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My Lobotomy
November 16, 2005 7:21 PM   Subscribe

NPR: 'My Lobotomy'
In 1960, Howar Dully was a badly behaved 12-year-old. He was lobotomized with an icepick (as were hundreds of others) and talks about it on this radio show. See also.
posted by Tlogmer (49 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Great show... heard part of it on the way home tonight.
posted by Luciferous at 7:28 PM on November 16, 2005


I heard that this afternoon -- it was chilling. I was glad that I got home before I heard the end, so I wouldn't drive while weeping.
posted by sugarfish at 7:33 PM on November 16, 2005


*shudder*
posted by sourwookie at 7:33 PM on November 16, 2005


Chilling, indeed. Reminds one of what a revolution the anti-psychotic medications were. Practically cleaned out the state mental hospitals when they were introduced. Very effective in contrast to anti-depressants and crude surgical techniques like those described in the show and blog article.
posted by jedicus at 7:44 PM on November 16, 2005


i had no idea lobotomy ever was a legitimate medical procedure...i would have liked to hear more from Freeman's son and colleagues about his motives--others must have recognized his putting such a priorioty on showmanship and record-setting, and it's interesting that they would not have considered him dangerous for that reason alone, apart from whether the procedure itself was effective or a worthy experiment.
posted by troybob at 7:46 PM on November 16, 2005


Hey zeus! Thanks for the link, tlogmer. FNA!
posted by shoepal at 7:47 PM on November 16, 2005


I also heard the piece this evening. Warning - it is a very emotional and powerful piece and includes graphic descriptions of the surgery, which is a pretty nasty piece of work involving invading the brain via the eyesocket.

(as were hundreds of others)

Make that thousands, from what I heard on the radio. That wiki article also states that Freeman personally performed nearly 3,500 operations.
posted by nanojath at 7:47 PM on November 16, 2005


Maybe I'm a little squeamish, but I had a really really hard time driving home while listening to this. My friend in the passenger seat kept turning it up so he could hear; I kept turning it down so I could concentrate on the road, instead of visualizing ice picks through the eye sockets. *shudder*
posted by .kobayashi. at 7:57 PM on November 16, 2005


From the article:

As those who watched the procedure described it, a patient would be rendered unconscious by electroshock.

Interesting, as there still exists a technique involving electric shock that is extraordinarily successful (and safe) in treating a wide range of mental illness. Perhaps the ice-pick was all show.

Also one may wish to read about a famous accidental frontal lobotomy:

It is occasionally suggested that Gage's case inspired the development of frontal lobotomy, a now-obsolete psychosurgical procedure that lead to a blunted emotional response and personality changes. However, historical analysis does not seem to support this claim.
posted by dsword at 8:07 PM on November 16, 2005


Oh the heartache! Howard Dully is a very brave man for confronting the demons, which hunted him for such a long time and to delve into such a private thing in such a public mannner. Much love to him and all the victims of this.
I wonder how many people subjected to lobotomy were actual true psychiatric cases and how many of them simply had emotional problems, which just didn't fit into the societal norm?
posted by threehundredandsixty at 8:10 PM on November 16, 2005


Good fences make good neighbors. Nobody ever built fences like they did in the 50s and early 60s.
posted by nervousfritz at 8:13 PM on November 16, 2005


The NPR link is horrifying listening. Thanks?
posted by interrobang at 8:13 PM on November 16, 2005


heh, you beat me to it Tlogmer, was thinking of a FPP with this as the anchor link.
Not only was it a legitimate medical procedure, but the Noble prize was given to Egas Moniz for lobotomy ('49). He was nominated by Walter Freeman. What strikes me about this practice was just how... crude it was.

It is hard to effectively judge him from the historical distance. The procedure certainly sounds horrible, but to many it was seen as effective. This is the _exact_ same argument being used to force medicate nowadays. I wonder what 50 years perspective will have on current medical practices, especially in regards to mental illness issues, especially considering we have little to no idea the exact mechanisms many of these drugs work on.

