First of all, please take a moment to thank me, Mary Connealy, for NOT using a bunch of the pictures I found. So icky. I stumbled upon lobotomies while doing research for…… what? I can’t remember? If they were still doing lobotomies, they would totally be coming for me. Ick.
We talk about all things western here but there have been some great posts on historical medicine, like this one from Kate Bridges on the contents of a Surgeon’s Bag. Though lobotomies are outside the historical western era, it’s just one of those things. I start doing research and one step leads me far afield. Here are some facts, some so horrific that I just immediate thought of our loyal P & P readers. (Poor babies!)
Lobotomies were used in the 20th century to treat a wide range of severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, clinical depression, and various anxiety disorders, as well as people who were considered a nuisance by demonstrating behavior characterized as, for example, “moodiness” or “youthful defiance”. After the introduction of the antipsychotic drug Thorazine, lobotomies fell out of common use and the procedure has since been characterized “as one of the most barbaric mistakes ever perpetrated by mainstream medicine”
In 1890, psychiatrist Gottlieb Burckhardt removed pieces of the frontal lobes of six patients.
Then, in 1935, Portuguese physician and neurologist António Egas Moniz pioneered a surgery he called prefrontal leucotomy. The procedure involved drilling holes in the patient’s head and destroying tissue in the frontal lobes by injecting alcohol. He later changed technique, using a surgical instrument called a leucotome that cut brain tissue with a retractable wire loop. Moniz was given the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1949 for this work
This is where it gets REALLY ICKY! On Jan. 17, 1946, a psychiatrist named Walter Freeman launched a radical new era in the treatment of mental illness in this country. On that day, he performed the first-ever transorbital or “ice-pick” lobotomy in his Washington, D.C., office. Freeman believed that mental illness was related to overactive emotions, and that by cutting the brain he cut away these feelings.
Freeman, equal parts physician and showman, became a barnstorming crusader for the procedure. Before his death in 1972, he performed transorbital lobotomies on some 2,500 patients in 23 states.
Walter Freeman believed that this surgery would be unavailable to the patients who needed it most: those that lived in state mental hospitals with no operating rooms, no surgeons, no anesthesia, and very little money. Freeman wanted to simplify the procedure so that it could be carried out by psychiatrists in mental asylums, which housed roughly 600,000 American inpatients at the time They’d advertise that Freeman was going to be in the area and put lobotomies on sale and do many of them in one day.
The Freeman-Watts prefrontal lobotomy still required drilling holes in the scalp, so surgery had to be performed in an operating room by trained neurosurgeons.
Freeman decided to access the frontal lobes through the eye sockets, instead of through drilled holes in the scalp. In 1945, he took an icepick from his own kitchen and began to test the new surgical technique on cadavers. (if you can stomach it, go to Google Images and type in Lobotomy. Yikes!) A hammer or mallet was then used to drive the ice pick through the thin layer of bone and into the brain. This new form of psychosurgery was intended for use in state mental hospitals that often did not have the facilities for anesthesia, so Freeman suggested using electroconvulsive (that means they’d zap the patient with a bolt of electricity to knock them out-I believe thanks are in order) therapy to render the patient unconscious.
By the mid-1940s, Freeman was touring the country performing dozens of ice-pick lobotomies each day. Sometimes, for kicks, he’d operate left-handed. This is a picture of Freeman, he often had reporters watch the process and welcomed spectators of any kind.
At Cherokee State Hospital in Iowa, he accidentally killed a patient when he stepped back to take a photo during the surgery and allowed the ice pick to sink deep into the patient’s midbrain. Oops! My Bad!
As Freeman conducted more lobotomies, he advertised his dramatic results, promoting his technique as a 10-minute medical marvel. Nearly all his procedures included press coverage and before-and-after photo ops. In 1952, he made headlines by performing 25 lobotomies in a single day. His staff timed him as he tried to set speed records for performing the lobotomies. Freeman soon enjoyed celebrity.
Freeman performed his final lobotomy on Helen Mortensen. It’s her third lobotomy by him. She died from a brain hemorrhage following the procedure. Freeman was banned from operating again.
Between 1939 and 1951, over 18,000 lobotomies were performed in the US, and many more in other countries. It was often used on convicts, and in Japan it was recommended for use on “difficult” children.
There have been a few famous cases over the years. For example, Rosemary Kennedy, sister to John, Robert, and Edward Kennedy, was given a lobotomy when her father complained to doctors about the mildly retarded girl’s embarrassing new interest in boys. Her father never informed the rest of the family about what he had done. She lived out her life in a Wisconsin institution and died January 7, 2005, at the age of 86. Her sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics in her honor in 1968.
Concerns about lobotomy steadily grew. (You THINK?!) By the early 1970s the practice had generally ceased. About time.
I know what you’re all thinking.
You can’t HANDLE the lobotomy–think Jack Nickolsen in A Few Good Men, NOT Jack in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest where he was given a lobotomy. And now that I’ve shared this with you, if you want to buy my books still… (I’ll understand if you’re afraid-there are no lobotomies in my book, I promise) …click on the books below and it’ll take you to Amazon. Even if you’ve had a lobotomy you can handle that!!!!!!!!!!!!
There are still many people living today who had lobotomies. One guy, Howard Dully (ironic name, huh? Dull?) wrote a book about his and got pretty famous for talking about his lobotomy, given at the request of his step-mother when he was twelve. Okay, a couple of things.
1) If you’ve had a twelve year old, you can sympathize.
2) Hello wicked Stepmother
3) If the guy could write a book, how badly was he really hurt, c’mon!
Anyone ever heard of this? Know anyone who had one? (And no, I don’t want any ex-husband jokes here-unless they’re really funny)
So, how much of the weird medical science they’re doing today will be banned in a few years. And yes, I do include Michael Jackson in that question.