Fear and Trepanation
BY: John D. Spalding
"Watch this, watch this!" says Pete Halvorson over a high-pitched whir coming from the TV. "When the doctor pulls the drill out of the skull you're going to get a good look straight into the third eye!"
Halvorson is showing me one of the four cranial operations he filmed at a hospital in Mexico in August. I don't consider myself particularly squeamish, but I found myself glancing away from the TV. I hoped Pete didn't think I was bored.
As I turned back to the screen, the whirring stopped, the surgeon removed the drill and a nurse suctioned away the blood and bone fragments. What I saw was a hole that went clear through the skull and stopped just shy of the brain's protective membrane. What Halvorson saw was nothing less than history in the making: a trepanation surgery, performed to help a patient expand her consciousness, and performed at her own request.
Trepanation dates back to the Stone Age. It was practiced by physicians of the ancient world for light head wounds and in the Middle Ages to release evil spirits. But modern Western medicine frowns on trepanation (except to relieve pressure on the brain, after which the piece of skull is replaced), and no doctor in the United States or Western Europe will seriously discuss it, much less perform it, as an elective procedure.