Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Here is dd meeting the challenge of eating corn on the cob with no front teeth. She easily found a way around her obstacle by getting a sharp knife and cutting the kernels off from the cob so that she could eat them with a spoon. I have always encouraged her to solve her problems on her own when possible, and I must say I've been very proud of her efforts. Eating corn on the cob with no teeth is not a major issue, of course, but it sets the groundwork for larger challenges later on in life.

Having just completed reading "My Lobotomy" by Howard Dully, last night I watched the PBS documentary on his physician, Dr. Walter Freeman. While reading the book, I kept having this disturbing feeling of horror that a twelve year old boy could/would/WAS submitted to be lobotomized without any information being given to him and without consulting second opinion.

Howard's biological mother doted on him much as any mother would, from birth. Unfortunately, she died early in his childhood and his father remarried shortly after. This new "mom" was not affectionate and in fact rejected Howard from the beginning. For some reason, she seemed to hate the boy unlike his brothers. The confusion and depression this child must have undergone is mind-staggering. Is it a wonder that he grew to have behavioral problems as he matured?

Dr. Freeman, who to my suprise was not a surgeon , had long been interested in helping people overcome their obsessive behaviors related to depression, anxiety, and other mental illness. He believed that these disorders had basis in the physical makeup of the human brain. In paticular, the frontal lobes where all emotional processing originates was the seat of this suffering. Freeman caught word of another doctor overseas experimenting with lobotomies where they would drill a hole into the skull and take a core sample out of the patient's brain tissue. This seemed to (inexplicably) improve the patients disorders - at least temporarily. Freeman refined the procedure so that no actual cutting was necessary - nicknamed the "icepick lobotomy" for the original tool used, he would enter the brain through the eye sockets of the unconscious patient - no OR needed! Although his original intentions may have been honorable, the doctor's ego seems to have taken over as he attempted to prove and prove again that this was a viable method for treating mental illness. Because of the overpopulation of psychiatric wards, and the abscence of other treatments, his methods caught on. In this day in age (the 50's and 60's) it was considered unethical for a phsycian to speak up against another's methods - and so he was allowed to continue his barbaric pursuit, puplicly uncontested.

Ultimately, the story is about the challenges that Howard Dully faced before and after his lobotomy at 12 years old. It is filled with bad choices that led to incarceration, divorce, addiction, abuse, and much more. In the end, though, Dully realizes that he is not simply a victim of lobotomy. . Mr. Dully in the end realizes that the challenges he has faced does not make or unmake the man he is. Instead, his reactions and solutions to these challenges define him as an adult person. He chose to return to school, receive training, and get right with life. All people, he realizes, are victims of their own circumstances. Dealing with those situations in a positive and meaningful way, by helping others instead of playing the victim, is what ultimately helped him find peace with his life and relationships.

Well, turns out this was a bit of a book report. Chillingly, Dr. Freeman looked a little like somebody I know in real lilfe . . . .
. . . although the person I know IRL is a GOOD man who does a lot for children, I had to gasp when I saw the photo on television last night