Monday, November 21, 2005

Teenage Lobotomy

Speaking of bad science--really, really bad science--last week, NPR featured one of the most chilling stories I've ever heard on the radio. In it, with his slow, beautiful, gravelly voice 56-year-old Howard Dully detailed how at 12 years old he received a lobotomy at the hands of Walter Freeman, the inventor (or perpetrator) of the transorbital lobotomy. NPR details the story here, and links to an MP3 of the story as well as this somewhat graphic photo of Dully about to undergo the procedure, icepicks poised above each of his eyes.

Sound Portraits produced the story and provide much more information on the subject of Dully, Freeman and the history of the labotomoy on their site.

Some of the more disturbing details I found speak to the effects of what transpires when science is thrown out the window in favor of something more akin to witchcraft.

From, a site dedicated to "remembering the tragedy of lobotomy":
Walter Freeman began to travel around the nation in his own personal van, which he called his “lobotomobile”, demonstrating transorbital lobotomy in any hospital that would have him. He even performed a few in hotel rooms, lobotomizing children as young as thirteen [try twelve] for “delinquent behavior” and housewives who had lost their zeal for domestic work.
Now, I heard someone discredit the idea that Freeman called his van "the lobotomobile" on NPR this afternoon, saying writers attributed it thusly later on. Nonetheless, "housewives who had lost their zeal for domestic work"? Sounds like he was in the business of creating Stepford Wives.

Freeman got to where his operations resembled more of a traveling show, or a horrifying assembly line, as these more detailed examples of his work reveal:
Patient number one was wheeled before him. He put the electrodes on her temples and shocked her into a faint, lifted her left eyelid, and plunged the ice pick into her head. He pulled it out. Another woman was brought before him. Again he shocked, and stabbed. And another, and then again another, and so on, and on, remorselessly, in a production line of controlled, casual violence until even the director of the hospital, near to passing out with nausea, left the room.
Freeman was also rumored to have performed a labotomy on the actress Frances Farmer, but it appears this has been effectively proven an urban legend.

These operations weren't taking place in the 1700s; they took place up until 1967, two years before I was born, when Freeman "used his ice pick for the last time," tearing a blood vessel in the patient's brain.

Apparently, some fifty thousand people were lobotomized by so-called "psychosurgeons," a term that seems freakishly appropriate in retrospect.

I often wonder what we're practising today that'll be considered barbaric a couple of decades from now?

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