Warning: Certain icky bits that follow are NOT for the squeamish. You have been warned.
From Eccentric Lives & Peculiar Notions by John Michell.
Amanda Feilding lives in a charming flat looking over London's river with her companion, Joey Mellen, and their infant son, Rock. She is a successful painter, and she and Joey have an art gallery in a fashionable street of the King's Road. Another of her talents is for politics. At the last two General Elections she stood for Parliament in Chelsea, more than doubling her vote on the second occasion from 49 to 139. It does not sound much, but the cause for which she stands is unfamiliar and lacks obvious appeal. Feilding and her voters demand that trepanning operations be made freely available on the National Health. Trepanation means cutting a hole in your skull.
The founder of the trepanation movement is a Dutch savant, Dr Bart Hughes. In 1962 he made a discovery which his followers proclaim as the most significant in modern times. One's state and degree of consciousness, he realized, are related to the volume of blood in the brain. According to his theory of evolution, the adoption of an upright stance brought certain benefits to the human race, but it caused the flow of blood through the head to be limited by gravity, thus reducing the range of human consciousness. Certain parts of the brain ceased or reduced their functions while others, particularly those parts relating to speech and reasoning, became emphasized in compensation. One can redress the balance by a number of methods, such as standing on one's head, jumping from a hot bath into a cold one, or the use of drugs; but the wider consciousness thus obtained is only temporary. Bart Hughes shared the common goal of mystics and poets in all ages: he wanted to achieve permanently the higher level of vision, which he associated with an increased volume of blood in the capillaries of the brain.
The higher state of mind he sought was that of childhood. Babies are born with skulls unsealed, and it is not until one is an adult that the bony carapace is formed which completely encloses the membranes surrounding the brain and inhibits their pulsations in repsonse to heart-beats. In consequence, the adult loses touch with the dreams, imagination and intense perceptions of the child. His mental balance becomes upset by egoism and neuroses. To cure these problems, first in himself and then for the whole world, Dr Huges returned his cranium to something like the condition of infancy by cutting out a small disc of bone with an electric drill. Experiencing immediate beneficial effects from this operation, he began preaching to anyone who would listen to the doctrine of trepanation. By liberating his brain from its total imprisonment in his skull, he claimed to have restored its pulsations, increased the volume of blood in it and acquired a more complete, satisfying state of consciousness than grown-up people normally enjoy. The medical and legal authorities reacted to Huges's discovery with horror and rewarded him with a spell in a Dutch lunatic asylum.
Joseph Mellen met Bart Huges in 1965 in Ibiza and quickly became his leading, or rather one and only, disciple. Years later he wrote a book called Bore Hole, the contents of which are summarized in its opening sentence: 'This is the story of how I came to drill a hole in my skullto get permanently high.'
[A few paragraphs that detail Joseph Mellen's early experiments with LSD, and how he finds out about Bart Huges have been removed for brevity.]
The time came when Joey felt he had preached enough and that he now had to act. He did not agree with Holingshead that the third eye was merely a figure of speech, believing in its physical attainment through self-trepanation. Support for this can be found in archaeology. Skulls of ancient people all over the world give evidence that their owners were skillfully trepanned during their lifetimes, and many of these appear to have been of noble or priestly castes. The medical practice of trepanation was continued up to the present century in treatment of madness, the hole in the skull being seen as a way of relieving pressure on the brain or letting out the devils that possessed it. By his scientific explanation of the reasons for the operation, Bart Huges had removed it from the area of superstition, and Joey Mellen proposed to be the second person to perform it on himself in the interest of enlightenment.
Bart had become a close friend of Amanda Feilding, and they went off to Amsterdam together while Joey took care of Amanda's flat. This was the opportunity he had been waiting for to bore a hole in his head.
The most gripping passages in Bore Hole describe his various attempts to complete the operation. They are also extremely gruesome, and those who lack medical curiosity would do well to read no further. Yet to those who might contemplate trepanation for and by themselves, Joey's experiences are a salutary warning. It should be empahasized that neither he, Bart nor Amanda has ever recommended people to follow their example by performing their own operations. For years they have been looking for doctors who would understand their theories and would agree to trepan volunteer patients as a form of therapy Strangely enough, not one member of the medical profession has been converted.
In a surgical store Joey found a trepan instrument, a kind of auger or cork- screw designed to be worked by hand. It was much cheaper and, Joey felt, more sensitive than an electric drill. Its main feature was a metal spike, surrounded by a ring of saw-teeth. The spike was meant to be driven into the skull, holding the trepan steady until the revolving saw made a groove, after which it could be retracted. If all went well, the saw-band should remove a disc of bone and expose the brain.
