Trepanation is the act of drilling a hole in one's head, typically for no (legitimate) medical reason. Practitioners believe that trepanation can work all kinds of miracles, opening up a "third eye", getting to a higher state of consciousness, letting the brain "breathe" or "pulsate", balancing the proportion of blood and cerebral spinal fluid, or allowing the demons to leave the patient's skull. Needless to say, this puts it squarely in the realm of alternative medicine. It is believed to be one of the oldest surgical practices in existence as several neolithic skulls have been found with evidence for this being done; some fossil skulls indicate that the patient managed to survive the procedure. Nobody knows why these procedures were undertaken in ancient times. Subjects of elective trepanation have described the effects as "very subtle", meaning it is probably just the placebo effect. In 2016, the cost for elective trepanation surgery was reported to be US$4000 in Ecuador (not including hotel or airfare), probably a reasonable cost for outpatient surgery but quite expensive for a placebo.
The skull's job is to protect the brain from harm. Drilling an additional opening can increase the risk of brain damage from trauma as the skull's protective covering is compromised. Due to the procedure being both inherently risky as well as elective, the majority of accredited medical professionals refuse to perform the operation; because of this the vast majority of trepanations are self inflicted. People who trepanate themselves often use things like dental drills or even power tools. The minimal amount of space between the skull casing and the actual brain means that error and serious injury are very possible especially when done by oneself with unfit tools. Trepanation also carries a large risk of infection due to either unsanitary tools, improper treatment of the resulting wound, or through the healing process. The brain when exposed in such a way is very vulnerable to infection which can potentially be fatal or cause significant brain damage if not caught or treated soon enough.
- Hugo Bart Huges was the first known person to self-trepanate in 1965.
- Joey Mellen had to try it more than once.
- Amanda Feilding was filmed by her husband, Joey Mellen, during the operation. She ran (and lost) twice for the British Parliament on the platform "Trepanation for the National Health".
Before you pounce…
There are actually legitimate medical reasons for drilling a hole in the skull, but there is no way our ancestors could have known about it without CT scans. Sometimes when the body sustains a severe blow to the head the brain will begin to swell, which builds pressure on the brain, further damaging it. Hence, doctors in an emergency room will sometimes drill holes into the head in order to relieve the pressure and in some cases a metal plate will be attached to the skull to help it heal. Portions of the skull may also be removed for the purpose of brain biopsy or other procedures.
- A Hole In The Head Trailer for the documentary about trepanation called A Hole In The Head. WARNING: contains some brutal closeup footage of trepanation in action. Not for the faint of heart.
- International Trepanation Advocacy Group — archived copies
- Well, putting everything aside, one does need as much space as an eye socket to put in an extra eye.
- The Mechanisms of Brainbloodvolume by Bart Huges (1964).
- How did the demon get in anyways? It's not like it needed a new hole to get in, so why would it need a new hole to get out?
- Woman Who Drilled a Hole in Her Head to Open Up Her Mind. Amanda Feilding claims trepanation might make us happier, healthier, and maybe help people at risk for Alzheimer's. She's not only an expert, she conducted the operation on herself to see what was what. by Joseph Cox (Aug 14 2013, 5:05am) Vice.
- Trial and Error. Story 3: Hole in the Skull by Galen Menzel & Will Rogers. The Stanford Storytelling Project.
- The Goodnews Letter (April 2016) International Trepanation Advocacy Group (archived from August 23, 2016).
- Integrative review: postcraniotomy pain in the brain tumour patient by R. E. Guilkey et al. J. Adv. Nurs. 2016 Jan 6. doi: 10.1111/jan.12890
- Endoscopic-Assisted Trephination approach for repair of Frontal Sinus posterior wall fracture in a Child by L. A. Tarrats et al. Bol. Asoc. Med. P R. 2015 Apr-Jun;107(2):27-8.
- Preoperative trepanation and drainage for acute subdural hematoma: Two case reports T. Lu et al. Exp. Ther. Med. 2015 Jul;10(1):225-230. Epub 2015 Apr 28.
- Unless you believe the content of the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms is based on actual historical events, which then you will believe that a medical practitioner can determine what's wrong with the patient's brain by talking to the patient, in addition to the pulses at the wrist of the patient. But that's for tumor removal through opening the skull, instead of simply drilling a hole.