English Neurologist cuts off his nerves!

When you really want something in life, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it. But people who really want something, will go to any lengths to achieve it. That’s the only reason they would even be willing to self-experiment. That’s the only reason why they would think of cutting themselves open.

Dr Henry Head seemed to have been aptly named for a neurologist, after all he dealt with everything related to the brain. He was born on 4th August 1861 in London. From early on he was very interested in the physiology and biology of the human body which drew him to become a neurologist.

Like most scientists, Dr Head never wanted to be proven wrong to the extent that sometimes he had to cross the limits of the truth. A humorous anecdote for this would be when one of his colleagues, William Bullock, tried to test Dr Head’s knowledge and his need for being “above everyone else”. During lunch, Bullock asked Dr Head if he had read Hagenheimer’s latest book on locomotor ataxia. Dr Head with a knowledgeable look on his face said that he had only had the time to glance through it without reading it in detail. To this Bullock commented “Well, you have done better than the rest of us. Because there is no such book”.

Humour and embarrassments aside, the real reason for Dr Henry Head being in this list of illustrious people who self- experimented is something unbelievable and hard to imagine for us lesser mortals. There had always been a theory at that time, that the sensory nerves anywhere in our body, if damaged would obviously cause the loss of sensation initially over that part of the body. But over time, this sensation would come back slowly. There was no way to prove this theory because the patients could never be trained adequately for this experiment.

So, what did Dr Head do? Yes, he decided to use his head and experiment on himself. But how? He took the help of a surgeon, Dr Rivers who cut open his left arm and deliberately damaged some of the nerves supplying the forearm and the hand. His hand was tested for a few hours at intervals of 167 days over a period of 4 years between 26 April 1903 and 13 December 1907. He was tested using cotton wool, hot and cold items to check for touch, pressure and pain. The testing had to be done without letting Dr Head know what was being used on his arm to the extent that sometimes even though blindfolded he would guess that ice was being used by the clinking in the glass. Gradually he regained the sensations back completely. The following are the images of the sensation lost at the time of surgery marked by the dark line and the sensation regained slowly over a period of time.

But his testing didn’t end there. He wanted to find the area in the body which could sense pressure and pain but not soft touch somewhat like what happens when a nerve injury recovers initially. So, he decided to test it on his penis. This is what he wrote-

We then discovered that the glans penis(head of the penis) responded to cutaneous stimuli in that peculiar manner with which we were already familiar from our study of the first stage of recovery after nerve division. In case of Dr Head, the tip (of the penis) happens to be devoid of heat-spots but is sensitive to cold and to pain. When… it was dipped into water at 40° C, no sensation of heat was produced, but [Dr Head] experienced an unusually disagreeable sensation of pain… But, as soon as the water covered the corona without reaching the foreskin, both cold and pain disappeared, giving place to an exquisitely pleasant sensation of heat.

Now if you ignore all the medical jargon, you will come out with the fact that Dr Head decided to dip his penis in hot water and draw conclusions about the pain, pressure and touch. Every man worth his salt would say that this experiment is hard to fathom. But when you really want something, you yourself will conspire to see that you achieve it.


This post is a part of the #AToZChallenge-2018



  1. Thank God this crazy doc used himself as his own guinea pig. What a crazy idea of putting your penis in hot water…..Nice bumping into you Ryan after our collaboration with Blogadda’s book challenge….

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