Monday, November 14, 2005

"An abridged life"

From Ms. Ditz (thanks, again!): Howard Dully describes the transorbital lobotomy that he received at the age of twelve.
"You'd probably never know what happened to me if I didn't tell you,'' Dully said in an interview. "But I felt I was not who I was supposed to be anymore. You can't put your finger on it, but something's been taken away. Something's been altered or changed. It's very frustrating.''
In a radio documentary that airs on NPR this Wednesday, "he talks to his father for the first time about the procedure that changed his life. And he finds his medical file among the archived papers of Dr. Walter J. Freeman, the doctor who gave him the lobotomy -- years after it had been discarded as a treatment for mental illness."
"My file has everything -- a photo of me with the ice-picks in my eyes, medical bills,'' Dully says on the broadcast. ``But all I care about are the notes. I want to understand why this was done to me.''

He reads one of the entries. It's from his birthday, Nov. 30, 1960: ``Mrs. Dully came in for a talk about Howard. Things have gotten much worse and she can barely endure it. I explained to Mrs. Dully that the family should consider the possibility of changing Howard's personality by means of transorbital lobotomy. Mrs. Dully said it was up to her husband, that I would have to talk with him and make it stick.''

At the archives Dully also found a pair of leucotomes, the instruments that had been driven into his eye sockets.

The lobotomy was introduced in 1936 by a Portuguese physician, Dr. Egas Moniz. It won him the 1949 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Some 50,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States from the 1930s to the 1970s.

The original method, called prefrontal lobotomy, involved boring open the patient's skull to cut the connection between the prefrontal region -- an area concerned with emotion, learning, memory and social behavior -- and the rest of the brain. While it often relieved symptoms of severe mental illness, it also blunted emotion, leaving patients listless, apathetic and childlike.

Freeman invented an easier way, the transorbital or ``jiffy'' lobotomy, which left no obvious scars. It could be done in a few minutes as an outpatient procedure.

He traveled the country promoting the technique, performing up to 25 lobotomies per day -- some 3,400 of them in the course of his career, according to Jack El-Hai, whose biography of Freeman came out this year...


Blogger Greg P said...

In medical school I did a month rotation in a former State Mental Hospital in Athens, Ohio. One of the employees there described watching a doctor (I suspect it was Dr. Freeman) perform this procedure.
He described the "ice-picks" and how they were carefully tapped into place through each orbit, then quickly crossed to accomplish the procedure.

5:30 PM  
Blogger lonegunmen100 said...

Freeman, wait until my book comes out.... we are currently writing the outline

Howard Dully

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I shall be in Seattle the 15th on Nortwest Afternoon on KOMO TV.... seems to be alot of intrest in this subject in the Northwest.


6:16 AM  

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