. The daguerreotype flips the image so everything is backwards,” I said.
“Is he related to your uncle? He’s a handsome guy…I could see some resemblance.”
I looked at the back of the image and saw scrawled in black ink in the upper right corner: Phineas P. Gage, 1868. I put the daguerreotype to the side, separate from the other pictures and finished going through the closet. My wife fell asleep and I was feeling pretty tired myself from the bourbon, etc.
When I woke up my wife was downstairs making breakfast. We ate, packed up the paintings and a few records in the back; I packed the pictures; my wife just sat in the car, listening to the radio, feeling miserable over her leg. We cut our vacation short for her injury and drove out of the winding dirt roads and onto the highway, my back window fully blocked by the tower of canvases. My cell phone beeped as we entered civilization. I unwedged it from my pocket and tossed it to my wife.
“See who called,” I told her.
She put the phone to her ear and was silent as she listened, a good minute or two; she thumbed the phone shut.
“Let me guess…” I started to say.
“Charlie died last night. Your aunt called. She said he wasn’t in any pain and looked very peaceful.”
That was the last time I remember my wife seeming truly happy, even despite her leg, for more than a brief interval.
V.
John Martyn Harlow was a skilled doctor, but Phineas was injured severely; his recovery would be a long, difficult process. From September 23rd to October 3rd Gage lay in bed, semi-comatose, suffering from a fungal infection. Gage spoke monosyllabically with a slow, paced, wheezing voice. He was attended to at all times, or at least every hour. A coffin was constructed for him and placed outside the room and his finest clothes were cleaned and tailored. An attendant asked Harlow to stop caring for Gage as doing so would only prolong his suffering, Harlow records. His friends waited in expectancy of his death; railroad workers came by hourly to say goodbye. Then on October 7th, Gage raised himself up and took one step towards his chair. By November 7th, Gage was walking up and down stairs, through the hallway and to the piazza. When Harlow went away for a week Gage was out in the streets every day, Sunday excluded. Gage’s family lived in Lebanon, NH; he was desperate to go home and visit them. His desire to see them was nearly uncontrollable and, after wandering outside contemplating how he would travel back to Lebanon, he caught a chill from the rain soaking through his clothes and shoes.
By November 10th Gage’s chill became full fever, but by November 20th Gage was "feeling better in every respect...walking about the house again; says he feels no pain in the head," Harlow writes. Harlow’s diary contains the following prognosis: Gage "appears to be in a way of recovering, if he can be controlled." And that is why Phineas P. Gage is such a point of fascination for those with an interest in the brain.
The Egyptians used to snake the brain out of the nostrils when mummifying their dead, thinking it nothing more than stuffing; contemporary medicine elevated the brain and crowned it the seat of thought, the container of the soul, that thing which regulates our body and keeps our organs in check. However, Phineas P. Gage showed us a previously unknown relationship between personality and the brain. Once a man of reason, Phineas became almost impossible to control and acted on whim. Friends recall that, although Phineas recovered and physically was the same, he was not the same man that acted as foreman for the Rutland and Burlington railroad company. How fascinating it is that impaling the frontal lobes isn’t lethal, but rather, just different. How crucial can the brain really be then? When you are young they tell you in school not to wreck your brain with drugs and alcohol, but they also tell you that we only use ten percent of our brains. Mathematically this means we can destroy ninety percent of our brains before we are affected cognitively, that Phineas’ odds of damaging his brain was only 10%. I’m being facetious, but only somewhat.
Gage returned to his parents in Lebanon on November 25th and by late December was improving both mentally and physically. In 1849 Gage returned to Harlow for another examination. Harlow records a loss of vision in Gage’s left eye and partial facial paralysis. In addition, Harlow notes a two inch depression on the top of Gage’s skull which pulsed slightly with the heartbeat of his brain. Gage reported having no pain, but a queer ineffable sensation, different somehow. Gage, however, was unable to return to the railroad and spent some time at Barnum’s American Museum in New York; the curious paid to see Gage and his iron rod. Gage then worked at a livery in Hanover, NH then in Chile as a stagecoach driver.
In 1859 Gage’s health began to fail; he moved to San Fransisco where his mother and sister cared for him. He worked on a farm in Santa Clara for a few months. In 1860 Gage experienced the first of a series of increasingly violent convulsions and on May 21st –nearly 12 years after his accident—died. Gage was buried with his tamping rod, but only briefly; Harlow requested his grave be unearthed so that his skull (and the tamping rod) could be preserved and studied. Today one can still see Gage’s skull and rod on display at the Warren Museum in Cambridge, MA. The following is written on the iron:
This is the bar that was shot through the head of M r 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.
Brain damage is often fatal, but Harlow called Gage, “the man for the case. His physique, will, and capacity of endurance could scarcely be excelled.” Gage’s iron destroyed substantial brain tissue, though specialists disagree regarding whether or not both frontal lobes or only Gage’s left lobe was damaged. Neurologist Antonio Damasio used Gage’s case to support his hypothesis linking the frontal lobes to both emotion and decision making. Damasio’s claim is made difficult due to Harlow’s report that Gage was fully recovered in both mind and body. On the other hand, Gage was not rehired by his previous employers because of a drastic change in his character. Harlow records the following:
[Gage’s employers felt that] 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…In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was no longer Gage.
Harlow’s first real encounter with Gage was after his accident, a fact which should lend credibility to those who claim Gage’s faculties were affected by the rod. There is said to be a daguerreotype of Gage which was mistaken as that of an injured whaler, though it is unclear where this image is, but I know. When it is 3 a.m. and 4 and silent, I look up at the proud “whaler” and think about that queer ineffable feeling. He never sleeps, as I rarely do. He is strong and confident, as I wish I was.
VI.
I come home tired and my wife is still out at her psychiatrist. She comes back, but by then dinner is cold and I blame her. My wife and I used to argue all the time, but these days she is usually too depressed to say much of anything back to me. She cooks and cleans and remains largely silent. She is losing weight rapidly, but I don’t mind that. What I mind is paying a psychiatrist hundreds of dollars for nothing.
“How was your day?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” she says, “okay…”
“You sound uncertain.”
“It was fine, I guess,” she just sort of states, but doesn’t really seem to care or even be aware she is speaking.
“What did you do?” I ask
“I don’t know.”
“What does that even mean? Then who the hell knows?”
“I’m tired of being a housewife. I’m going to get into bed,” she says as she gets up from the table.
“You want to go on a vacation? We can go up to Acadia. Maybe we’ll rent kayaks.”
“I’m tired of Maine and vacations.”
“Well what the fuck am I supposed to do with you? You mope around and don’t do anything to make yourself happy.”
She just sort of looks at me like she’s watching a movie, like I’m not really there.
“You want to hear about my day?” I ask, organizing a tirade in my head.
“Not really. I just want to go to sleep. I’m tired,” she replies.
“All you do is sleep.”
“And all you do is write that stupid paper about Phineas Gage. Don’t tell me I’m the one with problems. All day it’s Phineas this and Phineas that, did you know Gage this and did I tell you Gage’s skull is at the museum at Harvard. Maybe I’d be happier if your world revolved around something other than some 19th century circus act,” she says and storms out of the room.
When she’s gone I put my dinner in the microwave and genuinely think about what she said, briefly. She doesn’t understand Phineas’ awesome significance. I pour a glass of wine, then another. Maybe she is right. Maybe my essay focuses too exclusively on the life of Gage and fails to really flush out his importance to neurosurgery and psychology and all that. She blames her misery on my “obsession” with Gage, but I know she can be a miserable bitch pointing her finger at anything and anyone before looking at herself and thinking about what she can actually do to improve her situation.
By the time I’m drunk enough to contemplate sleep she’s already snoring –one of the few things she is genuinely good at, I think. I watch as Phineas slowly raises the rod, turns it towards his face and presses it through his skull. He says, “friend, I can’t get a wink with that miserable cunt’s snoring.” I look over, her face so peaceful that I could punch a hole straight through it.
VII.
Leucotomy comes from the Greek Leukos meaning clear or white and tome which, in Greek, means to cut. Lobos means, in Greek, brain. So lobotomy and leucotomy both refer to the same procedure but, I suppose, are two different ways of viewing the same thing. The procedure is referred to as neurosurgical; the surgeon, or whoever is performing the procedure, severs the connections to the prefrontal cortex. The history of the Lobotomy can be said to have three distinct phases: the Gottlieb Burckhardt phase, the Egas Moniz and the Walter Freeman. The history of the lobotomy could be said to have four phases if we include Phineas P. Gage who, I believe, was essential to the development of the lobotomy.
Gottlieb Burckhardt, in December of 1888, operated on six patients. Burckhardt was not a surgeon; Burckhardt was a psychiatrist. This may account for his discouraging results. In a private psychiatric hospital in Sweden, Burckhardt operated on two women and four men aging from 26 to 51. Their diagnoses were different. One was diagnosed with chronic mania. One with primary dementia. Four with original paranoia. Burckhardt’s case notes indicate that all six patients suffered serious psychiatric symptoms such as auditory hallucinations, paranoid delusions and a propensity towards violence. He operated on the frontal, temporal, and tempoparietal lobes of these patients. These operations could not accurately be termed lobotomies, but rather, are significant because this was the first time neurosurgeries were performed. One patient experienced epileptic convulsions and died five days after surgery was performed. One, after improving briefly, committed suicide. Two showed no change and two became “quieter.” What, however, was the basis of Burckhardt’s brief foray into the budding field of psychosurgery?
Burckhardt’s theoretical basis rested on two corollary principles: (1) that mental illness had a physical basis and (2) that the brain was modular, meaning that mental faculties could be linked to specific locations in the brain. Both of these principles can be readily observed in the case of Phineas Gage who (1) suffered a physical accident resulting in a mental change and (2) did not suffer memory loss or organ failure as a result of the accident, indicating a modulation of the brain. However, Burckhardt’s research was ridiculed by his contemporaries who felt that Burckhardt’s methods were as extreme as prescribing decapitation as a cure for dandruff. Subsequently, Burckhardt stopped performing neurosurgery, but influenced generations of surgeons to come.
VIII.
My grandfather died of brain cancer when I was about nineteen. When I think about it, if I had to choose one of my four grandparents to get brain cancer I think I probably would have picked him anyway. He lived in one of those parts of Florida where everyone dies like upright Jellyfish. I guess that’s not really true. It was more just a gated community with a night time patrol of old geezers trying to expel their last few kicks, beer cans in veiny hands below the dashboard. He and my Grandma lived on a dead end street with overfull bushes and salamanders, out back a pond with bass who never heard of fishing and a mango tree which he pruned as if it were a shrine. I never liked going to their house. Sometimes I found it boring, sometimes depressing. One time I went to get a computer game out of my grandfather’s closet and he yelled at me for going in there without his permission. I was eight so I think I almost cried. I remember going on some vacation with them and my same-aged cousin to Sea World and Busch Gardens and all that. He yelled at us for not saving a place for him on a ride that he’d never go on.
I always feel like I hear things last in my family is the truth. It was like I was nominated the one to receive rather than disseminate the bad news, or good. I was in Europe for the semester under the guise of studying. Of course I was getting credits, but spent most of the time drinking and seeing girls. I was outside walking down the street and it was about 1 AM my time. My father called me and told me about the brain cancer. They put my grandfather on steroids for it and those made him weak, but when he’d stop taking it he wouldn’t make much sense. I remember how weak he was; he would drop something on the floor and his nose would bleed.
He’d complain, “I can’t do anything.”
He always prided himself on his efficiency and work ethic and being relegated to shift from chair to chair was too much for him. He never lost his sense of humor though. When I came to visit he opened the door and, straight-faced, said, “I have grandchildren?” I paused and then he smiled, greeting me, opening the door. He used to make fire-proof doors, then he started a business selling plastic bags. I heard he was a communist, but don’t know the details; he fought in the war. I’ve seen pictures of him with army buddies on an island somewhere. He was devastated when he found out his youngest son was engaged to a Korean girl.
Then he fell into the closet.
They took him off the steroids. Then he didn’t make sense.
He was Jewish, but an anti-Semite. When the religious cousins came over he’d make snide comments about their kosher food. When we were at a Hillel event for Brandeis, every table had a tray of food. We had roast chicken. Another had vegetables. The idea was that this would encourage mingling. My grandfather didn’t get it. Someone came over and tried to take the chicken and he yelled at him, “Look what happens when you get a bunch of Jews together!”
The room went dead.
Now my grandmother is clinically depressed, not showering or taking her medicine. She has a hundred chances a day to make friends, but would rather wait for her son and the Asian woman to drive her to Publix, sit by the telephone.
When I was in Europe my Dad called and said, “Poppy is on his death bed. He can’t talk, but he can hear what you say. Do you want to say anything?”
Do you know what I said?
IX.
Despite having little interest in psychiatry as well as little clinical experience, Doctor Egas Moniz devised, in 1935, a surgery called prefrontal leucotomy. The surgery was performed by drilling a hole in the patient’s forehead and filling the frontal lobes with alcohol. This would destroy the brain tissue. Eventually this method was replaced by a tool called the leucotome. The leucotome was a narrow shaft which would be inserted into the brain. Then a button at the handle end would be depressed, forcing a loop of sharp wire out of the tip of the tool. The surgeon rotated his hand and the bad brain tissue would be disconnected.
In 1935 and 1936 Moniz operated on twenty patients, beating Burckhardt’s record by fourteen. Moniz’s published research also indicates a greater level of success, though the test pool was obviously different. Moniz reports that 35% of patients undergoing leucotomy improved drastically, 35% improved moderately and 30% showed no change. In other words, there was nothing to lose. The patients aged between 27 and 62; twelve were female and eight were male. One patient had Catatonia, one had Mania, six had schizophrenia, two had panic disorder, one had manic-depression and the rest were diagnosed with depression. The question of why Moniz chose to target the fixed dysfunctional brain circuits in the frontal lobes and no other region is a point of some debate, but it is interesting to note that this was the same part of the brain through which Phineas Gage’s leucotome passed like a silk harpoon eighty feet in the air and buried its head in the sand like an Olympic javelin glistening.
In 1949 he won the noble prize for his work.
X.
I think she has sleep apnea. I tell her we should go see a doctor, but she says no; “because what’s the point of this great big riddle anyway?” She figures.
“It is a terrible condition. You could die in your sleep. One minute you are breathing and the next you are dead. It’s a terrible thing.”
But she’s just silent and then says, “I’m tired.”
She gets into bed and I stay up a while longer and drink and then get into bed, the room thundering with her noisy sleep. The truth is I haven’t slept in days. I’ve realized that most people think the body needs more sleep than it actually does. Some people say up to seven hours, but when I was in Europe I knew a guy who slept four hours a night and he was fine. There’s that expression: sleep when you are dead. I’m not like her I think, I want to milk my life for all it is, not live like a dead person. She sounds like she’s trying to eat pound cake and sleep at the same time; it’s revolting. I look at Phineas. He looks like he’s almost marching, like if the daguerreotype were to come to life trumpets would start blowing and Phineas’ right leg would lift, then the left, not holding a rod, but some sort of baton.
His chin is high and his hair is gelled and parted. His ears stick out slightly making him look like a bashful primate, too strong for his own good. His face is half paralyzed, but you’d hardly even notice because he looks so strong, like his body were incapable of blemishing. His one eye stares down on me. The music comes on pure and glorious, like small clusters of holy miracles exploding simultaneously on the Earth’s every corner; fireworks seem to litter the room. Phineas steps off the wall and balloons stream out of the silvery square from behind him. Maybe my wife was right, maybe he was just winking. His eye uncreases and he smiles.

