“He poked these knitting needles into my skull, through my eye sockets, and then swirled them around until he felt he had scrambled things up enough” (97).
December 15, 1960, at 12 years old, Howard Dully’s life changed forever.
On November 30, 1948, Howard was born to Rodney and June Dully. Two more brothers followed, Brian and Bruce. Bruce, the third child, was born brain-damaged. June had been ill and 12 days after Bruce’s birth, died, never leaving the hospital. Colon cancer, undiagnosed until after death, had grown unchecked within her. Howard and Brian were without a mother. Bruce would never live with them. Four-year-old Howard Dully was told his mother would never come home again; she was gone.
Enter Lou in 1955 with her sons, Cleon and George. Howard writes, “All I knew is one day she wasn’t there, and the next day she was” (18). Known for her temper, Lou became the deciding factor leading up to the day Howard’s life changed. On December 15, 1960, psychiatrist Walter Freeman poked ice-picks into Howard’s eye sockets, performing a transorbital lobotomy.
Lou had issues with Howard; she made it quite clear she wanted him out of the picture. Lou shipped him off to stay with close friends, complained frequently to his father, Rodney, about Howard’s behavior, and finally took him to six psychiatrists to find out what was wrong and how to fix him. The psychiatrists said, “Howard’s behavior was normal” (59). Then Lou met Walter Freeman.
After the lobotomy, Howard was bounced around from psychiatric institutions to boarding schools, but never, permanently, to live with his brothers, father, and stepmother again. After the lobotomy, after being in the system, Howard wants to know why this happened to him. Why did he become one of Freeman’s youngest patients when six psychiatrists said that he was normal?
My Lobotomy is a careful step back for Howard on a subject that he has never discussed freely until now. He writes and researches to find out “why” he deserved such an operation as a transorbital lobotomy and what happened to Freeman’s other patients.
“I’ve always felt different — wondered if something’s missing from my soul.” — Howard Dully, NPR
I highly recommend My Lobotomy: a Memoir, a disturbing read which made me question why Freeman was allowed to perform for so long unchecked such an invasive, horrible, mind-altering procedure.
For more information about the book and Howard Dully’s journey into his past, visit National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” for “My Lobotomy : Howard Dully’s Journey” at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5014080
Reviewed by Johanna McClay, Reference Librarian
This book is available at the BSC Library at RD 594 .D85 2007. Check it out!