A gut-wrenching memoir by a man who was lobotomized at the age of 12.Assisted by journalist/novelist Charles Fleming, Howard Dully recounts a family tragedy whose Sophoclean proportions he could only sketch in his powerful 2005 broadcast on NPR's All Things Considered.
"In 1960," he writes, "I was given a transorbital, or 'ice pick' lobotomy. My stepmother arranged it. My father agreed to it. Dr. Walter Freeman, the father of the American lobotomy, told me he was going to do some 'tests'. It took 10 minutes and cost 200 dollars."
Fellow doctors called Freeman's technique barbaric: an ice pick¿like instrument was inserted about three inches into each eye socket and twirled to sever connections from the frontal lobe to the rest of the brain. The procedure was intended to help curb a variety of psychoses by muting emotional responses, but sometimes it irreversibly reduced patients to a childlike state or (in 15 percent of the operations Freeman performed) killed them outright. Dully's 10-minute "test" did neither, but in some ways it had a far crueler result, since it didn't end the unruly behavior that had set his stepmother against him to begin with.
"I spent the next 40 years in and out of insane asylums, jails, and halfway houses," he tells us. "I was homeless, alcoholic, and drug-addicted. I was lost."
From all accounts, there was no excuse for the lobotomy. Dully had never been "crazy", and his (not very) bad behavior sounds like the typical acting-up of a child in desperate need of affection. His stepmother responded with unrelenting abuse and neglect, and his father allowed her to demonize his son and never admitted his complicity in the lobotomy; Freeman capitalized on their monumental dysfunction. It's a tale of epic horror, and while Dully's courage in telling it inspires awe, listeners are left to speculate about what drove supposedly responsible adults to such unconscionable acts.
Narrator Johnny Heller portrays a man recounting his distant and incomplete memories of a dysfunctional home with parents who abused him. In the opening chapters he speaks as the young boy, telling what behavior led his parents, in 1960, to have a quack doctor scramble his brain with an ice pick at age 12. Later Heller's sandy, mature voice becomes the teenager describing a troubled life, in and out of institutions and jails. Heller's expression fits the author's sad struggle to grow up after suffering parental and neural damage. He depicts no strong emotion until the last, when he assumes Dully's indignation at the discovery of the lies his stepmother told the surgeon to justify the destruction of his frontal lobes.
"Brutally honest....Truly stunning." (Publishers Weekly)
"Gut wrenching....It's a tale of epic horror, and while Dully's courage in telling it inspires awe, readers are left to speculate about what drove supposedly responsible adults to such unconscionable acts. A profoundly disturbing survivor's tale." (Kirkus)
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- James Gordon
Heartbreaking, but a good story.
There is a lot to take in, but the confrontation with his father was fascinating and heartbreaking for sure.
His time at the special school - which was closed down - was entertaining.
The way in which the so-called doctor acted and behaved disgusted me beyond words. Also, Howard's father was particularly shocking in his reaction and excuses.
I hesitated to get this book for years, as the title seems too harsh. But believe me, it's a touching story about a young man who overcomes many heart-wrenching obstacles. Howard really is inspirational.
Above all, this story is more proof that parents need to spend more time with their kids, and not be so hasty as to put them on psychiatric drugs. Often, if you correct the problems at home, your kids might likewise improve their behavior.