HAVE A LOOK at the picture. Ok – look once more – into those eyes. What do you see? A nineteenth century writer? Nobel Prize winner? An esteemed philanthropist? Say hello to Walter Freeman II, or Dr. Freeman as he was known, a practitioner of psychiatry.
Psychiatry has a history more troubled than the most troubled patient on its couch: psychiatry itself. But that’s an entire blogs-worth of material, I’ll keep this focused. Throughout history people have never been kind to troubled souls, never mind each other, so perhaps it is unsurprising that someone as sadistic and evil as Dr. Freeman was allowed to perform his ‘surgeries’ in the mid 1930’s, 40’s and early 50’s.
Imagine the scenario: It’s 1938. You have been deemed mentally unwell and are commited to an asylum against your will. Unfortunately, Dr. Freeman works there with his colleague James Watts, and you are in for a treat. They won’t be administering zombifying antipsychotics – they haven’t been made yet – nor will they be using insulin shock therapy. No, instead you would be wheeled to an operating room, an orderly or psychiatrist peering down at you as the wheels shudder underneath you. Once inside, Dr. Freeman might even have an audience for you, to witness the technique he has been propagating at every chance, championing the efficacy and success of the procedure. Imagine him hovering above you, breathing on you, as he prepares to enter your mind…
Let’s fast forward to 1945. Dissatisfied with the procedure, the length of time it took and relative messiness, Dr. Freeman adopted an Italian technique that was much quicker and didn’t even require hospitalisation. It could be done in the discomfort of your own home, especially as Dr. Freeman had taken to touring the States in his camper van, like a deranged missionary with a God-complex, so sure was he that his procedure worked.
Now, imagine you’re on the floor of your family home, following Dr. Freeman’s arrival wearing his suit. Without a mask or gloves, he moves above you, reaching into a leather case, the sound of tools knocking on each other. The dinks of metal on metal and wood stops. Above you, as you blink rapidly, there is a hammer in one hand and an ice pick in the other. You have not been anaesthetised. Placing the ice pick shaped implement closer and closer to your right eye, he wedges the point between your eyeball and socket, slithering the metal inwards until it hits something solid: the bone protecting the brain. Once in that position, he angles the ice pick, bringing the handle down. With a sharp tap on the end of the pick, then a second (when needed), the metal breaks through into your prefrontal cortex. Working quickly, because he has at least a dozen more lobotomies to do before days end, Dr. Freeman wiggles the handle severing white and grey brain matter. He repeats the procedure – the butchery – on the other side and within ten minutes, he is finished, washing his hands in the kitchen sink , casually talking to your family, tools back in the bag, ready to return to his Lobotomobile, the genuine name of his camper van synonymous with nomadic acts of barbarism and utter evil in the North Americas.
Frontal lobotomies were first performed in the late 1800’s, but with no success had largely dissapeared before making a comeback. Supposedly ripping and destroying brain matter was in fact a good thing, and psychiatrists like Dr. Freeman espoused the virtues of the procedure like no one else.
Incredibly around Dr. Freeman’s heyday of his license to kill (literally and figuratively) a Portuguese man, Dr. Antonio Moniz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 1949 for his contribution to the leucotomy procedure that Dr. Freeman had ‘refined’ resulting in a surge of popularity in lobotomies into the fifties. I think it is safe to say that irrespective of the mental instability of people that Dr. Freeman treated, the one with the most obvious sickness was Dr. Walter Jackson Freeman II. But beyond him as an individual, the fact the barbaric procedure was allowed at all, let alone permitted to continue for decades under the umbrella of psychiatry is almost inconceivable and a deepy troubling comment on society, at least at the time. Lobotomies summarise that thing that happens, that somehow people accepted, those times when what we do to each other is so very wrong, but we allow to occur. I’m no neurosurgeon, but if I had to try and fix someone, and someone suggested hammering ice picks into brains as a solution, I’d want them locked up: in prison.
What are you thoughts?