Of Cadillacs and Throwing Stars

Once upon a time, in the mid-eighties, luxury automobiles sported fancy hood ornaments at the crown of their long front ends. (I’ll leave the interpretation of that custom to my psychology friends.)

Here’s an example from the hood of a 1983-ish Cadillac:

These ornaments were not fixed to the hood, but attached via a wire thingy that allowed them to flop flat when needed, for instance in an automated car wash. Sometimes they suffered damage from general use or vandalism:

I’m not a physicist (barely passed college physics to get into medical school), but I have witnessed first hand what happens to one of those ornaments when the vehicle is subjected to sudden deceleration, e.g., impact with another automobile. The car comes to an abrupt stop but the hood ornament can break loose and propel forward, spinning like a Ninja’s shuriken (throwing star).

Below is an anterior-posterior x-ray of a human skull. Note the thinness of the bone on the temporal side (arrow). Only a few millimeters thick there.

So there I was, on duty in the ER when paramedics announced the imminent arrival of a traffic accident victim with—you guessed it—”a Cadillac stuck in his skull.” The patient arrived with the sharp point of a broken hood ornament (like the one in the second photo) piercing the right side of his cranium. The rest of the ornament stuck out from his head like a proud logo.

How it happened: With the passenger’s side window of his Chevy open, he’d entered an intersection and got T-boned by a Cadillac. The hood ornament flew off the Caddy, spun through the open window, and impaled our patient’s head like that aforementioned shuriken.

Examination found him awake, alert, and neurologically intact with no other injuries. Assured he was stable, we got a skull x-ray that showed the intact tip of the ornament penetrating the man’s skull by a few millimeters. A neurosurgeon took him to the OR, removed the hood ornament, and elevated the depressed skull fracture. The man suffered no significant brain injury and eventually went home, vowing to get a Cadillac of his own.

The surgeon saved the hood ornament for me, and I carried it and the skull x-ray around for years; often used them in lectures to students and residents. Alas, those artifacts went the way of many things we accumulate in life, and I no longer have them. The bizarre ER case, though, remains crystal clear over three decades later.

I still wonder if that guy ever bought a Cadillac.