Yasser Lopez's head was run clean through by a fishing spear just twelve days ago — but the Miami teenager has already been moved out of intensive care, and doctors are optimistic about his recovery. Phineas Gage, eat your heart out.
"My initial reaction was how striking an injury this was," said Dr. George Garcia, an assistant professor of surgery at Miami's Army Trauma Training Center. "It's not every day that someone is brought in and speaking with three feet of a spear protruding."
"It was about one inch above the right eye," Garcia told local reporters, "you could feel the skin and the spear penetrated through the back of his skull."
The spear managed to avoid hitting any major blood vessels on its path through Lopez's right hemisphere, something Ross Bullock — director of the neurotrauma program at Univeristy of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital — called "miraculous". It also managed to miss deep-seated structures in the brain in charge of vital bodily functions like heart rate and breathing.
The fact that Lopez not only survived his close encounter with the spear, but was talkative upon his arrival at the hospital, highlights the fact that there are, in fact, circumstances where you can be aware of your own traumatic death (or brush with death, as the case may be). To quote Mind Hacks' Vaughn Bell, who wrote this great post on surviving traumatic head wounds in response to io9's article on the subject:
While this may be true in some instances it ignores that fact that there are many ways of taking a bullet [or a three-foot-long, stainless steel spear] to the head.
This is studied by a field called wound ballistics and, unsurprisingly when you think about it, the wound ballistics of the head are somewhat special.
Firstly, if you get shot in the head, in this day and age, you have, on average, about a 50/50 chance of surviving. In other words, it's important to note that not everyone dies from their injuries.
The upshot of this is simultaneously grim, yet hopeful. On one hand, there's a decent chance of you losing consciousness only after realizing you've had been shot/harpooned in the face; and that, unfortunately, means you could be cognizant of your own possible death. On the other, that's not entirely bad news — because the fact that you're aware of the traumatic experience in the first place means you actually stand a chance at surviving. [CBS Miami | Mind Hacks]