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My Lobotomy by Howard Dully

My Lobotomy (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Howard Dully, Charles Fleming

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8364510,778 (3.68)72
Title:My Lobotomy
Authors:Howard Dully
Other authors:Charles Fleming
Info:Crown (2007), Edition: First Edition, First Printing, Hardcover, 288 pages
Collections:No longer own
Tags:non-fiction, memoir, mental health, lobotomy, mental illness, psychology

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My Lobotomy by Howard Dully (2007)


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Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
So, of course this book is really depressing, and not just because a doctor thought giving a 12-year-old a frontal lobotomy was appropriate. Having read a biography of the famous Walter Freeman, known for "perfecting" lobotomies in America and hawking them like hucksters at a sideshow, I wanted to see what Dully, one of his youngest patients, had to say.
Dully's home life -- a doting mother who died too young, a father at best negligent, at worst abusive, and a stepmother who is the kind who gives stepmothers a bad name -- was unloving and lonely. His story is all too familiar to some of us who are or have known siblings who are lost and sometimes beyond the point of redemption.
( )
  Ferocity | Dec 29, 2014 |
This book was fairly terrible. I was only intrigued when they talked about the statistics of lobotomies and some of the history. The story this man tells is repetitive, boring and a little unbelievable - as in... I have heard this before. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone... I couldn't even finish the book, I stopped halfway through it. ( )
  yougotamber | Aug 22, 2014 |
There is evil in this world. There is also the resilience of the human brain, the human soul. I think overall, humanity wins. ( )
  cmasson17 | Aug 11, 2014 |
Howard Dully's memoir is a story of his tragic childhood and his search as an adult for answers about his past. Both fascinating and very disturbing! ( )
  michellebarton | Dec 11, 2013 |
This book kicked my ass. Seriously. I've got that Schindler's List feeling in my stomach right now.

Author Howard Dully was a "rambunctious" kid growing up in San Jose in the mid-1950's. His neatfreak stepmother could never seem to get him to remember to wash his hands when he came in from outside, and he sometimes fought with his three brothers!!! What would you do if your life was being completely destroyed like that, by such an out-of-control monster?

Would you go doctor shopping until you found a psychiatrist willing to certify the child as a dangerous lunatic?

If so, you just might have hit the doctor-shopping jackpot, by meeting Walter Freeman, M.D. In 1947, he declared himself the "Father of Modern Lobotomy" (I guess there was ancient lobotomy?), and started touring mental facilities around the country in his "Lobotomymobile" (I shit you not). After extremely brief consultations with patients he had never met before, he would usually conclude that the cure for what's ailing them was to remove some of their brain tissue. Some of his patients had severe psychiatric problems. Others, no so much. The following tendencies could land you under Dr Freeman's knife:
-boys fighting
-girls acting slutty
-not listening to parents or teachers
-not having as many friends as the other kids
-not engaging Dr Freeman in "thoughtful conversation"

That was informative; let's make some more lists. The following are some fun facts about Dr Freeman, which are no cause for alarm, and should not reflect negatively on him in any way:
- he practiced surgery, without having done a surgery residency
- he practiced neurosurgery, without having done a neurosurgery fellowship
- by his own account, he was "not overly concerned" with keeping a sterile field during operations (this may be due to the first two items)
- when challenged that there was no scientific basis for performing lobotomy on schizophrenics, he defended: "I just think some people are better off with less brain tissue".
- he had his priviliges revoked by the executive committee of the medical staff, Stanford Palo Alto Hospital, for performing unneccessary procedures
- he killed a patient in the middle of surgery once, when he stopped the procedure while an instrument was in the patient's brain, so he could run around to the other side of the operating table and activate a timer on his camera, to take a picture of himself. Since he didn't instruct any assistants to hold the instrument during the photo session (you think maybe he could have asked one of them to take the picture?) it sagged under its own weight and sliced through the patient's brain, killing her instantly
That's some crazy shit. Here's some more:

To his befuddlement, Dr Freeman observed a very wide range of results from his surgeries. Some patients seemed to improve. Some developed serious complications, like loss of cognative function, dramatic personality changes, and seizures. About 15% died. This lack of uniformity is no surprise, if you consider that Freeman never actually saw what tissue he was cutting. ...That's right, you heard me. You see, instead of opening the patient's head to visualize the anatomy of the brain, he drove metal "lobototomes" (like long hollow knitting needles) through the back of patients' eye sockets, breaking through the thin bone back there to get into their brains. Then he just kind of wiggled the lobototomes around through the soft gray matter (living brain has the consistency of butter), until enough broke off that it could be sucked up through the lobototome like a straw. Naturally, there was quite a bit of variability from patient to patient as to what part of the brain was being removed, and how much.

GOOD GOD!! How could something like this be allowed to transpire?

To be fair, a lot of the medical establishment was up in arms about it. Unfortunately, a powerful minority among them was allied with hospital administrators, who were fretting about the rising cost of long-term psychiatric care. This was the 40's and 50's (and into the 60's) we're talking about. Most serious medical conditions either got cured, or resulted in a timely death. Mental patients were somewhat unique in requiring decades of continual care, with no cure in sight. Administrators found Freeman's procedure attractive, because even if it rendered a patient comatose, at least that person could then be discharged from the hospital and sent back to his family for long-term care.

