Dave Isay, Piya Kochhar and Howard Dully produced one of the most powerful radio documentaries of 2005 where Howard told the story of his own lobotomy and the quest to make sense of the experience.
A lobotomy is a type of brain surgery to disconnect parts of the frontal lobes from the rest of the brain.
It was originally devised by Egas Moniz as a treatment for psychiatric illness because it seemed to have a ‘calming’ effect.
Howard was given the operation when only 12 years old by Walter Freeman – the world’s most enthusiastic evangelist for this procedure.
The procedure is now almost entirely disused, owing to the poor outcomes and dangers of the procedure, but it has left a legacy of people with permanently altered lives.
Howard wanted to understand how this dangerous procedure came to be so widely used and how it came to be performed on him as a child. He has also been kind enough to talk to Mind Hacks about his experiences.
What was it like having the operation?
It depends upon what you are referencing. First off, I never knew I had the procedure until three weeks afterwards. My brain was still in shock and I was medicated, so I had no real valid response. Freeman seemed to take that as me condoning what he and my stepmother did.
Did you notice any change in your thinking or behaviour as a result?
Other than major self-esteem issues, not really. I over reacted to many things. I was very emotional, and even though the lobotomy was suppose to curb that, it didn’t. I have also been very self-analytical, in fact, I tend to over-analyze everything.
When researching your story, you met some other people who had been given a lobotomy. What did you learn from meeting them?
I actually only met two people. One I think was sold a bill of goods by her family and she went for it hook line and sinker. The other was unable to communicate and I felt much sorrow for her and her daughter.
What do you hope listeners will take from your story?
Forgiveness, the ability to forgive people and be proud no matter what happened. Also that the “parent” or “doctor” is not always right.
Although lobotomy is no longer used, the limited use of brain surgery to treat mental illness continues to this day. What do you think about modern forms of ‘psychosurgery’?
I know too little about them to comment. Truthfully. I do not condemn the profession at all. I think Freeman started out with the best of intentions.
Name three under-rated things.
You can listen to Howard’s documentary My Lobotomy online.