I drilled holes into a human skull with a hand tool today. As the burr dug deeper into the bone, my arms shook both with the effort and with the fear of plunging suddenly into the brain as the bone gave way.
Trepanning (trepanation, trephination)- making a therapeutic hole in the skull- has been practiced for millennia. Evidence and records indicate that Incan, Mayan, Egyptian, Greek, Chinese, Neolithic European, and other cultures engaged in it. Skulls have been found with carefully created holes (some even with multiple holes in varying stages of healing) dating back to 6500 BCE.
Today, the procedure is called “craniotomy” in medical practice and is performed to relieve pressure on the brain caused by swelling or bleeding as a result of injury.
Historically, records indicate it was also used to treat conditions such as headaches, epilepsy and mental health disorders. These were often believed to be caused by spirits which possessed the afflicted and could be released by opening the skull.
I lift away the flap of bone I’ve created to expose the brain beneath. I mentally bow to its owner. He offered it up when it was no longer of use to him, in order that my brain could acquire the skill to save the injured brains of strangers to the both of us.
From his brain to mine, from mine to theirs, and onward.