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My Lobotomy

My Lobotomy - Howard Dully, Charles Fleming This book kicked my ass. Seriously. I've got that Schindler's List feeling in my stomach right now. Author Howard Dully was a "rambunctious" kid growing up in San Jose in the mid-1950's. His neatfreak stepmother could never seem to get him to remember to wash his hands when he came in from outside, and he sometimes fought with his three brothers!!! What would you do if your life was being completely destroyed like that, by such an out-of-control monster? Would you go doctor shopping until you found a psychiatrist willing to certify the child as a dangerous lunatic? If so, you just might have hit the doctor-shopping jackpot, by meeting Walter Freeman, M.D. In 1947, he declared himself the "Father of Modern Lobotomy" (I guess there was ancient lobotomy?), and started touring mental facilities around the country in his "Lobotomymobile" (I shit you not). After extremely brief consultations with patients he had never met before, he would usually conclude that the cure for what's ailing them was to remove some of their brain tissue. Some of his patients had severe psychiatric problems. Others, no so much. The following tendencies could land you under Dr Freeman's knife:-boys fighting-girls acting slutty-not listening to parents or teachers-not having as many friends as the other kids-not engaging Dr Freeman in "thoughtful conversation"-headachesThat was informative; let's make some more lists. The following are some fun facts about Dr Freeman, which are no cause for alarm, and should not reflect negatively on him in any way:- he practiced surgery, without having done a surgery residency- he practiced neurosurgery, without having done a neurosurgery fellowship- by his own account, he was "not overly concerned" with keeping a sterile field during operations (this may be due to the first two items)- when challenged that there was no scientific basis for performing lobotomy on schizophrenics, he defended: "I just think some people are better off with less brain tissue". - he had his priviliges revoked by the executive committee of the medical staff, Stanford Palo Alto Hospital, for performing unneccessary procedures- he killed a patient in the middle of surgery once, when he stopped the procedure while an instrument was in the patient's brain, so he could run around to the other side of the operating table and activate a timer on his camera, to take a picture of himself. Since he didn't instruct any assistants to hold the instrument during the photo session (you think maybe he could have asked one of them to take the picture?) it sagged under its own weight and sliced through the patient's brain, killing her instantlyThat's some crazy shit. Here's some more:To his befuddlement, Dr Freeman observed a very wide range of results from his surgeries. Some patients seemed to improve. Some developed serious complications, like loss of cognative function, dramatic personality changes, and seizures. About 15% died. This lack of uniformity is no surprise, if you consider that Freeman never actually saw what tissue he was cutting. ...That's right, you heard me. You see, instead of opening the patient's head to visualize the anatomy of the brain, he drove metal "lobototomes" (like long hollow knitting needles) through the back of patients' eye sockets, breaking through the thin bone back there to get into their brains. Then he just kind of wiggled the lobototomes around through the soft gray matter (living brain has the consistency of butter), until enough broke off that it could be sucked up through the lobototome like a straw. Naturally, there was quite a bit of variability from patient to patient as to what part of the brain was being removed, and how much.GOOD GOD!! How could something like this be allowed to transpire?To be fair, a lot of the medical establishment was up in arms about it. Unfortunately, a powerful minority among them was allied with hospital administrators, who were fretting about the rising cost of long-term psychiatric care. This was the 40's and 50's (and into the 60's) we're talking about. Most serious medical conditions either got cured, or resulted in a timely death. Mental patients were somewhat unique in requiring decades of continual care, with no cure in sight. Administrators found Freeman's procedure attractive, because even if it rendered a patient comatose, at least that person could then be discharged from the hospital and sent back to his family for long-term care. Well... most patients. Howard Dully got lobotomized at age 12, but after the procedure, his insane stepmother and mostly-absentee Dad decided they didn't want him back. He bounced around between state hospitals and juvenile detention until he became a legal adult. Then, with no education to speak of, they turned him loose.You can probably write the rest from here. Meeting bad influences. Petty crimes. Jail. Drug use. Unplanned pregnancies. More jail. More drugs. Begging money off his relatives. Begging money off friends. Begging money off strangers. I was amazed how much mental function and personality Dully retained after the lobotomy. My only prior image of the lobotomized had been Jack Nicholson staring inertly at the ceiling, at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Freeman must have been having a good day when he did Dully. Thirty turbulent years followed, until Howard sort of settled down. He eventually went on to get an Associate's degree, and learned some trade skills- first in a printing shop, and then as a bus driver. He's an intellegent guy. His bizarre and mostly-criminal adventures make for fascinating, if not slightly guilty, reading. I'm fairly astounded how much tail this man got in his younger years! Normally that would be inappropriate for me to say, but Howard basically says it himself, in his good-natured way. He attributes the number of women willing to look past his substance abuse, occassional violent outbursts, infidelity, poor socioeconomic prospects, and criminal record/behavior as a testiment to the power of the "bad boy" image, and I guess he must be right.Toward the end of the book, he's mellowed out a bit, and is remarkably nice, considering what he's been through. He's not nearly as angry about what happened to him as I am for him (if that makes sense) ...or as I would be if it happened to me. He even went as far as reaching out to his father, and asking him about the decision to lobotomize his son. The father comes across very unsympathetically: essentially shrugging and saying "what's done is done". Even after everything Howard has endured, he loves his father, and forgives him. In the afterword, he even forgives his stepmother. That's going further than I ever could, but I think it has brought Howard some peace, and I'm all for that.Dr. Freeman died miserable, an estranged alcoholic after two failed marriages, living with the guilt of indirectly causing his son's accidental death on a camping trip. Karma wins again, I guess. There's your happy ending for you.