In this heartfelt memoir from one of the youngest recipients of the transorbital lobotamy, 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.
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?
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.
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.
At age 12, in 1960, Dully received a transorbital or "ice pick" lobotomy from Dr. Walter Freeman, who invented the procedure, making Dully an unfortunate statistic in medical history the youngest of the more than 10,000 patients who Freeman lobotomized to cure their supposed mental illness. In this brutally honest memoir, Dully, writing with Fleming (The Ivory Coast), describes how he set out 40 years later to find out why he was lobotomized, since he did not exhibit any signs of mental instability at the time, and why, postoperation, he was bounced between various institutions and then slowly fell into a life of drug and alcohol abuse. His journey first described in a National Public Radio feature in 2005 finds Dully discovering how deeply he was the victim of an unstable stepmother who systematically abused him and who then convinced his distant father that a lobotomy was the answer to Dully's acting out against her psychic torture. He also investigates the strange career of Freeman who wasn't a licensed psychiatrist including early acclaim by the New York Times and cross-country trips hawking the operation from his "Lobotomobile." But what is truly stunning is Dully's description of how he gained strength and a sense of self-worth by understanding how both Freeman and his stepmother were victims of their own family tragedies, and how he managed to somehow forgive them for the wreckage they caused in his life.
Well written and interesting.
His stepmother was a witch. She should have had the lobotomy. His dad was nothing to brag about either. No child should have gone through life knowing he was not loved. His dad wouldn’t even protect him. When people become parents the welfare of their children comes before anything else at least until the child becomes an adult.
The story leading up to the lobotomy was really a case history of lots of abused children who are targeted by a mentally unstable parent or step parent or both. It is so incredibly sad that these things are still very much happening to children today, not the lobotomy thank God but the verbal and physical abuse! The "story" bogged down at times and repeated at times but the gist of the man's life was played out for all to see. It is amazing that Howard was able to function especially later in life. God Bless this man and his ability to forgive! Left lots to be grateful for in my life, for sure.