From a personal standpoint I agree the medications have been leaps and bounds better then the alternative, but that, at least in part, was the motivation for Freeman as well, at least initially. There does seem to be a tipping point where he was more concerned with being famous/rich/justified then in furthering medical practice.
*sigh* on such a visceral level it is horrendous.

Here is a good link about the story as well, it duplicates some of the above but has a timeline and additional info
posted by edgeways at 8:14 PM on November 16, 2005


er, the number is about 50,000 lobotomized in the united states (from my link above).
10,000 of them transorbital (the kind described inthe main link)
posted by edgeways at 8:17 PM on November 16, 2005


i had no idea lobotomy ever was a legitimate medical procedure...

Legitimate? Are you kidding? The inventor of the lobotomy won the Nobel Prize for doing so.
posted by jonp72 at 8:40 PM on November 16, 2005


I wonder what 50 years perspective will have on current medical practices, especially in regards to mental illness issues, especially considering we have little to no idea the exact mechanisms many of these drugs work on.

As someone with little or no medical knowledge, I am continually shocked and appalled that practicioners are allowed to administer treatments where we don't know why they "work." If it cannot be properly explained, I become suspicious.

People just don't question enough.

Like back in the 50s and 60s with all the lobotomies - nobody ever thought, "Gee, our brains are all, like, connected and stuff. That seems pretty natural. Maybe it's something ELSE that's causing the problem."

Nope nope nope, it was all these peoples' brains fault, being all connected and stuff.
posted by afroblanca at 8:41 PM on November 16, 2005


It is widely believed (although apparently not confirmed) that Frances Farmer was lobotomized after undergoing appalling psychiatric abuse, all because she was stubborn and independent. Jessica Lange was in an excellent movie about her life.
posted by stefanie at 8:47 PM on November 16, 2005


Are you kidding? The inventor of the lobotomy won the Nobel Prize for doing so.

soRRy! i got sick in my freshman year of high school and missed a week of our intensive Nobel Prize Winners in Neuropsychology course hehe...
posted by troybob at 8:47 PM on November 16, 2005


I heard this today too. Incredible.

Freeman's other son is Walter J. Freeman, a neurobiology professor at Berkeley. I spoke to him on several occassions. He had a big bronze award in his office that had been given to his father. He also had a shelf of old first-edition books on psychological diseases that I can only assume also once belonged to his father.

Like his father, he is an MD/PhD. He studies the development of learning and memory in the rabbit brain. He told me once that he used to be a doctor but couldn't deal with not being able to help suffering patients so he switched to research. So it seems he was considerably more empathetic than his father.

Brilliant scientist who was also very philosophical. He wrote a book entitled, Societies of Brains: A Study in the Neuroscience of Love and Hate. It's interesting to think how much his father's career must have shaped his life.
posted by sacrilicious at 9:05 PM on November 16, 2005


This is a good article, but it oversimplifies certain aspects to the point of outright misrepresentation. Egas Moniz was a neurosurgeon, not a neurologist; his prefrontal leucotomies and cingulotomies were based on current scientific theories and he explained the experimental nature of the procedures to his patients. They were performed in operating suites, using anesthesia, sterile technique, and conventional neurosurgical instruments. Moniz' patients, incidentally, were only the most severely ill psychiatric patients, who long since had lost all hope of even the slightest improvement, much less a cure. They were carefully monitored before and after the operations; Moniz' ruthless honesty about his successes and failures taught us much about the workings of the frontal lobes and their involvements in various types of mental illness.

Freeman was thought of as a quack in his own time and his American contemporaries were appalled by his indiscriminate clinical use of a procedure that was still experiemental.

In much the same way, some modern neurologists are appalled by microdissection of the trigeminal fossa; electroconvulsive treatments for mental illness; cosmetic use of botulinum toxin; and gastric bypass surgery.

A little context, in short, goes a long way.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:09 PM on November 16, 2005


Yeah... this rather traumatized me on the way home from work as well. *shudder* Just the very idea of someone messing around with my brain gives me the willies.

