Why was trephination done?

Last Update: May 30, 2022

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Asked by: Prof. Alysa Simonis
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In ancient times, trepanation was thought to be a treatment for various ailments, such as head injuries. It may also have been used to treat pain. Some scientists also think that the practice was used to pull spirits from the body in rituals. Many times, the person would survive and heal after the surgery.

What is trepanation and what was it historically used for?

From the Renaissance until the beginning of the 19th century trephining was widely advocated and practiced for the treatment of head wounds. The most common use was in the treatment of depressed fractures and penetrating head wounds.

What is Trephination and how was it supposed to cure mental illness?

Psychosurgery was developed early in human prehistory (trephination) as a need perhaps to alter aberrant behavior and treat mental illness. The “American Crowbar Case” provided an impetus to study the brain and human behavior. The frontal lobe syndrome was avidly studied.

What was Trephining supposed to accomplish?

In drilling into the skull and removing a piece of the bone, the dura mater is exposed without damage to the underlying blood-vessels, meninges and brain. Trephination has been used to treat health problems associated with intracranial diseases, epileptic seizures, migraines and mental disorders by relieving pressure.

What is it called when you drill a hole in someone's skull?

This procedure — also known as “trepanning” or “trephination” — requires drilling a hole into the skull using a sharp instrument. Nowadays, doctors will sometimes perform a craniotomy — a procedure in which they remove part of the skull to allow access to the brain — to perform brain surgery.

The History of Trepanning

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Is trepanning painful?

With zero anesthesia, this made for a particularly painful, even life-threatening, procedure. However, the survival rate of these operations was surprisingly high. Even up to the modern day, trepanning has its strong adherents.

Do people still do trepanning?

Trepanation is still used today, often to treat bleeding on the brain. However, making a permanent hole in someone's head isn't a safe thing to do, and these days if a doctor makes a hole in a skull they usually replace the bone and patch it up.

Was trepanation successful?

The practice of trepanation was surprisingly successful and was seen more often during the Inca heyday due to the weapons used in war. Some 2,000 years ago, a Peruvian surgeon picked up a simple tool and began to scrape a hole in the skull of a living human being.

What mental illness was trepanning used for?

Particularly in Europe during the Middle Ages, beatings were administered to the mentally ill who acted out as punishment for the disturbances their behavior caused and as a means of “teaching” individuals out of their illnesses. Others who were considered nuisances were flogged out of town (Rosen).

Why our ancestors drilled holes in each other's skulls?

Some proponents claim that trepanning results in increased blood flow. Individuals have practiced non-emergency trepanning for psychological purposes. A prominent proponent of the modern view is Peter Halvorson, who drilled a hole in the front of his own skull to increase "brain blood volume".

Were any lobotomies successful?

According to estimates in Freeman's records, about a third of the lobotomies were considered successful. One of those was performed on Ann Krubsack, who is now in her 70s. "Dr. Freeman helped me when the electric shock treatments, the medicine and the insulin shot treatments didn't work," she said.

Why is lobotomy no longer used?

In 1949, Egas Moniz won the Nobel Prize for inventing lobotomy, and the operation peaked in popularity around the same time. But from the mid-1950s, it rapidly fell out of favour, partly because of poor results and partly because of the introduction of the first wave of effective psychiatric drugs.

What's wrong with lobotomy?

While a small percentage of people supposedly got better or stayed the same, for many people, lobotomy had negative effects on a patient's personality, initiative, inhibitions, empathy and ability to function on their own. "The main long-term side effect was mental dullness," Lerner said.

Did doctors used to drill holes in skulls?

The art of cranial surgery was practiced up to 5,000 years ago in Europe, and until a few centuries ago on many other continents, according to archaeologists who have found skulls with carefully carved, man-made holes in them.

What did trepanning involve?

For a large part of human prehistory, people around the world practised trepanation: a crude surgical procedure that involves forming a hole in the skull of a living person by either drilling, cutting or scraping away layers of bone with a sharp implement.

Why is trepanation used?

In ancient times, trepanation was thought to be a treatment for various ailments, such as head injuries. It may also have been used to treat pain. Some scientists also think that the practice was used to pull spirits from the body in rituals. Many times, the person would survive and heal after the surgery.

What does lobotomy do to a person?

The intended effect of a lobotomy is reduced tension or agitation, and many early patients did exhibit those changes. However, many also showed other effects, such as apathy, passivity, lack of initiative, poor ability to concentrate, and a generally decreased depth and intensity of their emotional response to life.

Can you prevent mental illness?

There's no sure way to prevent mental illness. However, if you have a mental illness, taking steps to control stress, to increase your resilience and to boost low self-esteem may help keep your symptoms under control.

Do holes in the skull heal?

Patients suffering head injuries and in need of surgical repair for skull fractures usually receive what is called a “burr hole,” a hole drilled into the skull to relieve pressure and prevent hemorrhage. After the initial danger has passed, they have few options to repair the burr hole and heal any other fractures.

Can you drill a hole in your head and survive?

Quite easily, if not painlessly, but it depends which bit of your brain you drill through. ... Ron Hunt of Truckee, California, apparently fell off a ladder and on to the drill, whose bit was driven into his skull by his right eye socket and out again by his right ear.

What were the complications of trepanation?

The main complications that may arise from trephination include brain injury, hemorrhage, and infection (Ortner, 2003). It is noteworthy that although trephinations require great precision, success rates have been particularly high from prehistoric to modern times (Arnott et al., 2003; Moghaddam et al., 2015).

What replaced lobotomies?

The activity was replaced by inertia, and people were left emotionally blunted and restricted in their intellectual range. The consequences of the operation have been described as "mixed". Some patients died as a result of the operation and others later died by suicide.

Do lobotomies make you a vegetable?

Of course, the lobotomy always had its critics. Doctors, as well as the families of patients, protested that the surgery did nothing more than turn people into vegetables.

What does an ice pick lobotomy do?

1945: American surgeon Walter Freeman develops the 'ice pick' lobotomy. Performed under local anaesthetic, it takes only a few minutes and involves driving the pick through the thin bone of the eye socket, then manipulating it to damage the prefrontal lobes.

Does a lobotomy erase memory?

As if by erasing memory in the brain we can erase traumatic experience and make it as if nothing happened. All gone, all better. This amounts to a chemical lobotomy to erase memories. The lobotomy fantasy, even without a surgical ice pick, never seems to die.