Joey's first attempt at self-trepanation was a fiasco. He had no previous medical experience, and the needles he had bought for administering a local anaesthetic to the crown of his head proved to be too thin and crumpled up or broke. Next day he obtained some stouted needles, took a tab of LSD to steady his nerves and set to in earnest. First he made an incision to the bone, and then applied the trepan to his bared skull. But the first part of the operation, driving the spike into the bone, was impossible to accomplish. Joey described it as like trying to uncork a bottle from the inside. He realized he needed help and telephoned Bart in Amsterdam, who promised he would come over and assist at the next operation. This plan was frustrated by the Home Office, which listed Dr Huges as an undesirable visitor to Britain and barred his entry.
Amanda agreed to take his place. Soon after her return to London she helped Joey re-open the wound in his head and, by pressing the trepan with all her might against his skull, managed to get the spike to take hold and the saw- teeth to bite. Joey then took over at cranking the saw. Once again he had swallowed some LSD. After a long period of sawing, just as he was about to break through, he suddenly fainted. Amanda called an ambulance and he was taken to hospital, where horrified doctors told him that he was lucky to be alive and that if he had drilled a fraction of an inch further he would have killed himself.
The psychiatrists took a particular interest in his case, and a group of them arranged to examine him. Before this could be done, he had to appear in court on a charge of possessing a small amount of cannabis. The magistrate demanded another psychiatrist's report and demanded him for a week in prison.
There followed a period of embarrassment as the rumour went round London that Joey Mellen had trepanned himself, whereas in fact he had failed to do so. As soon as possible, therefore, he prepared for a third attempt. Proceeding as before, but now with the benefit of experience, he soon found the groove from the previous operation and began to saw through the sliver of bone separating him from enlightenment or, as the doctors had predicted, instant death. What followed is best quoted from Bore Hole.
'After some time there was an ominous sounding schlurp and the sound of bubbling. I drew the trepan out and the gurgling continued. It sounded like air bubbles running under the skull as they were pressed out. I looked at the trepan and there was a bit of bone in it. At last! On closer inspection I saw that the disc of bone was much deeper on one side than on the other. Obviously the trepan had not been straight and had gone through at one point only, then the piece of bone had snapped off and come out. I was reluctant to start drilling again for fear of damaging the brain membranes with the deeper part while I was cutting through the rest or of breaking off a splinter. If only I had an electric drill it would have been so much simpler. Amanda was sure I was through. There seemed no other explanation for the schlurping noises I decided to call it a day. At the time I thought that any hole would do, no matter what size. I bandaged up my head and cleared away the mess.'
There was still doubt in his mind as to whether he had really broken through and, if so, whether the hole was big enough to restore pulsation to his brain. The operation had left him with a feeling of wellbeing, but he realized that it could simply be from relief at having ended it. To put the matter beyond doubt, he decided to bore another hole at a new spot just above the hairline, this time using an electric drill. In the spring of 1970, Amanda was in America and Joey did the operation alone. He applied the drill to his forehead, but after half and hour's work the electric cable burnt out. Once again he was frustrated. An engineer in the flat below him was able to repair the instrument and next day he set out to finish the job. 'This time I was not in any doubt. The drill head went at least an inch deep through the hole. A great gush of blood followed my withdrawal of the drill. In the mirror I could see the blood in the hole rising and falling with the pulsation of the brain.'
The result was all he had hoped for. During the next four hours he felt his spirits rising higher until he reached a state of freedom and serenity which he claims, has been with him ever since.
For some time now he had been sharing a flat with Amanda, and when she came back from America she immediately noticed the change in him. This encouraged her to join him on the mental plane by doing her own trepanation. The operation was carefully recorded. She had obtained a cine-camera, and Joey stood by, filming, as she attacked her head with an electric drill. The film shows her carefully at work, dressed in a blood-spattered white robe. She shaves her head, makes an incision in her head with a scalpel and calmly starts drilling. Blood spurts as she penetrates the skull. She lays aside the drill and with a triumphant smile advances towards Joey and the camera.
Ever since, Joey and Amanda have lived and worked together in harmony. From the business of buying old prints to colour and resell, they have progressed to ownership of the Pigeonhole Gallery and seem reasonably prosperous. They have also started a family. There is nothing apparently abnormal about them, and many of their old friends agree in finding them even more pleasant and contented since their operations. There is plenty of leisure in their lives, mingled with the kind of activities they most enjoy. These of course include talking and writing about trepanation. They have lectured widely in Europe and America to groups of doctors and other interested people, showing the film of Amanda's self-operation, entitled Heartbeat in the Brain. It is generally received with awe, the sight of blood often causing people to faint. At one showing in London a film critic described the audience 'dropping off their seats one by one like ripe plums'. Yet it was not designed to be gruesome. The soundtrack is of soothing music, and the surgical scenes alternate with some delightful motion studies of Amanda's pet pigeon, Birdie, as a symbol of peace and wisdom."