When I wake up the painting is on the floor; my wife is making coffee in the kitchen. I hang the picture and step out in my bathrobe.
“I didn’t know watching sitcoms requires caffeine,” I say.
“What crawled up your ass?”
“Why was Phineas on the floor?” I ask.
“Who? Oh right –your picture.”
“Listen, I understand that you’ve given up on life. That’s perfectly understandable being the piece of shit you are, but some of us still have ambitions. I would like, if I may, to write my research paper, sell this painting and put the money into a nice little portfolio for our kids, may God have mercy on them,” I say.
“Painting…oh, you must mean daguerreotype. And who the fuck are you all of a sudden investing in our children’s future, you overnoble bastard. You’re the one who has put it off and now my ovaries feel like a pile of rot. I wouldn’t want to carry a child, not for you…so you can take that money and blow it on liquor, you self righteous fuck.”
XI.
Walter Jackson Freeman II was born on November 14th in 1895. Freeman was an American physician, best remembered as a fan and advocate of psychosurgery, the ice pick king. Freeman was born into a wealthy family; (money is very important.) Freeman pursued an undergraduate degree at Yale and a medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Some would say that Freeman’s work was based on flimsy evidence, but others would dispute this claim; I believe this essay has demonstrated the flaws of such a claim. He performed nearly 3500 lobotomies in 23 states, putting both Moniz and Burckhardt’s records to shame. Freeman showed true bravery as a physician; he was a neurologist with no formal surgical training, but wouldn’t let this fact impede his desire to assist those in need of help. Initially Freeman worked with several surgeons including W. Watts.
In 1936 he and Watts would become pioneers, the first American doctors to perform pre-frontal lobotomies. However, Freeman’s methods were flawed, as he originally gained access to the brain via craniotomy, laboriously chiseling away a section of the skull.
Freeman adopted Amarro Fiamberti’s version of the transorbital lobotomy and began to practice. Fiamberti was the first to access the brain through the orbits; he performed only one lobotomy this way and therefore remains relatively insignificant.
Lacking the proper tools to carry out a lobotomy via the orbits, Freeman became disheartened until one night, while rummaging through his kitchen for something to eat, Freeman found an ice pick. Freeman revolutionized the lobotomy. Lobotomizing the sick was now only a five minute procedure and did not require a surgeon or anesthesia aside from electric shocks. Freeman’s ice pick lobotomies should indicate his great resourcefulness; later, Freeman used a leucotome, but found the experience unsatisfactory. By 1848 Freeman had developed a new technique which involved wrenching the leucotome in an upwards stroke. During one session Freeman’s leucotome broke in two; half was in his hand and the other half glistened in the corner of the patient’s eye and stretched back into their brain. Freeman was once again discouraged and thought the obstacles put in his path were insurmountable. However, with brilliance like that of DaVinci, Freeman sketched out a new tool. He held it up to the light. The orbitoclast was more durable and reliable than the leucotome.
Freeman then drove his van, which he called “the lobotomobile,” across the country, visiting doctors at state-run institutions and disseminating his wisdom. Freeman knew of the severe overcrowding at these institutions and thought that the transorbital lobotomy would efficiently allow patients to get back to their private lives. Ole Enerson misunderstood Freeman’s passion for medicine and, misreading the joy that comes from helping another, describes Freeman’s lobotomies as being performed, “with a recklessness bordering on lunacy, touring the country like a travelling evangelist. In most cases this procedure was nothing more than a gross and unwarranted mutilation carried out by a self righteous zealot.” Enerson’s statement could also be a reaction to Freeman’s showy performances during which he would take an orbitoclast in each hand and correct both lobes at once.
Freeman set many world records. Most children lobotomized: 19. Youngest child lobotomized: 4. Freeman also expanded our understanding of who could gain from a lobotomy, lobotomizing children with ADD and unfulfilled housewives. However, when Thorazine was approved in the mid-1950s, Freeman saw his reputation begin to crumble. Few people know that Thorazine was originally advertised as, “The Lobotomy in a Bottle.” People could now experience something like the power of lobotomy without ever having to see a surgeon. When a patient died in Freeman’s lobotomobile his license to practice medicine was revoked. However, no one has ever let this single incident dampened our memories of the cherished doctor who, as was in keeping with his generous character, spent the rest of his life visiting his former patients until he died of cancer; 1972.
XII.
The last thing I remember Poppy saying is, “Boy, this brain is killing me.”
I’ve been awake for the past three hundred years. She is snoring like she means it. Phineas knows what I mean. She doesn’t cook anymore so I get up to make some eggs. I melt the butter, add salt, black pepper. I go to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I open the mirror for the toothpaste and see the orange bottle, her depression pills, filled to the top with small white ovals. I remember how happy she used to be, wash my hands carefully to free them of germs, and snap the plastic toothbrush; later I slip her big sunglasses over her ears.