And I nearly lost it when he started crying over his medical records.
posted by InnocentBystander at 9:25 PM on November 16, 2005


I used to work with ( or for, I suppose ) a man who was lobotomized as a child, for similar reasons, to worse effect.

He was ruined. It was a damned shame.
posted by troutfishing at 9:27 PM on November 16, 2005


The only way I'd kill buffalo would be 18th century style. Standing in the middle of the herd while my various courtiers hand me rifle after rifle so I would not have to waste time reloading.
posted by geoff. at 9:37 PM on November 16, 2005


Irving Wallace wrote a profile of a lobotomy patient, similarly tragic, which is in his 1965 collection The Sunday Gentleman.
posted by QuietDesperation at 9:38 PM on November 16, 2005


Rosemary Kennedy
posted by cookie-k at 10:17 PM on November 16, 2005


ikkyu2, I was waiting for you to chime in. Thanks for your perspective, as always.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:48 PM on November 16, 2005


That this man forgave his parents for putting him through this and everything afterwards is simply mind-blowing. Thanks for this.
posted by mek at 1:09 AM on November 17, 2005


Walter Freeman's Handiwork
posted by Pendragon at 2:06 AM on November 17, 2005


Freeman was a nut job. He carried the tools of his trade in a case in his breast pocket - it didn't matter where he was, he had his instruments (yes, even on holidays). He also would send postcards (Dr Freeman on a mountain top, for instance) to his former patients at Christmas time .... 'nuff said.
posted by squeak at 2:06 AM on November 17, 2005


She added that "the family considered Rosemary 'a disgrace and failure'" (McTaggart, quoted by Kessler, 224)

There we go with the "loser" binary evaluaton method combined with fear of being ridiculed , the irrational shame of not looking "like others" generated by a culture not capable of understanding that different doesn't imply wicked and evil, but on the contrary promoting that deviating from the norm is a clear sign of wickedness.

Intelligent design ? Yeah suuure intelligent....
posted by elpapacito at 2:50 AM on November 17, 2005


Ops forgot to thanks tlogmer for a disturbing but interesting link
posted by elpapacito at 2:51 AM on November 17, 2005


If it cannot be properly explained, I become suspicious.

It's a good thing to be suspicious. However, the lack of an understanding of the mechanism shouldn't blind us to the fact that some things that we don't understand do work in a predictable fashion.

For example, we don't understand how ECT works, but if somebody that I loved was suffering from psychotic depression and was suicidal, I'd have them strapped to the bed in a wink and I hope they'd do the same thing for me, because whether we understand how it works or not, the evidence that it does work and work well is pretty unassailable.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:38 AM on November 17, 2005


Something very similar happened to Joey Ramone.
posted by maxsparber at 4:29 AM on November 17, 2005


When I was twelve years old I spent some time with a stepmother who hated my guts. When I was listening to this I wasn't empathising as much as I was thinking Christ am I lucky not to have gotten born twenty years earlier. This is the most compelling thing I have heard on NPR since the story about the Afghanistani teenager from California who went back there with his father.
posted by bukvich at 6:10 AM on November 17, 2005


I really could have done without the cloying production (the scratchy 78" recordings of piano music, etc.), as the story is profoundly compelling and moving on its own. I found myself having a visceral reaction to his fathers's unwillingness (45 years later) to take any responsibility or show any remorse for his neglect and/or impotence in stopping his wife from making it happen. What a pathetic fool. Dully is indeed a courageous man and applaud him for not shaking the old bastard.
posted by psmealey at 6:12 AM on November 17, 2005


Exactly what I was thinking, bukvich. I feel very lucky to have my brain in one piece right now.
posted by footnote at 6:16 AM on November 17, 2005


Good fences make good neighbors. Nobody ever built fences like they did in the 50s and early 60s.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:26 AM on November 17, 2005


I found myself having a visceral reaction to his fathers's unwillingness (45 years later) to take any responsibility or show any remorse for his neglect and/or impotence in stopping his wife from making it happen.

