A bit of a headache

dagger skull

One of the things that all first-aiders should know is that blades or other penetrating objects should never be removed from a stab wound.  Extraction should only be attempted by medical professionals in appropriate surroundings, since catastrophic blood loss may otherwise occur.

Those with a background in emergency medicine would doubtless wince at the treatment given to a patient in France in 1881 – which somehow he survived.

On April 8th, a man had a dispute with his wife on the subject of rent money, which he could not furnish.  Overwhelmed by her abuse, he wished to end his life.  Taking a small dagger ten centimetres (nearly four inches) in length, he placed it vertically over the top of his head, and by the aid of a hammer, drove it up to the hilt.  When this was done he found he was no better off than before.  It only did not bring him any money, but did not make a finish of his life, and he felt nothing.  He preserved his consciousness, the use of his senses and power of motion.  Very much embarrassed at having so badly placed his dagger, he had to call the doctor, who attempted to remove the knife from the cranial box, but all his efforts were fruitless.

At this point the local doctor called an eminent hospital physician, M. Dubrisay.  The two medics together attempted a grotesque tug-of-war, with one of them holding the man’s feet and the other the dagger.  Then they tried a different approach by both lifting the dagger by its handle, but only succeeded in suspending the patient in mid-air.  At their wit’s end, they took the man – who was still conscious and apparently not in any discomfort – to a workshop which owned a steam engine:

Placed between two uprights, having between them iron pincers moved by mechanical force, seated upon the ground and held there, the dagger blade was seized and drawn upon steadily and extracted, raising the patient slightly, who fell back upon the earth.  He immediately got up, began to walk and conducted M. Dubrisay to his carriage, expressing his thanks.

The blade of the dagger was found to be slightly bent, indicating it had passed right through the brain and come into contact with the occipital bone, at the back and base of the skull.  The doctors were worried that their patient would develop an infection from the effects of this dirty foreign object:

Fearing the occurrence of symptoms of meningitis, the patient was taken to the St. Louis Hospital into the service of M. Pean; but he left there after eight days, without any symptoms of inflammation or of paralysis having been developed.

[Source: St. Louis Clinical Record, 1881]

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