Book for May is My Lobotomy; Howard Dully.
Early last year, I went on a trip, got a bunch of books, and sent them home so they didn’t have to fit in my already full luggage. The books have been waiting on my shelf, but now I’m getting to them.
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A chilling true story of a twelve-year-old boy who had a lobotomy–the horror only slightly lessened by the opening of the book reassuring the reader that, despite these trials, life eventually turned out well for that boy.
Howard Dully wasn’t especially unusual as a child–he made messes he didn’t clean up, fought with his brothers, could be stubborn, and argued with his parents. He especially had issues with his stepmother, Lou, who punished him far more often than the others–even for things his brothers had done. She began taking him to a variety of doctors in order to ‘fix’ him, and finally found Dr. Walter Freeman, who believed in the curative powers of the transorbital (ice pick) lobotomy.
This procedure, Lou was certain, would be the cure, so twelve-year-old Howard became one of the youngest people Dr. Freeman performed this surgery on. But in fact, the surgery did not solve the problems Lou had with Howard, so he was moved into mental institutions, foster care, and even jail as an attempt to find someplace to place him–an unstable situation that resulted in substance abuse problems, debt, and a variety of poor choices.
Even as he begins to get his life together, Howard doesn’t know why the surgery happened–and as he reaches middle age, with both the doctor who performed the surgery and the stepmother who wanted it done deceased, he realizes that if he wants answers, he has to start searching for them now.
As he seeks those answers, Howard speaks to other lobotomy survivors, their families, and his father–and reads his doctor’s file from an archive. He shares the results of that research, and of his search, all the way up to his life at the time of the book being written.
The focus of the book is the question that understandably haunts Howard–Why?
Why was this surgery done to him? Why did no one stop it? Was there something wrong with him that the surgery was merited, or something wrong with the people who allowed it to happen? This creates a looping effect, as he circles back to that question again and again throughout his search for the truth.
Photographs and quotes from doctor’s notes and various interviews make the story especially detailed and real–and heart-breaking because it happened. Not just to Howard, but to plenty of other people because medical science at the time thought lobotomies could cure a variety of illnesses. Even when it began to fall out of favor, ever when other doctor’s protested, nobody stopped Dr. Freeman until it was too late for many of his patients. It’s reassuring to know that, despite his decades of struggle, Howard found happiness in his life–that his story isn’t only about a dark time in medical surgery, but about survival and the adaptability of the human brain.
Recommended for readers interested in medical history and the brain’s function and dysfunction.