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The Reality Behind '9-1-1': Can A Person Really Survive Rebar Through Their Skull, And More

By Tori Preston | TV | January 18, 2018 |

By Tori Preston | TV | January 18, 2018 |


If you’ll recall, my chief reservation when I watched the series premiere of Fox’s first responder drama 9-1-1 was: Why should I care about the internal lives of any of the characters when the batshit crazy emergencies they’re called to are so much more fascinating? Well, it only took the writers three episodes to come up with a solution to the problem…

Just give the characters emergencies of their own! Spoilers ahead!

Last week’s episode ended with Athena (Angela Bassett) returning home to find her teenage daughter had overdosed on prescription pills in an attempted suicide, forcing her to make her own 9-1-1 call for help. And while this week’s episode picked up that plot thread (the girl survived!), it wasn’t the only example of a character facing a personal emergency. In fact, the Crisis of the Week actually belongs to Han (Kenneth Choi), who felt overlooked by Bobby (Peter Krause) and the other firemen, not to mention his own girlfriend, who didn’t enthusiastically accept his wedding proposal. All of which led him to speed down the highway… and wind up with a PIECE OF REBAR THROUGH HIS SKULL in a car accident gone holy-shitballs-wrong.

But don’t worry — somehow he survived too. Hell, he even dialed 9-1-1 for himself! And in the grand 9-1-1 tradition of basing emergencies on real-life scenarios, let me assure you that, despite appearances, surviving a good ol’ case of “rebar head” isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. It’s happened before. Quite a few times, actually.

Probably the most famous example is Phineas Gage. After getting a 43-inch long tamping iron blown clear through his skull in 1848 while cutting a railroad bed in Cavendish, Vermont, Gage miraculously survived — and may not have even lost consciousness. But as he recovered, his friends noted that he wasn’t the same man they knew. His case was the first to indicate a link between brain trauma and personality change, and today he’s known as one of the most famous patients in the history of neuroscience.

But he’s hardly the only skull-rod survivor the writers may have referenced. In 2012 a Brazilian construction worker narrowly avoided paralysis and loss of an eye after a 6-foot long steel rod fell on him, piercing his hardhat from the back before exiting between his eyes.

Meanwhile, two different men in China survived having their heads impaled by steel bars, one in 2014 and another in 2015 — and they both remained conscious.

So yet again, the most horrifying thing I’ve seen on television this week isn’t actually that outlandish. But I have a feeling we’ll need to turn to the case of Phineas Gage to predict where Han’s storyline on 9-1-1 is likely to go from here, as he recovers from his trauma.

And as for the other crazypants cuckoo thing that happened on this week’s episode — that fly-away bouncy castle from the kid’s birthday party — that’s real too. In fact, it seems to be a semi-regular occurrence. So maybe rethink letting your kids play in those, at least on windy days…