Monday, September 12, 2011

Howard Dully's Lobotomy

If you're looking for a reason to hate psychiatry, I found it for you.  I just finished reading My Lobotomy by Howard Dully.  It's his memoir, focused around the event of a transorbital "ice pick"  lobotomy which he underwent at the age of 12.  Twelve.  Oy. 

Dully talks about his devastating childhood--- his mother died of cancer when he was five, and his father remarried to his evil step-mother.  He spends a lot of time making the case that she was the problem and he was a normal kid.  At the time of the lobotomy, he was going to school and had a paper route.  He does describe himself as a kid who might have had behavior issues (for any one of many reasons).  His step-mother seeks the advise of psychiatrists, and Dully says she was unhappy with the suggestions she got-- namely that she was the one with issues.  Until she met Dr. Walter Freeman.

Dr. Freeman is credited with performing over 3,000 lobotomies.  He traveled around the country in his own vehicle, which he dubbed the "lobotomobile" and performed transorbital lobotomies by inserting a sharp object through the eye sockets.  No open surgery required.  No anesthesia required (he used electroshock to render his patients unconscious).  

In 1960, Howard Dully had a lobotomy.  He had seen Dr. Freeman for 4 visits.  He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was offered no other form of treatment.  No therapy, no medication, no hospitalization.  He was told he would be undergoing testing and was not told about the lobotomy until after it was done.

It's a chilling read, one that still lingers with me days later,  and the book was written after NPR did a story on Howard Dully.  You can listen to that here:

Not one of psychiatry's finer moments.