kevin261186
Posts: 113
Joined: Fri Nov 13, 2009 3:45 pm

Re: Personal Statement Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Postby kevin261186 » Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:35 pm

you're kidding, right?

atfarmer
Posts: 62
Joined: Wed Feb 17, 2010 1:11 am

Re: Personal Statement Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Postby atfarmer » Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:38 pm

I'd probably send in a copy of RL Stein's 47th goosebumps title instead, but that's just me

MTC87
Posts: 98
Joined: Thu Jun 19, 2008 2:07 pm

Re: Personal Statement Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Postby MTC87 » Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:38 pm

had to google the first sentence of this to make sure it wasn't an excerpt from vonnegut
Last edited by MTC87 on Sat Jul 09, 2011 5:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

hotdoglaw
Posts: 103
Joined: Tue Jan 26, 2010 10:48 am

Re: Personal Statement Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Postby hotdoglaw » Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:39 pm

kevin261186 wrote:you're kidding, right?

Yeah, sorry. Class is just pretty boring...

User avatar
sundevil77
Posts: 391
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Re: Personal Statement Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Postby sundevil77 » Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:39 pm

hotdoglaw wrote:Here is my personal statement. Any input would be appreciated!!!

[strike]I.
I keep a rare daguerreotype in my bedroom; I’m always worried about people breaking in and stealing my most prized possessions, one of which is this daguerreotype that I keep in the bedroom. It is the only image of Phineas Gage left, or, more likely, that ever existed. My wife hates sleeping with the silvery image, a large iron rod in his hands and the one shut eye, the left eye. He’s wearing fancy clothes: a nearly-black suit, patterned black vest, bowtie and one of those old-timey collars that looks flimsy and just decorative. The edge of a white handkerchief sticks out from his breast pocket, mostly concealed by the large diagonal bar. I figure if I keep the picture in my bedroom the chances of someone stealing it are less. One day I’ll sell it. When it is worth more, I’ll sell it. For now, when my wife falls asleep and the night is quiet outside my window and everywhere other than the dim pixels of my computer, I look up at old Phineas, his one proud eye looking down on me, and don’t feel so alone.
My wife is happy as a housewife; I work long hours, though that’s not being wholly truthful. I work long hours, but don’t work hard. I’m writing a research paper on Phineas Gage. I spend most of my free time and some of my not-free time writing it. It is shaping up well. He is an institution, almost, when you talk to the neurologists and psychiatrists and neurosurgeons, but people in general don’t know much about him. Also, my wife says she’s happy, but who knows if she really is?
Phineas survived the iron rod mainly due to his fantastic strength, I tell her at dinner.
“Can you pass the Collards?” She said just before.
“Good. Eat lots of iron. Phineas wouldn’t have survived if he wasn’t in such great physical condition,” I say.
“Yeah,” says she taking the bowl of greens with both hands as if its weight were enormous.
“How are they? I tried a new recipe.”
“What was that?”
“What –the recipe?”
I don’t think she listens to me well, my wife. She does lots of little things that annoy me. We sometimes dabble in philosophics and she once called Copernicus “Copernishus.” It was awful and embarrassing. I was glad our guests cancelled that night. On the other hand sometimes she has really good points and even though she never finished college, and I did, I don’t know how to respond because her point is so good, but I respond anyways.
II.
We were driving back from Bar Harbor Maine; we rented bicycles in Acadia park, hiked mount Cadillac, drank lemonade by Jordan Pond as Mallards navigated through the milfoil and aimlessly floating lily pads; Maine is for those with a terminal love of the outdoors; there isn’t much by the way of anything else, other people included. The average age clocks in at over forty years; neighbors are scarce. But by our cabin, past a quarter mile flank of seasonally abandoned houses, a few people live fulltime, the big blue house on the corner…the Nascar type with bronze belt buckles and inner-lips just beginning to brown from Skoal. Usually I drive, but I couldn’t find my wallet so my wife drove and I just sort of looked out the window and occasionally fiddled with the radio buttons. Finally, since nothing was on I turned the radio off.
“Are you tired?” I asked her. She had been driving since we left and now we were in Vermont and the road, the name of which I cannot remember, was rather dangerous since it was mainly a truck route, was winding, and had a strange ability to attract deer.
“No, I’m fine,” she said from beneath her big plastic sunglasses.
“It’s just that you’ve been driving so long. I thought maybe you’d want to take a break and pull over somewhere and get something to eat,” I told her. The truth is I wasn’t really hungry, but something about watching her drive my car bothered me. She had a license, but that doesn’t mean anything; the farthest she’d driven in the past three years was to buy groceries.
“I’m not really hungry,” she said and reached for the radio. I pushed her hand away and it stayed silent for a little too long.
I told her, “I’m hungry though and I have to pee so let’s pull over at the next rest stop.”
“Okay, chief,” she said bitterly and reached for the radio again.
The rest stop was deserted, moths orbiting the tall lamps leaning in the side grass, when she parked in the lot. I bought some chips and candy from the vending machine that stood guard by the entrance to the bathrooms. The building was concrete and square like a bunker. I told my wife that she was done driving, that watching her swivel nervously at a 55 M.P.H. crawl had become too painful. She ran her mouth about my wallet and driving without a license and I watched her mouth move silently; my mind was so blighted by her onslaught of syllables…her nasal voice…I knew what she said without hearing any of it; I told her to shut up and sped off onto the highway.
“Open those chips for me,” I said.
She struggled pathetically until the bag made a weak popping sound and my wife tossed it onto my lap.
I put a greedy bunch of chips in my mouth, but they tasted metallic and like chalky dirt. I coughed and spat chips onto my sweater.
“My cashmere sweater, shit. Don’t eat those chips. I think they’re spoiled. Do we have a bottle of water?”
“I don’t know,” she said and began looking for loose bottles of water under her seat.
I switched on the cabin-light and looked at the bag of chips; the expiration date was 07/82.
“I can’t find any water bottles,” she told me, “don’t drive so fast. I don’t like when you speed.”
“I’m not fucking speeding,” I spat and was suddenly furious and aware that I was driving too fast, but the taste of metal worms in my dry mouth, my wife wheezing complaints through her nostrils and the forward-void of the highway, became a crushing feeling of frustration, as if twenty-six years of sour grapes shoved away in the attic of my skull came crashing through the ceiling of my mouth.
I looked over at my wife; she was looking out the window and became a sort of minimalist sketch of herself, the squiggle of light on her neck only insinuating a neck, alluding to another figure in the car, gently heaving with each breath. I was alone, aside from this white zag of moonlight, gently pulsing.
“Honey,” she said without turning her head, “why do you keep that photograph of Phineas Gage in our bedroom?” Her voice didn’t sound like her voice, but as if someone else hijacked her body, was talking with her mouth, unfamiliar with its trained motions.
It was silent; the green clock on the dashboard said 1:17; the road shot white blips out from the black distance, rapidly; it was silent. I sighed.
“I already told you, one day that daguerreotype, because it is a daguerreotype not a photograph, will be worth a lot of money…Hell, it probably is worth a fortune right now, but it’s only going to become more and more valuable. Let me worry about the finances.”
“Honey,” she said without turning her head, “why do you keep that painting of Phineas Gage in our bedroom?” I was sweating in the cold car.
“Look: my friend Crusty works for the Baltimore Police Department and he told me that break-ins happen all the time, but,” I paused for dramatic effect, “things in the bed room are eighty five times less likely to be stolen.”
“Crusty volunteers for the police department, he doesn’t work there. Plus he is an idiot, but that isn’t even really my point,” she said to the window, “My point is that, rather than put the picture or daguerreotype, whatever, in the closet or the corner with a sheet over it, you put it on the wall; you put it on the wall facing our bed. I mean, you tell me, does that seem normal to you?”
“I’m writing a research paper. It’s my method. I’m trying to get in his head. Plus, who are you to tell me about normal? We pay for that fucking psychiatrist and all your boo-hoo poor-me pills, like you have so much to worry about, and it doesn’t do shit other than dwindle away our savings. You still spill your misery out on everyone. We had such a nice time on vacation and then we get back in the car and you’re queen bitch.”
“I don’t like the picture.”
She kept silent looking out the window as we drove through Massachusetts, awake, gazing through Delaware and home.
My wife doesn’t have a sleeping problem, but I do. No matter how dark our room is, the silvery picture picks up some light from outside and seems to glow gently. She was fast asleep when we got home, but I stayed up watching Phineas, his face shifting back and forth as my eyes lied to my brain in the dark.

