Article first published as Review: My Lobotomy by Howard Dully on Technorati.
It’s hard to read about the good old days of mental health care where chopping up a person’s brain was considered a good idea. Howard Dully’s lobotomy was a transorbital lobotomy, where what amounted to an ice pick was pushed into the brain’s frontal lobes and swished around a bit. It was a very fast and simple procedure that only had a couple of problems-1) it killed as many people as it helped, and 2) it didn’t really help that many people.
The NPR radio program is a very concise and emotionally compelling story about the history of the lobotomy and it’s effect on the life of Howard Dully. Howard Dully got his lobotomy from the procedure’s biggest proponent, Dr Walter Freeman, when Howard was 12 years old. The villains in the radio program are Dr Freeman, Howard’s Dad, and Howard’s step Mom. The program induced outrage at the idea that a child would be given a lobotomy.
The book, My Lobotomy, is another kettle of fish. While it covers the same material as the program, it goes into information overload by telling us virtually everything that Howard Dully remembers from his entire life. Not surprisingly Howard Dully needed help with the writing from Charles Fleming and Johnny Heller does the reading of the audio book. This is too bad, as Howard’s thick and tortured voice was one of the better parts of the radio program.
The first part of the book is compelling and talks a good deal about the history of the transorbital lobotomy and how it came into being and why hospitals and insane asylums were eager for anything that even remotely looked like a cure. Dr Freeman was a huge fan of electroshock as well as lobotomies-it sounds as if he would have been a good man to have in the interrogation room or the torture chamber. Dr Freeman’s notes and the interview with his son don’t show us so much a monster, though, as a man who belonged in a sideshow. He liked being the center of attention and performing lobotomies got him that attention.
At one point Howard Dully’s father says that he thinks Howard would have ended up in the same place even if he hadn’t had a lobotomy. I have to agree that most of the book sounds like a loser blaming all his problems on his lobotomy. He constantly does things that get him into trouble, and he constantly defends himself by saying things like Yeah I made my little brothers cry and run away, but I didn’t break their arms. He has similar comparisons for stealing, writing hot checks, doing drugs, and having countless sex partners in mental hospitals and county homes of one kind or another. Listening to My Lobotomy it seems that having a lobotomy kept Howard out of prison or a graveyard-for better or for worse.
It is compelling stuff and even Howard admits in the end that he has thought of himself as a victim all these years. Howard finally got his life together when he decided to take responsiblity for his own existence and stop blaming everything on his lobotomy. Oddly, Howard Dully never comes right out and says that he thinks lobotomies were evil and the men who did them criminals. He cites success and failure rates and delivers these dry fact as if they mean nothing to him.
In the end it is easy for me to think of what a rotten kid I was: how I bullied by little brother, how my mother often had to yell at me to get me to do anything, how I would eat all the time and get yelled at for doing so-we weren’t called ADHD or anything fancy back them, we were just called brats. These are things that Howard Dully did as well and part of the reason he was given a lobotomy. I lucked out, I was too late for the lobotomy craze and too early for the Ritalin craze.
Howard Dully’s story is sad and thought-provoking. I just wish he had found a better editor for My Lobotomy, as it tends to ramble.