Neurologist Walter Freeman invented and promoted the “ice pick lobotomy” in the mid-20th century. He reportedly performed this controversial procedure on over 10,000 patients who were stricken with all manner of mental illness.
In 1960, at the age of 12, Howard Dully was one of Dr. Freeman’s youngest patients. Dully’s stepmother insisted on the lobotomy, despite the 12-year-old not demonstrating any tendencies beyond that of a regular young boy. Dully’s father agreed, and the family paid $200 to Freeman.
My Lobotomy chronicles Dully’s life before and after his lobotomy. His childhood was cruel, and not just the normal amount of cruel a child of the ‘50s could expect. His stepmother was verbally and physically abusive; his siblings verify the treatment he received as the family’s whipping post.
Dully began to act out even more when he was labeled a problem child - petty crimes and a bad attitude were the norm. It is difficult to determine if he was actually a troubled child or just living up to the expectations of his stepmother.
His stepmother took him to several psychiatrists who each said Dully was fine; a few even said she was the issue. This was before she met Dr. Freeman. Thanks to the wealth of information available on lobotomies and Freeman’s own mass of copious notes, Dully is able to provide great depth to the doctor’s story and of his personal case file.
Dully’s lobotomy went off as expected, and the results were immediately positive. Eventually, though, the positivity faded away when Dully began to have greater issues that further strained his family relationships, found him in and out of “halls” and “centers”, and secured an adult life of instability for him.
At the age of 54, with children of his own, Dully set out to discover the circumstances of his young life and the lobotomy that altered it forever. His search led to sharing his story in the media and now with this book. Dully has a flair for the details - every single detail, to be specific, both personal and historical details. Fortunately, the story has an enormous amount of human interest to keep it from being crushed under all the details.
My Lobotomy is remarkable as a simple survivor story, but also as a commentary on medicine. It answers tough questions and poses important new questions as well.