Friday, October 13, 2017

A Year of Literary Trepanations

In 2016, I read six different books that mentioned trepanation. So far in 2017, I have read none. So, I am looking back on 2016 as my Year of Literary Trepanations.

Venomous by Christie Wilcox

Fascinating information about deadly poisons and how people can benefit from them. Did you know that a handful of botulism toxins is enough to kill everyone on the planet, if divided equally among them? Yet you can safely inject minuscule amounts of it into the forehead of someone who is overly concerned about their wrinkles. I learned about bee sting therapy and the recreational use of snake bites and all kinds of other cool stuff. Wilcox mentions trepanation in a tangental way:

"... dubious antique medical practices like trepanation: drilling a hole into one's skull to let out evil spirits"

Patient H.M.: Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich

The subtitle says it all. Much of what we know about memory is thanks to Henry Molaison, a patient with epilepsy who received a botched lobotomy. It sometimes felt like a thriller, with unexpected twists even towards the end. The audiobook has a great narrator, George Newbern, but I'm too squeamish for play-by-play details of brain surgery, so I had to fast-forward through those parts. Engrossing true subject matter.

"My grandfather, like most lobotomists, performed a disproportionate number of psychosurgeries on women. The known clinical effects of lobotomy, including tractability, passivity and docility, overlapped nicely with what many men at the time considered to be ideal feminine traits."

"Freeman believed he could train any reasonably competent psychiatrist how to perform an ice pick lobotomy in an afternoon."

"August 25, 1953. Henry lies on his back on an operating table in the Hartford Hospital neurosurgery suite. At the head of the table, flanked by scrub nurses and assistants, my grandfather leans over Henry with a trepan in his hand. Henry has been sedated and given a local anesthetic, and the flesh has been peeled down from his forehead, but he is conscious. A trepan is a sort of wide-mouthed serrated drill."

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie

Warmth, wackiness and squirrels. Lessons about being true to yourself. I loved this satirical feel-good novel. One of the characters is a young guy who has invented the "versatile Pneumatic TURBO Skull Punch," a trepanning device "well suited to a range of hole punching operations," and both the pharmaceutical and defence industries are excited about its possibilities, calling it "the greatest contribution to warfighter injuries in years." Trepanations everywhere!

"I pledge allegiance to the marketplace of the United States of America TM and to the conglomerates, for which we shill, one nation, under Exxon-Mobil/Halliburton/Boeing/Walmart, nonrefundable, with litter and junk mail for all."

"Art is despair with dignity."

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

A poignant, insightful novel with an ensemble cast of immigrants from various Latin American countries, who live in the same cinderblock apartment building in Delaware. One of the central characters is a Mexican teen with severe head trauma.

"So now what we need to do - what I need your permission to do - is remove a small piece of her skull to make room for the swelling and to keep the pressure from building too much." He stopped and looked at us again. "If it builds too much, she could die. And the longer we wait to relieve it, the more damage she'll likely experience."

"We're the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they've been told they're supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we're not that bad, made even that we're a lot like them. And who would they hate then?"

Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki

Monty is an endearing 16-year-old coping with mean girls and rude boys, making mistakes and finding forgiveness. Her parents are caring and in the forefront (a rarity in YA, where parental absence allows the protagonists more freedom to act) and Monty's parents are also lesbians (a rarity in any novel).

"a link to the craziest thing I have ever seen on the Internet, a site about people who actually drill holes into the tops of their skulls to increase brain blood flow. To improve psychic powers. That's what trepanation is!"

I resisted the temptation to actually search for this sort of thing on YouTube. It makes me shudder just thinking about it.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

Post-apocalyptic thriller with a plague that causes people to burst into flames. Harper Grayson, a conscientious nurse, is one of the central characters in this fast-paced story. Kate Mulgrew performs a fantastic narration for the audiobook, which is over 22 hours long.

"[Harper] told him about trepanning Father Storey's skull with a power drill and disinfecting it with port."

"She had treated John Rookwood's mauled arm with a weak dose of good intentions."

"The hens are clucking. Harper thought it would be a toss-up, which term for women she hated more: bitch or hen. A hen was something you kept in a cage, and her sole worth was in her eggs. A bitch, at least, had teeth."

So that's it for my literary encounters with trepanation. Have you encountered any lately?

1 comment:

Kristy said...

So interesting. Before clicking I guessed that it meant some kind of baggage. Holes in skulls was a surprise.