When the kids have been acting up…

There’s always the quick and easy icepick lobotomy for rapid relief.

All joking aside, follow the link: it tells of the infamous Dr Walter Freeman, who lobotomized thousands of people in this horrific fad of irreversibly ripping up people’s brains to change their behavior. The story of poor Howard Dully, whose stepmother had him lobotomize at the age of 12, is particularly tragic.


  1. says

    There was a show about this not too long ago.. can’t remember if it was a freestanding topic show on something like Discovery Channel or TLC, or whether it was a feature on something like Dateline or 60 Minutes. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that in some cases it actually did work. But, unfortunately, in many it was just a default procedure for false or unrelated symptoms. Sad.

  2. Sven DiMilo says

    just to get this out of the way, I’d rather have a bottle in front o’ me

  3. Pygmy Loris says

    I’m so glad lobotomies went out of style. Imagine having a parent who would be willing to scramble your brain because you didn’t want to go to sleep!

    But I suppose it’s easy to judge from here, but really, the lobotomy is up there with forced sterilization in the “When Medicine Goes Wrong” department.

  4. says

    “just to get this out of the way, I’d rather have a bottle in front o’ me”

    Not only was I going to post this joke, I was going topreface it with “Because someone has to say it…”

  5. says

    In the fifties and sixties they also used to routinely circumcise newborn males and rip out tonsils if they became the least bit inflamed. I’m glad it was only two out of three for me…

  6. Kseniya says

    I have a terrible confession, and to confess, I will be forced to say something insensitive and unkind.

    If I was going to write a story, and if the story were to contain a character who had been lobotomized, I’m not sure I could devise a much better name for this character than

    Howard Dully

    On an equally serious note, there’s this really great old movie called Frances starring Jessica Lange as real-life Hollywood rebel Frances Farmer…

  7. valhar2000 says

    Not to make light of it, but it seems that Howard Dully’s tragedy was caused by something other than lobotomy. Or, to put it another way, he was very unlucky is his life, but the lobotomy seemingly went rather well, as those things go.

  8. tintenfisch says

    Does anyone know if the esteemed Dr Egnor has commented on the lobotomy fad?

  9. Connie H. says

    Rosemary Kennedy, sister to the President et alia, was a rambunctious young woman until her father strong-armed a doctor into lobotomizing her. She had to be hospitalized for the rest of her life.

  10. Brian Thompson says

    If you look at the doctor in the top picture, he looks suspiciously like a janitor. Polyester pants… big key ring with lots of keys. The dude is creepy.

  11. says

    Does anyone know if the esteemed Dr Egnor has commented on the lobotomy fad?

    He’ll probably say:

    Lobotomy is bad and evil, therefore, according to my logic, this also invalidates evolution somehow.

  12. CalGeorge says

    He doesn’t react to either love or punishment. He objects to going to to bed but then sleeps well. He does a good deal of daydreaming and when asked about it says ‘I don’t know.’ He turns the room’s lights on when there is broad daylight outside.

    Scream when you are beaten,
    Stop that idle daydreaming,
    Go to bed uncomplainingly,
    And don’t waste electricity.

    If you don’t shape up, kid,
    I’ll have you lobotomized.

    What a horrible species we are.

  13. Peterte says

    “rendered unconscious by electroshock…”

    Stop right there, there’s something wrong with this
    procedure. “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” is a
    fantastic book – you know the wrong people are locked

  14. SmellyTerror says

    “rendered unconscious by electroshock…”

    Stop right there, there’s something wrong with this
    procedure. “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” is a
    fantastic book – you know the wrong people are locked

    Well actually, ECT has an unfairly poor reputation. As an almost-last-ditch treatment for major depression it’s pretty damn good. Sadly a lot of people who would benefit are too scared to consider it.

    One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest is not a scientific study of 21st century psychiatric care…

  15. Matt M says

    Hey, Howard:

    I heard the piece on NPR several months ago. I cannot think of very many stories that have affected me like your did. I had nightmares about icepicks through the eye sockets for several nights. The crunch of the icepicks going through the thin bone, and the eggbeater like action, as they were spun within the brain.

    You have my admiration for telling your story. Thank you.

  16. Rich says

    From the linked article:

    “Then, absolute alcohol was injected through the holes in the skull, into the white matter beneath the prefrontal area.”

    Well… I have been known to imbibe a bit of the Absolute on occasion. This explains everything.

  17. Mechalith says


    I could have gone a very long time indeed without seeing a few of those images. For most of my life my worst fear has been some kind of mental damage, like a stroke or head trauma or something that would bring me down to average or below mental clock speed.

    So, with that in mind, while I’m glad to know more about the topic (learning is almost always a good thing) I’m probably going to have nightmares about icepicks for a day or two.

  18. Annapolitan says

    I read this Pharyngula entry early this morning before bed and haven’t been able to sleep since. I’m afraid of having the nightmares that Matt M. describes. I’m horrified. I can’t get those pictures out of my mind, and I only briefly glanced at them.

    I knew the history of prefrontal lobotomy, and the stories of Frances Farmer and Rosemary Kennedy. But I was unaware that it was done as an office procedure.

    I hoped that reading more about it would perhaps help to mitigate the horror I felt, so I read the NPR story and was relieved to know that Mr. Dully has found some relief in researching what was done to him and sharing his story. Maybe knowing that will help me to sleep without nightmares.

    Mr. Dully, I am so sorry this happened to you, and I commend you for sharing your story. I’m not sure I will be able to read your book, though.

  19. says

    Howard, I’d like to strongly second Matt’s comment–you have my admiration for telling your story as well. I can’t imagine that it would be an easy thing to do, and I appreciate your willingness to tell it anyway.

  20. says

    lobotomies were also used to “cure” political dissidents

    Like Communists and Atheists? That article has given me a cronic case of the heebie-geebies.

  21. says

    Mr. Dully,

    You have performed a valuable public service by telling your story. I have listened to it twice, stunned both times by the madness of what you describe. Your radio production is a valuable piece of history, and an important study in sociology and psychology.

    Thank you.

  22. synapse says

    I paused at the electroshock statement, as well. I wonder how many people’s improvements after the procedure were due to the electroshock therapy rather than the lobotomy.

  23. bacopa says

    Lobotomy, ECT, episiotomy, and scheduled c-sec are all just ways doctors want to make us their bitches.

    I’ve seen an ECT. It’s horrible. My once good friend hasn’t been the same since. I would respect her more if she had killed herself than become what 12 ECTs have made her become.

  24. Justin Moretti says

    Bacopa, you sound like a conspiracy theorist. There is no doubt that there are doctors who do the wrong thing, but to assume a grand conspiracy on the part of all medical practitioners is going a little too far.

    BTW I don’t know where you saw your ECT. All the ECT I have witnessed (and that’s quite a few) were done under general anaesthesia; the patient felt nothing.

  25. bernarda says

    A good treatment of the issue is Tennessee Williams’s “Suddenly Last Summer”.

    See the play if you have the opportunity, or read it–not nearly as effective.