Well... most patients. Howard Dully got lobotomized at age 12, but after the procedure, his insane stepmother and mostly-absentee Dad decided they didn't want him back. He bounced around between state hospitals and juvenile detention until he became a legal adult. Then, with no education to speak of, they turned him loose.

You can probably write the rest from here. Meeting bad influences. Petty crimes. Jail. Drug use. Unplanned pregnancies. More jail. More drugs. Begging money off his relatives. Begging money off friends. Begging money off strangers.

I was amazed how much mental function and personality Dully retained after the lobotomy. My only prior image of the lobotomized had been Jack Nicholson staring inertly at the ceiling, at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Freeman must have been having a good day when he did Dully. Thirty turbulent years followed, until Howard sort of settled down. He eventually went on to get an Associate's degree, and learned some trade skills- first in a printing shop, and then as a bus driver. He's an intellegent guy. His bizarre and mostly-criminal adventures make for fascinating, if not slightly guilty, reading. I'm fairly astounded how much tail this man got in his younger years! Normally that would be inappropriate for me to say, but Howard basically says it himself, in his good-natured way. He attributes the number of women willing to look past his substance abuse, occassional violent outbursts, infidelity, poor socioeconomic prospects, and criminal record/behavior as a testiment to the power of the "bad boy" image, and I guess he must be right.

Toward the end of the book, he's mellowed out a bit, and is remarkably nice, considering what he's been through. He's not nearly as angry about what happened to him as I am for him (if that makes sense) ...or as I would be if it happened to me. He even went as far as reaching out to his father, and asking him about the decision to lobotomize his son. The father comes across very unsympathetically: essentially shrugging and saying "what's done is done". Even after everything Howard has endured, he loves his father, and forgives him. In the afterword, he even forgives his stepmother. That's going further than I ever could, but I think it has brought Howard some peace, and I'm all for that.

Dr. Freeman died miserable, an estranged alcoholic after two failed marriages, living with the guilt of indirectly causing his son's accidental death on a camping trip. Karma wins again, I guess. There's your happy ending for you. ( )
2 vote BirdBrian | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Book description
Howard Dully recounts how the lobotomy he had at age twelve impacted every aspect of his life, leaving him struggling to get through each day, until, decades after the surgery, he was able to pull himself together and uncover the truth about why his parents made him have the operation.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307381277, Paperback)

At twelve, Howard Dully was guilty of the same crimes as other boys his age: he was moody and messy, rambunctious with his brothers, contrary just to prove a point, and perpetually at odds with his parents. Yet somehow, this normal boy became one of the youngest people on whom Dr. Walter Freeman performed his barbaric transorbital—or ice pick—lobotomy.

Abandoned by his family within a year of the surgery, Howard spent his teen years in mental institutions, his twenties in jail, and his thirties in a bottle. It wasn’t until he was in his forties that Howard began to pull his life together. But even as he began to live the “normal” life he had been denied, Howard struggled with one question: Why?

“October 8, 1960. I gather that Mrs. Dully is perpetually talking, admonishing, correcting, and getting worked up into a spasm, whereas her husband is impatient, explosive, rather brutal, won’t let the boy speak for himself, and calls him numbskull, dimwit, and other uncomplimentary names.”

There were only three people who would know the truth: Freeman, the man who performed the procedure; Lou, his cold and demanding stepmother who brought Howard to the doctor’s attention; and his father, Rodney. Of the three, only Rodney, the man who hadn’t intervened on his son’s behalf, was still living. Time was running out. Stable and happy for the first time in decades, Howard began to search for answers.

“December 3, 1960. Mr. and Mrs. Dully have apparently decided to have Howard operated on. I suggested [they] not tell Howard anything about it.”

Through his research, Howard met other lobotomy patients and their families, talked with one of Freeman’s sons about his father’s controversial life’s work, and confronted Rodney about his complicity. And, in the archive where the doctor’s files are stored, he finally came face to face with the truth.

Revealing what happened to a child no one—not his father, not the medical community, not the state—was willing to protect, My Lobotomy exposes a shameful chapter in the history of the treatment of mental illness. Yet, ultimately, this is a powerful and moving chronicle of the life of one man. Without reticence, Howard Dully shares the story of a painfully dysfunctional childhood, a misspent youth, his struggle to claim the life that was taken from him, and his redemption.

From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:10 -0400)

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At twelve, Howard Dully was guilty of the same crimes as other boys his age: he was moody, messy, rambunctious, and perpetually at odds with his parents. Yet somehow, this normal boy became one of the youngest people on whom Dr. Walter Freeman performed his barbaric transorbital--or ice pick--lobotomy. Abandoned by his family within a year of the surgery, Howard spent his teen years in mental institutions, his twenties in jail, and his thirties in a bottle. It wasn't until his forties that Howard began to pull his life together. But he still struggled with one question: Why? Through his research, Howard met other lobotomy patients and their families talked with one of Freeman's sons about his father's controversial life's work, and confronted his own father about his complicity. And, in the doctor's files, he finally came face to face with the truth. -- From publisher description; Crown Publishers, 2007.… (more)

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