The Hole Story

Posted on November 30, 2007 

The Hole Story

Feeling depressed? Lethargic? Shell-shocked by life’s little bombardments? You could try meditation. Or yoga. Or color therapy. Or herbal remedies. Or, if you prefer drastic measures, you could drill a hole in your head.

The practice of making a hole in the skull, known as trepanation, has been around since the Stone Age. Along with circumcision it’s one of our oldest surgical procedures — archaeologists have found trepanned skulls dating back to 3000 B.C. Hippocrates, in his classic medical text “On Injuries of the Head,” endorsed trepanation for the treatment of head wounds. During medieval times, the procedure was thought to liberate demons from the heads of the possessed and, later on, Europeans did it to cure a hodgepodge of maladies ranging from meningitis to epilepsy.

The procedure, from a technical standpoint, is simplicity’s model. An instrument called a trepan is used to make the hole. Throughout history, the trepanning tool has developed dramatically, evolving from a crude hunk of sharpened flint in prehistoric times to a hand-cranked auger in the first century to, nowadays, an electric drill. Anyway, the trepan goes into your skull and a chunk of bone is extracted. You bandage yourself up and eventually the skin heals over, leaving only a small indentation to show for the hole in your head.

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