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My Lobotomy

  1. Apr 20, 2010 #1


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    Pretty moving radio piece from NPR - My Lobotomy. It lasts about 23 minutes.

    When Howard Dully was 12 years old, his stepmother didn't like having him around. After shopping for child psychologists and having at least four of them insult her by suggesting that maybe she was the one that needed therapy, she finally came across Walter Freeman, the psychiatrist that invented the "ice pick" lobotomy (instead of cutting through the skull, he slid an ice pick between the eyeball and the eyesocket, and tapped the ice pick through the thin part of the skull with a mallet, then wiggled the ice pick around).

    I read the book, which goes into a lot more detail about his life than the radio clip. Freeman actually took Dully and two other kids he'd performed lobotomies on to a psychiatry convention and gave a talk about child lobotomies. Freeman was pretty enthusiastic about ice pick lobotomies and seemed shocked that he got such a hostile reaction from the other psychiatrists present. He was lucky they didn't have fruit to throw at him (this being before someone invented throwing shoes).

    This is just a bizarre radio clip. The interview with Freeman's son, the interview Dully conducts with his father asking for an explanation as to how he could let his new wife have his son lobotomized.....

    Being an entirely normal person for all appearances, there were a few that suspected that Freeman had second thoughts about performing a lobotomy on a child. They did an MRI to see if the lobotomy had really been performed, and the damage was shocking. Had it been done to an adult, he would have been in bad shape. Ironically, having a lobotomy at such a young age enabled his brain to remap around much of the damage.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 20, 2010 #2
    Thanks for providing me with my daily dose of heebie jeebies.
  4. Apr 20, 2010 #3


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    Bizarre that criminal charges weren't brought against him to keep him behind bars the rest of his life. Scary when you realize that such atrocities could be allowed so recently.
  5. Apr 20, 2010 #4
    Man, this is just weird. I am so glad medicine has progressed enough to not have something like this happen.
  6. Apr 20, 2010 #5
    When you don't have MRIs to look at how the brain works, it is not unreasonable that such a procedure would have occurred.
  7. Apr 20, 2010 #6
    I thought that the lobotomy had quite a few 'failures'... you don't need an MRI to realize that if something completely destroys what a person is that you must be doing something wrong.
  8. Apr 20, 2010 #7
    Perhaps you should look into the other 'accepted' practices at the time for people suffering from mental health problems. You will find that a lack of understanding of the brain lead to many 'cruel' practices (by todays standards). At the time, people were ignorant - so the tried things to see what would happen.
  9. Apr 20, 2010 #8
    And that's what we're discussing.
  10. Apr 20, 2010 #9
    yes, it is..............:rolleyes: What's your point?
  11. Apr 20, 2010 #10
    What's the attrocity prescribed for precocious chidren today? It's a little pill that readjusts your brain's chemical balance with unknown long term side effects.

    Ok so it's not an icepick in brain but it will seem shockingly crude, primitive and dangerous in about 100 years.
  12. Apr 21, 2010 #11


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    In a period where there weren't any known treatments for many mental illnesses and overcrowded state institutions, success used a different criteria.

    Ranked from best results to worst:

    1) If the lobotomy cured the patient, then it was a great success - it freed up a bed!
    2) If the patient died during the operation, it wasn't a great success, but at least it freed up a bed.
    3) If the patient just became a lot more docile and easier to handle, then it was a less than great success, but a success none the less, even if it didn't free up a bed.
    4) The only 'failure' would have been if the lobotomy made the patient even more aggressive and difficult to handle.

    It wasn't as unreasonable a practice as it sounds if you were only talking about hopeless cases, which are the only patients most 'responsible' psychiatrists would try lobotomies on. (responsible in a cold, calculating, almost inhuman sense, at least).

    In fact, lobotomies were still being performed in 2001 - 15 in Massachusetts General in Boston, 15 in the UK, and about 70 in Belgium. Lobotomy prevalence

    Psychiatrists didn't ostracize Freeman for inventing an easier way of performing lobotomies. They ostracized him for thinking lobotomies could cure everything from mental illness to chronic headaches (seriously!). His partner quit working with him when he started expanding his patients to people in the general public instead of just hopeless patients in mental institutions. That and the fact that Freeman turned it into a simple office procedure similar to having a tooth removed - except with fewer precautions about germs and infections.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2010
  13. Apr 21, 2010 #12
    Did a lobotomy ever cure anybody of anything? It's hard to believe they would keep doing it if they retarded everyone they touched.
  14. Apr 21, 2010 #13
    Well, they were already mentally ill - which is why that procedure was performed.
  15. Apr 21, 2010 #14
    I had an Aunt (my grandmother's sister who is now passed on) who was commited and had a lobotomy performed on her.
    Before the surgery she was brilliant and was one of the first female medical students ever in the USA but she was severe bipolar and there was no description for that back then so she was sent to the crazy house and given a lobotomy. I forgot the spelling or exact name of that type of bipolar which runs in my dad's side but it's the type where you have "episodes." Not merely depression or manic behavior but full blown crazy events. It's a shame because in that part of the family the IQ's are extremely high right along with the DNA for bat-crazy.

