It’s a miracle! Or maybe just really, really great.

Gabrielle Giffords stood on her own yesterday, and may be moved to a rehab facility as early as tomorrow. Everyone seems floored by her truly outstanding recovery from such frightening injuries and I couldn’t be happier for her and the country.

But a miracle? Not so much. Partly because I don’t believe in miracles, partly because of my hope and faith in Gifford’s recovery, but also because when I was young I read everything I could find about Phineas Gage.


Gage was a railroad construction foreman working on the Rutland & Burlington Railroad near the town of Cavendish, Vermont in 1848. While setting an explosive charge (black powder) the blast went off prematurely, driving his tamping iron (similar to a crowbar, but without the curved ends) completely through his skull to land 80 feet away, covered in blood and bits of brain matter. The iron had passed through and destroyed much of his left frontal lobe, also damaging his jaw and blinding him in his left eye. Interestingly, Gage actually remained conscious through most of his ordeal, including the 3/4 mile ride back to town and his subsequent treatment, even discussing the incident with the doctors.Phineas P. Gage & his iron

Perhaps not surprisingly he was unable to continue with railroad work, supporting himself for a time as one of Barnum’s attractions. Gage died in 1860, his skull and tamping iron remaining on display to this day in the Warren Anatomical Museum at Harvard.

Obviously the durability of the human brain can be beyond what most people expect.  It doesn’t need to be a miracle, but it really is amazing.

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