Thursday, October 18, 2007

From Barnes & Noble

In 1960, Howard Dully became a part of medical history. At the tender age of 12, he was lobotomized, making him the youngest of Dr. Walter Freeman's 10,000 patients on the receiving end of the transorbital operation. Freeman's procedure was not only barbaric (he inserted an ice pick three inches into each eye socket), it was perilous: Fifteen percent of his patients died. Forty years after Freeman effectively derailed his life, Dully set out to discover how he became a guinea pig for one of American medicine's worst crimes. An astonishing memoir of self-recovery.

From the Publisher

At twelve, Howard Dully was guilty of the same crimes as other boys his age: he was moody and messy, rambunctious with his brothers, contrary just to prove a point, and perpetually at odds with his parents. Yet somehow, this normal boy became one of the youngest people on whom Dr. Walter Freeman performed his barbaric transorbital—or ice pick—lobotomy.

Abandoned by his family within a year of the surgery, Howard spent his teen years in mental institutions, his twenties in jail, and his thirties in a bottle. It wasn’t until he was in his forties that Howard began to pull his life together. But even as he began to live the “normal” life he had been denied, Howard struggled with one question: Why?

“October 8, 1960. I gather that Mrs. Dully is perpetually talking, admonishing, correcting, and getting worked up into a spasm, whereas her husband is impatient, explosive, rather brutal, won’t let the boy speak for himself, and calls him numbskull, dimwit, and other uncomplimentary names.”

There were only three people who would know the truth: Freeman, the man who performed the procedure; Lou, his cold and demanding stepmother who brought Howard to the doctor’s attention; and his father, Rodney. Of the three, only Rodney, the man who hadn’t intervened on his son’s behalf, was still living. Time was running out. Stable and happy for the first time in decades, Howard began to search for answers.

“December 3, 1960. Mr. and Mrs. Dully have apparently decided to have Howard operated on. I suggested [they] not tell Howard anything about it.”

Through his research, Howard metother lobotomy patients and their families, talked with one of Freeman’s sons about his father’s controversial life’s work, and confronted Rodney about his complicity. And, in the archive where the doctor’s files are stored, he finally came face to face with the truth.

Revealing what happened to a child no one—not his father, not the medical community, not the state—was willing to protect, My Lobotomy exposes a shameful chapter in the history of the treatment of mental illness. Yet, ultimately, this is a powerful and moving chronicle of the life of one man. Without reticence, Howard Dully shares the story of a painfully dysfunctional childhood, a misspent youth, his struggle to claim the life that was taken from him, and his redemption.

The New York Times - William Grimes

Mr. Dully eventually finds a woman who loves him, a love he returns to her, her son and the son they have together. Therein lies the answer to the biggest question of Mr. Dully's life. The lobotomy, although terrible, was not the greatest injury done to him. His greatest misfortune, as his own testimony makes clear, was being raised by parents who could not give him love. The lobotomy, he writes, made him feel like a Frankenstein monster. But that's not quite right. By the age of 12 he already felt that way. It's this that makes My Lobotomy one of the saddest stories you'll ever read.

Publishers Weekly

At age 12, in 1960, Dully received a transorbital or "ice pick" lobotomy from Dr. Walter Freeman, who invented the procedure, making Dully an unfortunate statistic in medical history-the youngest of the more than 10,000 patients who Freeman lobotomized to cure their supposed mental illness. In this brutally honest memoir, Dully, writing with Fleming (The Ivory Coast), describes how he set out 40 years later to find out why he was lobotomized, since he did not exhibit any signs of mental instability at the time, and why, postoperation, he was bounced between various institutions and then slowly fell into a life of drug and alcohol abuse. His journey-first described in a National Public Radio feature in 2005-finds Dully discovering how deeply he was the victim of an unstable stepmother who systematically abused him and who then convinced his distant father that a lobotomy was the answer to Dully's acting out against her psychic torture. He also investigates the strange career of Freeman-who wasn't a licensed psychiatrist-including early acclaim by the New York Timesand cross-country trips hawking the operation from his "Lobotomobile." But what is truly stunning is Dully's description of how he gained strength and a sense of self-worth by understanding how both Freeman and his stepmother were victims of their own family tragedies, and how he managed to somehow forgive them for the wreckage they caused in his life. (Sept.)

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Kirkus Reviews

Gut-wrenching memoir by a man who was lobotomized at the age of 12. Assisted by journalist/novelist Fleming (After Havana, 2003, etc.), 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 ten minutes and cost two hundred 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% of the operations Freeman performed) killed them outright. Dully's ten-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 forty 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, his father allowed her to demonize his son and never admitted his complicity in the lobotomy; Freeman capitalized ontheir monumental dysfunction. 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. Agent: Gary Morris/David Black Literary Agency

1 comment:

La Tejedora said...

Thanks for the comment. It was a nice surprise. Can't wait to get my hands on the book.