III.
The case of Phineas P. Gage, railroad foreman for the Rutland and Burlington railroad, has since been known as the American Crow bar case. Gage was 25, September 13th 1848, in Cavendish, Vermont; the weather was warm even though it was windy. At this time, holes were drilled into rock walls and blasted, the process was long and laborious; blasting powder was added, a fuse, sand, then an iron rod was used to tamp down the charge. Today we might call the task “chiseling.” This was one of Gage’s duties and, at around 4:30 PM, possibly due to having forgotten the sand, “the powder exploded, carrying an instrument through his head an inch and a fourth in [diameter], and three feet and [seven] inches in length, which he was using at the time. The iron entered on the side of his face...passing back of the left eye, and out at the top of the head.” This is according to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal report in the March 1869 issue.
Some people find calling Phineas P. Gage’s case as the American Crowbar Case misleading; modern crowbars are bent with an iron claw at one end; Gage’s iron was more like a javelin. The doctors who saw Phineas reported extensively on the favorable factors in the case, as a means to account for why he was still alive. The brain is important after all; we think we need it to live. Harlow writes, “The end which entered first is pointed; the taper being [twelve] inches long...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.” Perhaps the iron bar became Phineas’ “constant companion,” a term often used by Harlow, because he had it custom made. Phineas must have felt a tremendous debt to the blacksmith and the tool whose superior craftsmanship saved his life; another tool may have not passed through his head so gracefully. The bar weighed thirteen and one quarter pounds, but you would have thought it weighed nearly nothing watching it fly eighty feet through the air effortlessly, propelled by the terrific explosion.
The railroad workers removed their hats and placed them on their chests as they stood over their lifeless foreman’s strewn torso. Gage’s hand twitched slightly, the brain sending the body its silent electrical suggestions even into death, but then Gage sat up and said, “Oh my God, did you see that?”
They tried to help him up, but he pushed them away, stumbled and regained his balance and began to walk unassisted and as if nothing had happened. He looked down at the blood half covered by his shadow in the dusty air.
“Gage, we better get you to a doctor,” one of the workers suggested in a way that seemed defiant among the stunned silence of the other workers.
“Yes, probably you are right. Let me just get my tamper,” said Gage and then walked eighty feet to the iron rod, picked it up, wiped the blood onto his sleeve and paced back.
His lodgings and any possible medical care would be found 3/4th a mile away in town. At the time there were no real safety laws and so there was no doctor on the work site, though if there were it would have not made much of a difference. A few workers jumped into the cart with Gage who sat upright for the entire trip and seemed to almost enjoy the feeling of wind against his face and open wounds. Other workers stayed at the site, took an early lunch break and ate silently, while still others made bets whether or not Phineas would survive the cart ride back to Cavendish.
Dr. Edward H. Williams was the first physician to arrive at Gage’s bedside. Williams writes, “I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct. 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....” Williams then tells of how Gage got up to vomit and, from the exertion, pressed “about a half teacupful of brain” out onto the floor.
About an hour later, Dr. John Martyn Harlow showed up and took over Gage’s case. Harlow records, “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. Pulse 60, and regular. His person, and the bed on which he was laid, were literally one gore of blood.” So there was Phineas, one (or both) frontal lobes impaled by his trusted tool, lying in a pool of gore, fully cognizant of the world outside his window, the hunger building in his stomach, etcetera, etcetera. I’m lying in bed thinking about Phineas lying in bed observing me upright from his silvery world; the birds are chirping because it is almost another day. My sheets are clean and white.
IV.
Before the cabin became ours it belonged to my Uncle. He lived in Atlanta Georgia, but his family was from Maine; by the time I met his parents they were nothing more than shrunken old country folks, cooking food and migrating from chair to chair in a house which had grown too big for them. They owned the cabin, but lived in this big white house a few counties over. Their parents owned it before them and theirs before them. It was almost as if the cabin was never built, but was always there like the trees and streams that surrounded it. We wanted a vacation, this was about three years ago, so I called up my uncle during my lunch break and asked him if we could stay at the cabin. He paused a long pause of thought and then explained that he hasn’t been there in so long and the place is probably falling apart and, that said, if I were willing to fix it up not only could I stay there, but could keep it.
“I’m not well enough to take proper care of the place anymore,” he said, “Who knows how long I’ll be here, anyway. Plus, my kids are so ignorant of nature that they think apples come from Fairway.”
“God forbid…You’ll be around for a long time. Last time I saw you, you were swimming back and forth across Lake Saint George.”
“Do you think losing my hair will make me a faster swimmer?”
The phone was quiet for a moment.
“Look,” he said, “last time I was there a gofer had died in the well. The water was bad from it and the roof was leaky over the garage. Also, the floor boards in the hallway are dangerous; I wouldn’t even step foot in the hallway. Really it is uninhabitable and if you don’t take care of it then it’s going to fall apart completely. If you want to go then go, but take care of the well and especially the floor because I can’t.”
“How do I get in?” I asked.
“There’s no lock on the door. We don’t have robbers in Maine and even if we did, what would they steal?”
At dinner, I told my wife that we had my uncle’s permission to use the cabin, but that the house isn’t in the greatest condition. I knew she wouldn’t be satisfied with my vague description, but also knew that she’d refuse to go if she knew the full extent of the situation.
“Not the greatest condition…what’s that mean?” She asked, scooping spaghetti with garlic and oil onto my plate.
“I mean…no one lives there. The paint is probably all gone. He said there were a couple of loose boards that he knew about, but there could be more.”
“Well, that sounds fine. I just need a vacation, you know? I’d love to get away even if it is just to some disheveled cabin. I feel like my life is a rotation from the kitchen to the living room to the super market,” she said as she scooped coq au vin alongside the spaghetti.
“We might have to spend some money fixing the place up,” I told her.
“How is it?” She asked pointing at my plate.
“Good. We might have to spend some money.”
“Well,” she said, “that’s what you make the big bucks for. Plus, it’s still probably going to be cheaper than renting a cabin.”
“That’s true.”
We left that Thursday afternoon. I drove. The car was loaded up with a cooler and food and bags until I could hardly see out the back window. My wife slept and sang with the radio. Our phones lost service as we wound around the dirt roads approaching the cabin. We parked on the grass lawn behind the bushes; two dirt lines in the tall grass seemed to insinuate a driveway. My wife stepped out and lifted her sunglasses and I pulled the key out of the ignition and looked up at the tall red structure, the still porch, the trees wrapping around the left side and off into the distance.
“This is so exciting,” my wife said.
“Should we bring up the bags now or should we check it out first?” I asked.
“What’s that?” She was pointing at the stout stone structure protruding above the tall grass.
“That’s the well. There’s no running water here. You have to pump it, but it is bad now. That’s one of the things he told me. A gofer is dead in it, so we have to get someone to come fix it up. Until then we’ll buy bottled water.”
The front door stuck in place for a moment and then slid roughly across the unfinished wood floor. My wife and I decided we’d split up and explore the place. She went right, towards what I guess might have been a garage at one time, and I went left. I came into the kitchen. There were two huge, almost industrial sized sinks, and a red well-pump on the counter. Clean dishes were drying on a rack next to the pump and outside the window I could see the clothes line moving in the wind. I sat down at the wooden table for a moment and admired the antiques: a rusty sign advertising eggs, a small bronze sculpture, an old Dr Pepper sign. I walked through the dining room, furnished minimally, four chairs and a table, and up the creaking stairs.
The room might have been an attic at some point, but was converted into a bedroom, maybe for a young girl. A bed with a large white canopy stretching to the ceiling was in the center of the room. A tall window illuminated the magazines on the sill and the black trunk lined with bronze. I picked up a few magazines, addressed to my uncle, 1981 hunting magazines. Then I glanced across the room; two large wooden closets lined the wall. One closet had a large lock holding the door shut and the other had a fancy doorknob, but they both seemed new, the wood looking lighter than anything else in the cabin. I turned the fancy knob and inside, across a metal rod, women’s clothes were hung on hangers, fancy dresses and that sort of thing. There were shoes on the floor, too. I knocked on the locked closet and fiddled with the lock and then heard a scream come up the stairwell and then my wife shrieking, “Help me! Help!”
I ran down, tripping on the steps and falling into the wall. I ran through the dining room and kitchen, passed the front door and there, in the hallway, saw my wife standing upright in the floor. She was up to her hips in the floor, a snapped board dragged its jagged wood along her leg; blood was coming out significantly. She put her hands around my neck and I slowly pulled her out. Her jeans were ripped and reddened and she was crying.
I put her in the car and we drove to the hospital which was about twenty minutes away. They patched her up pretty quickly because there wasn’t anyone else there aside from the doctors and nurses, of course. They gave her a prescription for pain pills, though it looked to me like nothing more than a bad scratch; she’s pretty sensitive about pain. We had to drive another half hour to find a pharmacist. I walked across the street while she got the Vicodin and picked up some butter and milk and eggs and tea, some potatoes and water bottles too. We drove back and I carried her up the stairs to the bed with the canopy. She told me she felt like a princess with the white canopy all around her. “You look like one too,” I told her. She took some Vicodin and relaxed and I went downstairs to make dinner. My wife is a homebody so she usually makes dinner, but I figured I could fix something without her helping me.
I put some of the bottled water and a bag of earl grey into a tea kettle I found. I found a clean looking knife and cut up some potatoes, melted some butter in a big pan that was hiding in a cabinet by the sinks. By the time the hash browns were done the tea kettle was whistling. I scrambled some eggs and brought all the stuff up to my wife who was wide awake and wearing one of the old dresses from the closet.
