This 16th century portrait of Gregor Baci, a Hungarian nobleman, has long been a mystery to art connoisseurs. Legend has it he was impaled by a lance while jousting and somehow survived the injury. For obvious reasons, historians have been skeptical of the story's authenticity.

But perhaps the myth is true. A recent article (subscription required) in The Lancet medical journal details a case in which a patient survived a surprisingly similar injury:

Is the legend that Baci survived a piercing injury with a lance only a myth, or does medical fact indicate that such severe impalement of the head and neck can be survived? We were able to provide the answer, when a similar case of impalement presented to us.

The patient, a craftsman, was injured when a metal bar fell from the ceiling of a church with an altitude of about 14 m, impaling his head in an anterior-posterior direction (figure B)…

The patient had to undergo surgical treatment twice, and had a year of episodes with headache and moderate diplopia, but now, about 5 years after the accident, the patient does not show any related clinical symptoms…

Compare the modern CT scan to Baci's injury:



(Hat tip: Mind Hacks via Boing Boing)