May 17, 2007

"Internal decapitation."

[Shannon Malloy's] skull separated from her spine, although her skin, spinal cord and other internal organs remained intact....

[A] will to survive kept Malloy, 30, alive long enough for surgeons to insert screws in her head and neck and attach a halo to minimize movement - no easy task.

"My skull slipped off my neck about five times," Malloy said. "Every time they tried to screw this to my head, I would slip."

I'm glad that the first time I'm hearing about internal decapitation, there's a happy ending, but having morbidly contemplated the question whether and for how long a guillotined head retains consciousness, I can't help thinking about what the experience of having -- being -- a detached/attached head was like. My skull slipped off my neck about five times. Yikes.

And don't tell me you haven't thought about the guillotine question.


Hoosier Daddy said...

I read this story yesterday and gave me the heebie jeebies.

Also it makes one marvel at what modern medicine can do too.

Unknown said...

A young French scientist had been condemned. He agreed to an experiment with a friend. Upon decapitation, he would commence counted blinking. He passed out along the count of thirty or so. Don't recall a cite.

KCFleming said...

Regardless of her success, I still don't want to try it.

MadisonMan said...

oligonicella, that was supposed to have been Lavoisier. It's an apochyphal story.

MadisonMan said...

apochryphal, that is.

I recall reading a story of a pregnant lady who had this happen to her, and she survived until her husband told her their birthed kid was alive.

Drew W said...

I'm surprised this term hasn't found some use in a political context. "Internal Decapitation" -- it's sort of like a coup d'etat, only the outside mechanisms of a government appear unchanged?

Okay, I'm having a little trouble making that one work, but if William Safire ever cites it in one of his columns, I'll ask for royalties.

(Madisonman's comment above reminds me of the Stephen King story "The Breathing Method," only the woman giving birth wasn't merely internally decapitated.)

Melinda said...

Yikes! To be conscious just long enough to look back at your decapitated body and think, "Oh man, look at my thighs. I need to trim down."

KCFleming said...

A similar disorder is the "locked-in syndrome", something I have seen twice.

From UpToDate:
"LIS is a catastrophic condition caused most often by ischemic stroke or hemorrhage, affecting the corticospinal, corticopontine, and corticobulbar tracts in the brainstem. Because consciousness and higher cortical functions are spared, patients can sometimes communicate through eye movements.

In 1966, Plum and Posner coined the term "locked-in" to describe the state of quadriplegia and anarthria (speechlessness due to severe dysarthria) with preserved consciousness [2]. Synonymous with locked-in syndrome (LIS) are "deefferented state," "pseudocoma," and "coma vigilante."

There are two requisites for the diagnosis of locked-in syndrome:

*Retained alertness and cognitive abilities
*Paralysis of the limbs and oral structures such that the individual cannot signal with the limbs or speak

Alexandre Dumas provided one of the earliest descriptions of LIS in "The Count of Monte Cristo" by vividly depicting a character who was "a corpse with living eyes." Following a stroke, Monsignor Noirtier de Villefort could only communicate by raising, closing, or winking his eyes."

Laura Reynolds said...

Makes me think of the great Warren Zevon, "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner"

They can still see his headless body stalking through the night

Ann Althouse said...

On locked-in syndrome, there's a great first-person narrative of what it's like: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."

Revenant said...

I've always assumed people remain conscious for at least a few seconds after decapitation. Why wouldn't they?

VoxTest said...

check out the video of this story here:

William the Coroner said...

Studies from animals have elicited flash-evoked potentials (a response from the visual cortex to light) for a little while (seconds) That is why many decapitation protocols require immersion of the head in liquid N2 or anesthesia.

Severing of the spinal cord does cause neurogenic shock, and severing of the great vessels of the neck would lead to hypotensive shock and exangunation in short order. Individuals who have undergone such massive trauma don't tend to hurt at the time, for a fuller discussion see Sherwin Neuland's How We Die.

Ocular movements, biting, etc. I think are due to non-purposeful movements.

Unknown said...

fine, Discovery bit me. The linked article has another description of an incident and I'd rather the first.

Palladian said...

"Then, groping for the block, she laid down her head, putting her chin over the block with both her hands, which, holding there still, had been cut off had they not been espied. Then lying upon the block most quietly, and stretching out her arms cried, In manus tuas, Domine, etc., three or four times. Then she, lying very still upon the block, one of the executioners holding her slightly with one of his hands, she endured two strokes of the other executioner with an axe, she making very small noise or none at all, and not stirring any part of her from the place where she lay: and so the executioner cut off her head, saving one little gristle, which being cut asunder, he lift up her head to the view of all the assembly and bade God save the Queen. Then, her dress of lawn [i.e. wig] from off her head, it appeared as grey as one of threescore and ten years old, polled very short, her face in a moment being so much altered from the form she had when she was alive, as few could remember her by her dead face. Her lips stirred up and a down a quarter of an hour after her head was cut off.

Then Mr. Dean [Dr. Fletcher, Dean of Peterborough] said with a loud voice, 'So perish all the Queen's enemies', and afterwards the Earl of Kent came to the dead body, and standing over it, with a loud voice said, 'Such end of all the Queen's and the Gospel's enemies.'

MadisonMan said...

That's not how I remember it from Monty Python.

Galvanized said...

Heebie jeebies aside -- don't you ever get the feeling after reading about something like this that it's amazing the anomalies that occur that you still had never heard of? I wouldn't have even imagined this. What a strange occurence. I cannot imagine what that must have been like.

And I HAVE wondered about that guillotine effect -- and I do believe there must be a moment in there where relaxes the wince and says to himself, with a half-blink, "Aghhh, is it over? Rather painless..." Who knows.

Get outta my head, Althouse! LOL