“I don’t get it,” she said, “there’s no lock on the front door but the clothes are so important that they get a lock. Look at this dress. It’s beautiful. What sense does that make –that there’s no lock on the door?”
“I can’t believe you are wearing that. You smell like moth balls.”
I sat in a chair by the bed and she ate propped up by a mountain of pillows.
“Breakfast in bed. What a wonderful vacation this is turning out to be.”
“How do you feel?” I asked.
“Okay.”
“I wonder what’s in that closet. I want to open it,” I told her.
“I saw some tools downstairs. You could probably pry it open with something…but you’d have to walk across that hall where I fell.”
“I’m going to take a look,” I said.
I went downstairs and tiptoed through the creaking hallway, around the hole where my wife’s leg was, and into the big wooden room. I thumbed through some old records, wondering if they were worth much, then found a liquor cabinet with some old bourbon and shot glasses; I found the tools my wife was talking about: a hammer, a few screwdrivers, a hand saw and crowbar among the rusty nails and screws that rolled around in the drawer. I took the crowbar and the quarter Bottle of booker’s, put a shot glass into my pocket.
Upstairs my wife was reading a hunting magazine and sipping her tea. I put the bourbon on the trunk and placed the shot glass next to it. I took the crowbar and tried prying the latch. The door creaked and something on the other side thumped down and was putting pressure against the closet door from inside. I kept working at it for awhile; my wife’s eyes moved back and forth from an article about cooking venison to me. I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand and poured a shot of whiskey. I looked over at her.
“Did you take your pills?” I asked.
“You mean from the psychiatrist?” She said without looking up.
“Yeah, did you?”
“Yes, yes. I told you, you don’t need to remind me.”
“Speaking of which, let me see that pill bottle,” I said.
She handed me the Vicodin disinterested. I poured another shot and washed down the two white pills. Finally the latch popped off of the door, the chain came spinning through the lock and the door flew open with a wave of canvases.
“Paintings,” my wife said sitting up in bed.
They were scattered around my feet, hundreds of images in different sizes. I picked one up. It was a sort of knit textile thing, a few feet by a few more feet. In the foreground two carriages were being pulled by big, dark horses and white women were sitting in the carriages looking very proper. In the far background there was a huge farm, a few different structures looking like old time barns all the same dark red color. The sky was blue and it was sunny. In the middle of the picture, between the women in carriages and the farm, there was a cotton field with a dozen or so black men and women; they really looked black; the thread was black, not brown. One woman had a basket of cotton. A shirtless man was being whipped by a white man with a hat.
“Look at this,” I said, placing the textile on her lap.
“Gosh, how old do you think this is?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Charlie is a closet confederate or something,” I suggested.
“I wonder if this was painted when they still had slaves or later,” she said dreamingly.
“Either way, I’ll bet it’s worth something.”
“Also, you don’t know that this is Charlie’s. It could belong to his parents or who knows. If this place is ours now, then it belongs to you and that doesn’t make you a confederate.”
I picked up another painting, something huge and abstract. It looked like a Hans Hoffman, cadmium reds and cornfield yellows, shapes huddled in crude geometries. I held it up for my wife. I began lining the paintings up against the wall. After about a dozen or so I found the daguerreotype. It was enormous and the serious man in the picture looked confident and proud although he only had one eye open. His eye wandered with my gaze, staring through me. His face had a certain primal urgency like some sort of ape, but his demeanor was like that of a prince. He had a pointed metal rod in his wide hands.
“Why’s he winking?” My wife asked.
“I’m not sure he is,” I responded.
“It’s sort of creepy…his right eye.”
“Really it’s his left eye. The daguerreotype flips the image so everything is backwards,” I said.
“Is he related to your uncle? He’s a handsome guy…I could see some resemblance.”
I looked at the back of the image and saw scrawled in black ink in the upper right corner: Phineas P. Gage, 1868. I put the daguerreotype to the side, separate from the other pictures and finished going through the closet. My wife fell asleep and I was feeling pretty tired myself from the bourbon, etc.
When I woke up my wife was downstairs making breakfast. We ate, packed up the paintings and a few records in the back; I packed the pictures; my wife just sat in the car, listening to the radio, feeling miserable over her leg. We cut our vacation short for her injury and drove out of the winding dirt roads and onto the highway, my back window fully blocked by the tower of canvases. My cell phone beeped as we entered civilization. I unwedged it from my pocket and tossed it to my wife.
“See who called,” I told her.
She put the phone to her ear and was silent as she listened, a good minute or two; she thumbed the phone shut.
“Let me guess…” I started to say.
“Charlie died last night. Your aunt called. She said he wasn’t in any pain and looked very peaceful.”
That was the last time I remember my wife seeming truly happy, even despite her leg, for more than a brief interval.
V.
John Martyn Harlow was a skilled doctor, but Phineas was injured severely; his recovery would be a long, difficult process. From September 23rd to October 3rd Gage lay in bed, semi-comatose, suffering from a fungal infection. Gage spoke monosyllabically with a slow, paced, wheezing voice. He was attended to at all times, or at least every hour. A coffin was constructed for him and placed outside the room and his finest clothes were cleaned and tailored. An attendant asked Harlow to stop caring for Gage as doing so would only prolong his suffering, Harlow records. His friends waited in expectancy of his death; railroad workers came by hourly to say goodbye. Then on October 7th, Gage raised himself up and took one step towards his chair. By November 7th, Gage was walking up and down stairs, through the hallway and to the piazza. When Harlow went away for a week Gage was out in the streets every day, Sunday excluded. Gage’s family lived in Lebanon, NH; he was desperate to go home and visit them. His desire to see them was nearly uncontrollable and, after wandering outside contemplating how he would travel back to Lebanon, he caught a chill from the rain soaking through his clothes and shoes.
By November 10th Gage’s chill became full fever, but by November 20th Gage was "feeling better in every respect...walking about the house again; says he feels no pain in the head," Harlow writes. Harlow’s diary contains the following prognosis: Gage "appears to be in a way of recovering, if he can be controlled." And that is why Phineas P. Gage is such a point of fascination for those with an interest in the brain.
The Egyptians used to snake the brain out of the nostrils when mummifying their dead, thinking it nothing more than stuffing; contemporary medicine elevated the brain and crowned it the seat of thought, the container of the soul, that thing which regulates our body and keeps our organs in check. However, Phineas P. Gage showed us a previously unknown relationship between personality and the brain. Once a man of reason, Phineas became almost impossible to control and acted on whim. Friends recall that, although Phineas recovered and physically was the same, he was not the same man that acted as foreman for the Rutland and Burlington railroad company. How fascinating it is that impaling the frontal lobes isn’t lethal, but rather, just different. How crucial can the brain really be then? When you are young they tell you in school not to wreck your brain with drugs and alcohol, but they also tell you that we only use ten percent of our brains. Mathematically this means we can destroy ninety percent of our brains before we are affected cognitively, that Phineas’ odds of damaging his brain was only 10%. I’m being facetious, but only somewhat.
Gage returned to his parents in Lebanon on November 25th and by late December was improving both mentally and physically. In 1849 Gage returned to Harlow for another examination. Harlow records a loss of vision in Gage’s left eye and partial facial paralysis. In addition, Harlow notes a two inch depression on the top of Gage’s skull which pulsed slightly with the heartbeat of his brain. Gage reported having no pain, but a queer ineffable sensation, different somehow. Gage, however, was unable to return to the railroad and spent some time at Barnum’s American Museum in New York; the curious paid to see Gage and his iron rod. Gage then worked at a livery in Hanover, NH then in Chile as a stagecoach driver.
In 1859 Gage’s health began to fail; he moved to San Fransisco where his mother and sister cared for him. He worked on a farm in Santa Clara for a few months. In 1860 Gage experienced the first of a series of increasingly violent convulsions and on May 21st –nearly 12 years after his accident—died. Gage was buried with his tamping rod, but only briefly; Harlow requested his grave be unearthed so that his skull (and the tamping rod) could be preserved and studied. Today one can still see Gage’s skull and rod on display at the Warren Museum in Cambridge, MA. The following is written on the iron:
This is the bar that was shot through the head of M r 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.
Brain damage is often fatal, but Harlow called Gage, “the man for the case. His physique, will, and capacity of endurance could scarcely be excelled.” Gage’s iron destroyed substantial brain tissue, though specialists disagree regarding whether or not both frontal lobes or only Gage’s left lobe was damaged. Neurologist Antonio Damasio used Gage’s case to support his hypothesis linking the frontal lobes to both emotion and decision making. Damasio’s claim is made difficult due to Harlow’s report that Gage was fully recovered in both mind and body. On the other hand, Gage was not rehired by his previous employers because of a drastic change in his character. Harlow records the following:
[Gage’s employers felt that] 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…In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was no longer Gage.
Harlow’s first real encounter with Gage was after his accident, a fact which should lend credibility to those who claim Gage’s faculties were affected by the rod. There is said to be a daguerreotype of Gage which was mistaken as that of an injured whaler, though it is unclear where this image is, but I know. When it is 3 a.m. and 4 and silent, I look up at the proud “whaler” and think about that queer ineffable feeling. He never sleeps, as I rarely do. He is strong and confident, as I wish I was.
VI.
I come home tired and my wife is still out at her psychiatrist. She comes back, but by then dinner is cold and I blame her. My wife and I used to argue all the time, but these days she is usually too depressed to say much of anything back to me. She cooks and cleans and remains largely silent. She is losing weight rapidly, but I don’t mind that. What I mind is paying a psychiatrist hundreds of dollars for nothing.
