Non-Fiction Friday: MY LOBOTOMY by Howard Dully

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won’t find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could’ve been better or what worked or didn’t work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it’s here I probably think it won’t injure your brain if you read it. (Which, considering the title of this week’s Book Talk, is a pretty funny statement).

Howard Dully was a rambunctious twelve year old boy – slightly messy, moody, antagonistic with his brothers and occasionally defiant with his parents. In other words, a fairly normal pre-teen boy. But it was 1960, and his stepmother resented his behavior. She visited Dr. Walter Freeman, the father of transorbital lobotomy. Using her domineering personality to wear down Howard’s father, the two signed paperwork allowing Howard to become one of Dr. Freeman’s youngest patients to ever receive a lobotomy.

Despite popular belief regarding lobotomies, patients do not always become zombies or vegetables. Because of his youth, Howard’s brain was able to adjust and re-assign certain frontal lobe duties and he was capable of caring for himself and performing most tasks. But his personality was affected, and his stepmother found him no easier to control in their home. Shortly after the procedure did not procure the results she was hoping for, Howard found himself in a mental institution.

Bounced from mental hospitals to teen homes as a youth, then jails and bars as a young man, Howard was unable to form healthy relationships and make good decisions. Years of social rejection and personal self-hate built up until he decided to seek answers following the death of his stepmother. Suspecting that he had done something horrible to deserve his fate, Dully began interviewing surviving family members and even gained access to Dr. Freeman’s notes on his case only to discover a more shocking truth – he had just been a normal boy.

Readers be aware there are photographs in this book that may be hard to stomach, including the before, during and after photographs that Dr. Freeman took of Dully while performing the surgery.

4 thoughts on “Non-Fiction Friday: MY LOBOTOMY by Howard Dully

  1. Because of what that poor guy went through, it's a difficult read, but an important one. Medical research and practices have come a long way since then, but it's frightening to realize that it hasn't been that long ago when the horrific treatment stopped.

  2. To round out the picture, I recently finished THE LOBOTOMIST by Jack El-Hai, which is the biography of Dr. Freeman. It was interesting, as he really did believe he was doing good work, and wanted to help people.

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