    I met her at several family gatherings and yes, after a lobotomy, she had become fairly disjointed. My father told me that the lobotomy had changed her connection to emotions. She might laugh instead of cry ; cry instead of laugh etc.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2010
  16. Apr 21, 2010 #15
    Not in this case. I think a lot of lobotomies were done because doctors, like anybody else, can be greedy and immoral.

    Not specifically directed at Cyrus: I wouldn't be so quick to rejoice in the new era of enlightened doctors either. Look at all the unnecessary plastic surgery today. It's not as bad as a lobotomy, but still ridiculous.
  17. Apr 21, 2010 #16
    That's mostly done on personal choice though... it's a known OPTION to have done. In the case of the lobotomy it seems that the doctor in question fed the ignorance just to continue with his practice (should be MALpractice but whatever). I assume the lobotomy could be seen as option as well but far different than the plastic surgery option.

    I am also sure that some doctors honestly believed the lobotomy was a working procedure... at the beginning of it's usage. Towards the middle-end I am pretty sure that more doctors tended to be against the use of lobotomy in favour of other methods solely based on psychology. Many times the psychological approach to 'curing' a perceived mental illness didn't even include drugs, they knew that the drugs were just 'masking' the behaviour.
  18. Apr 21, 2010 #17
    The video is still available at PBS .org Here is a short YouTube sample.

    The youngest patient was only 4 years old.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  19. Apr 21, 2010 #18


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    Yes now we just have ritalin (naughty children), diazepam (naughty adults)

    Chemicals - so much cleaner and morally acceptable
  20. Apr 21, 2010 #19

    I was thinking more along the lines of the MRI and CAT scans.

    But yeah, almost every single medication out there today is crackpottery. Hell even advil is useless. In an hour or two your headache goes away anyways, no need to take something to make it go away now.

    Don't get me started on all of these new "disorders" that are being invented.
  21. Apr 21, 2010 #20
    Yes, but how often did it cure the mental illness? If it never did, why continue doing it? And if it just turned them into a zombie that didn't exhibit their previous mental illness, I wouldn't consider that a cure. Death is a better cure than that.
    What I'm wondering is how they came to believe that a lobotomy would do something positive. And since it probably never did, why did it continue for so long?
  22. Apr 21, 2010 #21


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    The operation severed connections between the frontal lobe and the rest of the brain more or less at random. Depending on how much damage and where the damage occurred, the results could be positive or negative, or not much difference at all (there were unsuccessful lobotomies that failed to change the patient's aggressive behavior).

    And success is very subjective and depends upon how a person is expected to function in society. The overwhelming majority of lobotomy patients were women and the results were often seen as positive. From Therapeutic effectiveness and social context: the case of lobotomy in a California state hospital, 1947-1954

  23. Apr 21, 2010 #22


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    "Why before I got ma waf her LO-botomy, she was always worried about the economy, and politics, things no woman should be worried about. Why, she was jest plain crazy, talkin' about goin' out and campainin' and gettin' a job, fer crissakes.

    Now, she's happy stayin' at home, cookin' and cleanin', you know, what women were made to do."
  24. Apr 21, 2010 #23
    BobG you seem to be pretty knowledgable on the usage of lobotomies. I noticed in a post that they are still used, albeit rarely, in todays practices. I was never aware of this and I'm trying to search for techniques and if they've changed but I can't seem to find anything.

    Do you have any idea about this? Is it still just a 'random' swishing of an 'icepick' in to the brain?
  25. Apr 21, 2010 #24
    No clue. You'd have to google that if you want an answer.
  26. Apr 22, 2010 #25
    The ice pick has been put away and modern technology has taken over. Medication is the treatment of preference. Two other procedures are used in extreme cases.

    Gama knife which is actually focused radiation used primarily to destroy tumors. It is very precise.

    Another method, deep brain stimulation also seems to help people with OCD. More recently it has proven to be a successful treatment for Parkinson's disease.
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