“How was your day?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” she says, “okay…”
“You sound uncertain.”
“It was fine, I guess,” she just sort of states, but doesn’t really seem to care or even be aware she is speaking.
“What did you do?” I ask
“I don’t know.”
“What does that even mean? Then who the hell knows?”
“I’m tired of being a housewife. I’m going to get into bed,” she says as she gets up from the table.
“You want to go on a vacation? We can go up to Acadia. Maybe we’ll rent kayaks.”
“I’m tired of Maine and vacations.”
“Well what the fuck am I supposed to do with you? You mope around and don’t do anything to make yourself happy.”
She just sort of looks at me like she’s watching a movie, like I’m not really there.
“You want to hear about my day?” I ask, organizing a tirade in my head.
“Not really. I just want to go to sleep. I’m tired,” she replies.
“All you do is sleep.”
“And all you do is write that stupid paper about Phineas Gage. Don’t tell me I’m the one with problems. All day it’s Phineas this and Phineas that, did you know Gage this and did I tell you Gage’s skull is at the museum at Harvard. Maybe I’d be happier if your world revolved around something other than some 19th century circus act,” she says and storms out of the room.
When she’s gone I put my dinner in the microwave and genuinely think about what she said, briefly. She doesn’t understand Phineas’ awesome significance. I pour a glass of wine, then another. Maybe she is right. Maybe my essay focuses too exclusively on the life of Gage and fails to really flush out his importance to neurosurgery and psychology and all that. She blames her misery on my “obsession” with Gage, but I know she can be a miserable bitch pointing her finger at anything and anyone before looking at herself and thinking about what she can actually do to improve her situation.
By the time I’m drunk enough to contemplate sleep she’s already snoring –one of the few things she is genuinely good at, I think. I watch as Phineas slowly raises the rod, turns it towards his face and presses it through his skull. He says, “friend, I can’t get a wink with that miserable cunt’s snoring.” I look over, her face so peaceful that I could punch a hole straight through it.
VII.
Leucotomy comes from the Greek Leukos meaning clear or white and tome which, in Greek, means to cut. Lobos means, in Greek, brain. So lobotomy and leucotomy both refer to the same procedure but, I suppose, are two different ways of viewing the same thing. The procedure is referred to as neurosurgical; the surgeon, or whoever is performing the procedure, severs the connections to the prefrontal cortex. The history of the Lobotomy can be said to have three distinct phases: the Gottlieb Burckhardt phase, the Egas Moniz and the Walter Freeman. The history of the lobotomy could be said to have four phases if we include Phineas P. Gage who, I believe, was essential to the development of the lobotomy.
Gottlieb Burckhardt, in December of 1888, operated on six patients. Burckhardt was not a surgeon; Burckhardt was a psychiatrist. This may account for his discouraging results. In a private psychiatric hospital in Sweden, Burckhardt operated on two women and four men aging from 26 to 51. Their diagnoses were different. One was diagnosed with chronic mania. One with primary dementia. Four with original paranoia. Burckhardt’s case notes indicate that all six patients suffered serious psychiatric symptoms such as auditory hallucinations, paranoid delusions and a propensity towards violence. He operated on the frontal, temporal, and tempoparietal lobes of these patients. These operations could not accurately be termed lobotomies, but rather, are significant because this was the first time neurosurgeries were performed. One patient experienced epileptic convulsions and died five days after surgery was performed. One, after improving briefly, committed suicide. Two showed no change and two became “quieter.” What, however, was the basis of Burckhardt’s brief foray into the budding field of psychosurgery?
Burckhardt’s theoretical basis rested on two corollary principles: (1) that mental illness had a physical basis and (2) that the brain was modular, meaning that mental faculties could be linked to specific locations in the brain. Both of these principles can be readily observed in the case of Phineas Gage who (1) suffered a physical accident resulting in a mental change and (2) did not suffer memory loss or organ failure as a result of the accident, indicating a modulation of the brain. However, Burckhardt’s research was ridiculed by his contemporaries who felt that Burckhardt’s methods were as extreme as prescribing decapitation as a cure for dandruff. Subsequently, Burckhardt stopped performing neurosurgery, but influenced generations of surgeons to come.
VIII.
My grandfather died of brain cancer when I was about nineteen. When I think about it, if I had to choose one of my four grandparents to get brain cancer I think I probably would have picked him anyway. He lived in one of those parts of Florida where everyone dies like upright Jellyfish. I guess that’s not really true. It was more just a gated community with a night time patrol of old geezers trying to expel their last few kicks, beer cans in veiny hands below the dashboard. He and my Grandma lived on a dead end street with overfull bushes and salamanders, out back a pond with bass who never heard of fishing and a mango tree which he pruned as if it were a shrine. I never liked going to their house. Sometimes I found it boring, sometimes depressing. One time I went to get a computer game out of my grandfather’s closet and he yelled at me for going in there without his permission. I was eight so I think I almost cried. I remember going on some vacation with them and my same-aged cousin to Sea World and Busch Gardens and all that. He yelled at us for not saving a place for him on a ride that he’d never go on.
I always feel like I hear things last in my family is the truth. It was like I was nominated the one to receive rather than disseminate the bad news, or good. I was in Europe for the semester under the guise of studying. Of course I was getting credits, but spent most of the time drinking and seeing girls. I was outside walking down the street and it was about 1 AM my time. My father called me and told me about the brain cancer. They put my grandfather on steroids for it and those made him weak, but when he’d stop taking it he wouldn’t make much sense. I remember how weak he was; he would drop something on the floor and his nose would bleed.
He’d complain, “I can’t do anything.”
He always prided himself on his efficiency and work ethic and being relegated to shift from chair to chair was too much for him. He never lost his sense of humor though. When I came to visit he opened the door and, straight-faced, said, “I have grandchildren?” I paused and then he smiled, greeting me, opening the door. He used to make fire-proof doors, then he started a business selling plastic bags. I heard he was a communist, but don’t know the details; he fought in the war. I’ve seen pictures of him with army buddies on an island somewhere. He was devastated when he found out his youngest son was engaged to a Korean girl.
Then he fell into the closet.
They took him off the steroids. Then he didn’t make sense.
He was Jewish, but an anti-Semite. When the religious cousins came over he’d make snide comments about their kosher food. When we were at a Hillel event for Brandeis, every table had a tray of food. We had roast chicken. Another had vegetables. The idea was that this would encourage mingling. My grandfather didn’t get it. Someone came over and tried to take the chicken and he yelled at him, “Look what happens when you get a bunch of Jews together!”
The room went dead.
Now my grandmother is clinically depressed, not showering or taking her medicine. She has a hundred chances a day to make friends, but would rather wait for her son and the Asian woman to drive her to Publix, sit by the telephone.
When I was in Europe my Dad called and said, “Poppy is on his death bed. He can’t talk, but he can hear what you say. Do you want to say anything?”
Do you know what I said?
IX.
Despite having little interest in psychiatry as well as little clinical experience, Doctor Egas Moniz devised, in 1935, a surgery called prefrontal leucotomy. The surgery was performed by drilling a hole in the patient’s forehead and filling the frontal lobes with alcohol. This would destroy the brain tissue. Eventually this method was replaced by a tool called the leucotome. The leucotome was a narrow shaft which would be inserted into the brain. Then a button at the handle end would be depressed, forcing a loop of sharp wire out of the tip of the tool. The surgeon rotated his hand and the bad brain tissue would be disconnected.
In 1935 and 1936 Moniz operated on twenty patients, beating Burckhardt’s record by fourteen. Moniz’s published research also indicates a greater level of success, though the test pool was obviously different. Moniz reports that 35% of patients undergoing leucotomy improved drastically, 35% improved moderately and 30% showed no change. In other words, there was nothing to lose. The patients aged between 27 and 62; twelve were female and eight were male. One patient had Catatonia, one had Mania, six had schizophrenia, two had panic disorder, one had manic-depression and the rest were diagnosed with depression. The question of why Moniz chose to target the fixed dysfunctional brain circuits in the frontal lobes and no other region is a point of some debate, but it is interesting to note that this was the same part of the brain through which Phineas Gage’s leucotome passed like a silk harpoon eighty feet in the air and buried its head in the sand like an Olympic javelin glistening.
In 1949 he won the noble prize for his work.
X.
I think she has sleep apnea. I tell her we should go see a doctor, but she says no; “because what’s the point of this great big riddle anyway?” She figures.
“It is a terrible condition. You could die in your sleep. One minute you are breathing and the next you are dead. It’s a terrible thing.”
But she’s just silent and then says, “I’m tired.”
She gets into bed and I stay up a while longer and drink and then get into bed, the room thundering with her noisy sleep. The truth is I haven’t slept in days. I’ve realized that most people think the body needs more sleep than it actually does. Some people say up to seven hours, but when I was in Europe I knew a guy who slept four hours a night and he was fine. There’s that expression: sleep when you are dead. I’m not like her I think, I want to milk my life for all it is, not live like a dead person. She sounds like she’s trying to eat pound cake and sleep at the same time; it’s revolting. I look at Phineas. He looks like he’s almost marching, like if the daguerreotype were to come to life trumpets would start blowing and Phineas’ right leg would lift, then the left, not holding a rod, but some sort of baton.
His chin is high and his hair is gelled and parted. His ears stick out slightly making him look like a bashful primate, too strong for his own good. His face is half paralyzed, but you’d hardly even notice because he looks so strong, like his body were incapable of blemishing. His one eye stares down on me. The music comes on pure and glorious, like small clusters of holy miracles exploding simultaneously on the Earth’s every corner; fireworks seem to litter the room. Phineas steps off the wall and balloons stream out of the silvery square from behind him. Maybe my wife was right, maybe he was just winking. His eye uncreases and he smiles.

