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7/20/15

Walter Freeman's Ice Pick Lobotomy on Howard Dully

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This is a sad story, but one of self-redemption, so if you read the book you will find that Howard Dully was able to salvage something of the tragedy others made of his life. It is titled My Lobotomy. The title is simple, not pretentious, and the narrative is straightforward. Dully began life as a normal boy, bright, at a young age able to beat his father in chess. Then something happened to him. What happened to him was Walter Freeman.
Back then there were no authorities to protect the boy from a terrible injustice inflicted on him--an "ice pick" lobotomy performed by Walter Freeman. (See Walter Freeman at this site.)

I
The background. Lou, Howard Dully's stepmother, did not like him. He felt unloved by her and resisted her domination. The conflict gave rise to his lobotomy. Read the book to find out how. One scene in his boyhood proves revealing. It went like this. His stepmother vacuumed hair from the floor after giving a haircut. Here is the exchange between Dully and his stepmother after she hit his head with the metal end of the cleaner hose:

"I flinched.

She said, 'Oh, did that hurt?'

I said no. I wouldn't admit anything hurt.

So she hit me again, but harder. This time I flinched again. She said, 'How about that? Did that hurt?'

I said no.

So she hit me again, real hard this time. I felt dizzy. She said, 'How about that? Did that hurt?'

I didn't answer. I figured if I said no again she'd hit me again. I thought she was going to knock me out."

II
The affect on his life after the lobotomy. It is implied as he introduces himself in the book: "My name is Howard Duffy, I'm a bus driver. I'm a husband, and a father, and a grandfather. I'm into doo-wop music, travel, and photography.

I'm also a survivor. In 1960, when I was twelve years old, I was given a transorbital, or "ice pick" lobotomy.

My stepmother arranged it. My father agreed to it. Dr. Walter Freeman, the father of American lobotomy, told me he was going to do some 'tests.' It took ten minutes and cost two hundred dollars.

The surgery damaged me in many ways. But it didn't 'fix ' me or turn me into a robot. So my family put me into an institution.

I spent the next four decades in and out of insane asylums, jails, and halfway houses. I knew I wasn't crazy but I knew something was wrong with me. . . . Was there something I had done and forgotten--so horrible that I deserved a lobotomy?"

III
He had no condition to justify a lobotomy. His stepmother had him clinically evaluated. All six psychiatrists who interviewed him declared him a normal boy. Four of the six said that the problem was with his stepmother.

Then his stepmother found Walter Freeman, not a licensed psychiatrist, who boldly stated that the boy was "a schizophrenic and unless something was done pretty promptly . . . the situation would be irreversible."

At this point, Freeman with his "ice pick" reminds me of a saying. "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." The boy had to be schizophrenic because the lobotomist had his cure-all.

So Howard Dully, at twelve years old, had ice picks poked into his brain and twirled around until Freeman felt he had damaged enough of the cortex. Nothing scientific about it--just when he felt he had damaged enough.

IV
After the operation, Howard Dully said, "I felt drunk, and not quite there." When asked how the lobotomy affected his life, he replied that he "didn't know what happened organically" to his brain, but he "had a terrible, disastrous life." He explained that it was "not because of the operation, but because of what happened after. I didn't learn how to live."

Had Freeman done the lobotomy when Dully was an adult, the man would have become a vegetable. That's how badly Freeman damaged Dully's brain, as revealed by a recent MRI. But at twelve, the boy's brain found ways to compensate for its horrible trauma.

Read about and listen to his story on NPR. Check out My Lobotomy by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming.

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