Posted on 4 November 2019
You now step into the skin of someone else. You become a young American man and your name is Henry.
You have severe epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a condition that is diagnosed in an estimated 50 million people worldwide. It is a condition that has a varying spectrum of causes and effects. A disorder of the nervous system, epilepsy is characterized either by mild, episodic loss of attention or sleepiness or by severe convulsions with loss of consciousness.
In the 21st Century there is no cure for epilepsy, but a pioneering range of treatments have meant that even the most severe cases can be treated with varying success. However, for you in 1950′s America, the 21st century seems so far in the future it might as well be science fiction.
And besides as Henry, you can feel a seizure starting to swell inside your brain. The storm is gathering and you feel your legs swing with wind.
You’ve experienced this so many times and you know what to expect.
Lightening blasts through your brain and its thunder rings in your ears. You fall to the floor as the seizure wrestles with your body, trying to pin you to the floor. Your hands become knotted in gnarls of twisted flesh.
Your brain is aflame.
You convulse as wave after wave of electrical pain rise from the depths and smash away inside you. Then a mighty wave of pain submerges you and you begin to drown in the pain. You’re sinking in your mind and your hand rises upwards to be rescued.
But it’s no use and you succumb to the subconscious world.
When you awake you decide that what you’ve experienced is one seizure too many and you need treatment. You’re life cannot continue to be ruined in this way.
The drugs of the day don’t work.
The post-war exercise programmes don’t work.
Prayers don’t work.
You need something to work and so you seek someone to reach out and help end your seizures.
A Brain Surgeon Steps Forward
A hand is offered to you.
Step forward, brain surgeon William Scoville who reaches for your hand with his own and promises you that he can rescue you from your seizures.
In the 1950s understanding the biology of the brain was in its infancy. One accepted treatment of the day was to physically shake an epileptic patient, so the epilepsy would be shaken out of them. This method was as useless as superstitious witchcraft – ridding the person of the epileptic devil inside them.
The scientific understanding of epilepsy half way through the last century was truly in the dark ages. However, Scoville has developed a radical technique that he assures both you and your family will work.
He’s no longer in the dark ages, he’s been enlightened by a discovery of a technique that he’s put into practice. This discovery is to remove part of your brain – as it appears to reduce epileptic seizures.
He tells you he’s treated others with some considerable success and now he wants you to be the next person to be treated. Consulting your family, you agree that you will be next person to undergo Scoville’s experimental treatment.
You go to his operating theatre and there he prepares you for the operation. Sitting in a white gown you are surrounded by Scoville and his team of medical staff.
You are given a mild sedative that dulls your senses but you remain completely conscious.
Scoville stands in front of you with a hand cranked drill and you watch with star-filled eyes as two holes are bored into your forehead.
The brain has no nerves and so does not feel pain. The sedative is a local anesthetic that has been given so that you won’t feel the drill breaking the skin of your scalp.
The drilling into your skull is complete and Scoville proceeds to the next part of the operation.
You continue to watch in equal amounts of horror and wonder.
Scoville takes a small spatula and a silver straw. He has plain sight of your brain. A brain so similar and yet so unique to everyone else’s who has ever lived, is living, or has yet to live.
Scoville then begins to scoop and suck away a part of your brain. Until now, You’ve managed to stay calm and composed. But the slurping and sloshing sounds become unbearable as you imagine a picture of what is happening to you.
You close your eyes and everything becomes a flash of white.
Image from bigpictureeducation.com