When I wake up the painting is on the floor; my wife is making coffee in the kitchen. I hang the picture and step out in my bathrobe.
“I didn’t know watching sitcoms requires caffeine,” I say.
“What crawled up your ass?”
“Why was Phineas on the floor?” I ask.
“Who? Oh right –your picture.”
“Listen, I understand that you’ve given up on life. That’s perfectly understandable being the piece of shit you are, but some of us still have ambitions. I would like, if I may, to write my research paper, sell this painting and put the money into a nice little portfolio for our kids, may God have mercy on them,” I say.
“Painting…oh, you must mean daguerreotype. And who the fuck are you all of a sudden investing in our children’s future, you overnoble bastard. You’re the one who has put it off and now my ovaries feel like a pile of rot. I wouldn’t want to carry a child, not for you…so you can take that money and blow it on liquor, you self righteous fuck.”
XI.
Walter Jackson Freeman II was born on November 14th in 1895. Freeman was an American physician, best remembered as a fan and advocate of psychosurgery, the ice pick king. Freeman was born into a wealthy family; (money is very important.) Freeman pursued an undergraduate degree at Yale and a medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Some would say that Freeman’s work was based on flimsy evidence, but others would dispute this claim; I believe this essay has demonstrated the flaws of such a claim. He performed nearly 3500 lobotomies in 23 states, putting both Moniz and Burckhardt’s records to shame. Freeman showed true bravery as a physician; he was a neurologist with no formal surgical training, but wouldn’t let this fact impede his desire to assist those in need of help. Initially Freeman worked with several surgeons including W. Watts.
In 1936 he and Watts would become pioneers, the first American doctors to perform pre-frontal lobotomies. However, Freeman’s methods were flawed, as he originally gained access to the brain via craniotomy, laboriously chiseling away a section of the skull.
Freeman adopted Amarro Fiamberti’s version of the transorbital lobotomy and began to practice. Fiamberti was the first to access the brain through the orbits; he performed only one lobotomy this way and therefore remains relatively insignificant.
Lacking the proper tools to carry out a lobotomy via the orbits, Freeman became disheartened until one night, while rummaging through his kitchen for something to eat, Freeman found an ice pick. Freeman revolutionized the lobotomy. Lobotomizing the sick was now only a five minute procedure and did not require a surgeon or anesthesia aside from electric shocks. Freeman’s ice pick lobotomies should indicate his great resourcefulness; later, Freeman used a leucotome, but found the experience unsatisfactory. By 1848 Freeman had developed a new technique which involved wrenching the leucotome in an upwards stroke. During one session Freeman’s leucotome broke in two; half was in his hand and the other half glistened in the corner of the patient’s eye and stretched back into their brain. Freeman was once again discouraged and thought the obstacles put in his path were insurmountable. However, with brilliance like that of DaVinci, Freeman sketched out a new tool. He held it up to the light. The orbitoclast was more durable and reliable than the leucotome.
Freeman then drove his van, which he called “the lobotomobile,” across the country, visiting doctors at state-run institutions and disseminating his wisdom. Freeman knew of the severe overcrowding at these institutions and thought that the transorbital lobotomy would efficiently allow patients to get back to their private lives. Ole Enerson misunderstood Freeman’s passion for medicine and, misreading the joy that comes from helping another, describes Freeman’s lobotomies as being performed, “with a recklessness bordering on lunacy, touring the country like a travelling evangelist. In most cases this procedure was nothing more than a gross and unwarranted mutilation carried out by a self righteous zealot.” Enerson’s statement could also be a reaction to Freeman’s showy performances during which he would take an orbitoclast in each hand and correct both lobes at once.
Freeman set many world records. Most children lobotomized: 19. Youngest child lobotomized: 4. Freeman also expanded our understanding of who could gain from a lobotomy, lobotomizing children with ADD and unfulfilled housewives. However, when Thorazine was approved in the mid-1950s, Freeman saw his reputation begin to crumble. Few people know that Thorazine was originally advertised as, “The Lobotomy in a Bottle.” People could now experience something like the power of lobotomy without ever having to see a surgeon. When a patient died in Freeman’s lobotomobile his license to practice medicine was revoked. However, no one has ever let this single incident dampened our memories of the cherished doctor who, as was in keeping with his generous character, spent the rest of his life visiting his former patients until he died of cancer; 1972.
XII.
The last thing I remember Poppy saying is, “Boy, this brain is killing me.”
I’ve been awake for the past three hundred years. She is snoring like she means it. Phineas knows what I mean. She doesn’t cook anymore so I get up to make some eggs. I melt the butter, add salt, black pepper. I go to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I open the mirror for the toothpaste and see the orange bottle, her depression pills, filled to the top with small white ovals. I remember how happy she used to be, wash my hands carefully to free them of germs, and snap the plastic toothbrush; later I slip her big sunglasses over her ears.
[/strike]