Yeah, I actually started snarling at my car radio during that segment, it pissed me off so much.

That was some really intense radio. I heard it on my way home from a visit to my doctor; I went through a rapid progression of being mildly bummed about my own medical crap to buoyed because at least no one's going to perform an orbital lobotomy on me to profoundly depressed/angry that this ever happened.
posted by COBRA! at 6:49 AM on November 17, 2005


stefanie:
It is widely believed (although apparently not confirmed) that Frances Farmer was lobotomized after undergoing appalling psychiatric abuse
Actually, the third link in the FPP claims that this has been conclusively disproven.
posted by Coventry at 7:44 AM on November 17, 2005


The rapid spread of lobotomies aspect of the story made me think of the extreme faith in Science and Progress that people had in the 1950s. My dad once explained that people looked ahead to a time when there'd be spandex jackets, one for everyone. Mistakes and abuses like this put an end to that optimism.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:12 AM on November 17, 2005


We often imagine that modern society and it's authorities, government, doctors, lawyers, are here to help and protect us.

Not only has this never been the case, it is not the case now.
posted by ewkpates at 8:33 AM on November 17, 2005


We often imagine that modern society and it's authorities, government, doctors, lawyers, are here to help and protect us.

Not only has this never been the case, it is not the case now.
- ewkpates

So what are they there for?

If your premise is that we can't completely rely upon them and that we must use our own judgement then I'd agree. We need to make our own choices and act for our own reasons. But if your premise is that they are there for some nefarious purpose like "keeping us down" or something then... well, then we probably can't have a productive discussion.

Can you explain a little more of what you mean?
posted by raedyn at 9:00 AM on November 17, 2005


Thanks for the post, I caught the end of it last night while driving. Made a mental note to go to the site and read more but I had already forgotten this morning. Great article.
posted by skrike at 9:38 AM on November 17, 2005


Thanks for the post, I caught the end of it last night while driving. Made a mental note to go to the site and read more but I had already forgotten this morning.

Perhaps you need a transorbital lobotomy!
posted by metaxa at 10:03 AM on November 17, 2005


However, the lack of an understanding of the mechanism shouldn't blind us to the fact that some things that we don't understand do work in a predictable fashion.

Yup like brain hemorrhages, cerebral atrophy (brain shrinkage), the possibility the patient will develop epilepsy after treatment, death, memory loss, brain swelling, brain shrinkage, lesions on the brain, etc. What the hey! It is a marked improvement over the broken bones and the death rates of days gone by, I say the pharmaceutical industry should make home kits, consumers could plug 'em into the wall a zap a relative today!
posted by squeak at 10:54 AM on November 17, 2005


For example, we don't understand how ECT works, but if somebody that I loved was suffering from psychotic depression and was suicidal, I'd have them strapped to the bed in a wink and I hope they'd do the same thing for me, because whether we understand how it works or not, the evidence that it does work and work well is pretty unassailable.

Well, what you're talking about is an extreme case - someone who is genuinely suicidal. However, as has been mentioned, we don't really understand how Prozac works, and yet it is perscribed to many people who have what I would refer to as "garden variety unhappiness."

So yes, there are situations where it makes sense to try experimental treatments. However, I think that these treatments should be reserved for only the most dire circumstances. Even then, it makes sense to be skeptical - especially when so much research is being done by drug companies who stand to profit handsomely from biased studies and cherrypicked evidence.
posted by afroblanca at 11:21 AM on November 17, 2005


Dully was on Talk of the Nation today.
posted by keswick at 12:31 PM on November 17, 2005


Ugh, thanks for posting this, I guess. I had no idea stuff like this actually happened. I'm going to be trying to not think about it for days.
But it's better to know than not, and I hope we never sink to such lows again.
posted by blacklite at 3:18 PM on November 17, 2005


Ahh, the 50s. Good times.
posted by graventy at 4:19 PM on November 17, 2005


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