I hate to imitate Waterman, but this is the correct response.

Please leave, flame.

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Harry Ballsogna
Posts: 75
Joined: Mon Jun 16, 2008 11:39 pm

Re: Personal Statement Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Postby Harry Ballsogna » Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:42 pm

You're in everywhere you apply.

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Borhas
Posts: 4855
Joined: Sun Sep 27, 2009 6:09 pm

Re: Personal Statement Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Postby Borhas » Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:43 pm

kevin261186 wrote:you're kidding, right?

:lol: :lol:

hotdoglaw
Posts: 103
Joined: Tue Jan 26, 2010 10:48 am

Re: Personal Statement Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Postby hotdoglaw » Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:45 pm

Harvard here I come.

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$1.99
Posts: 684
Joined: Tue Feb 09, 2010 1:49 am

Re: Personal Statement Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Postby $1.99 » Wed Mar 10, 2010 1:58 pm

you know you are an idiot when you spend this much time trying to flame and it still isn't original

next time, go for short and sweet and save yourself some time

andreea7
Posts: 142
Joined: Mon Feb 15, 2010 2:32 pm

Re: Personal Statement Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Postby andreea7 » Wed Mar 10, 2010 2:00 pm

hotdoglaw wrote:
kevin261186 wrote:you're kidding, right?

Yeah, sorry. Class is just pretty boring...


Ha, and to think some just play games on their cell phone when class is boring




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