Meet ‘Doctor’ Walter Freeman II

walter freeman lobotomist

     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?

  1. http://www.cerebromente.org.br/n02/historia/lobotomy.htm

lion around 2

24 Comments

  1. I heard of the barbaric procedure some years ago, worse even than electroshock treatments. But you know, sick people used to be treated by “bloodletting” under the misguided belief that draining out some of their blood would cure them of an illness. Being further weakened, a lot died. I’ve often wondered if in the future, some of our current medical practices will be considered inhuman.

    1. RE: your last sentence, I don’t doubt it.
      And the Egyptians used to trephine all those years ago, making a hole in the skull was thought to release the evil spirits. They got pyramids right, but that wrong lol

  2. “We are all victims of what is done to us. We can either use that as an excuse for failure, knowing that if we fail it isn’t really our fault, or we can say, ‘I want something better than that, I deserve something better than that, and i’m going to try to make myself a life worth living.”
    ― Howard Dully, My Lobotomy: A Memoir

    If a psychiatrist does this kind of sick horror to someone. I’ll throw them in jail and let them rot in it.

    This is sad and I feel like I’m watching a movie of horror.

    1. Being a psych graduate I have to pull you up on that 🙂 Psychology is the opposite of psychiatry. Psychology seeks to understand the causes, the only sensible way, psychiatry seeks to treat symptoms and is based on the shaky construct that mental illness is due to brain abnormalities they can cure with pharmaceuticals, the opposite approach that logic would dictate.
      Mini rant over 🙂

  3. My goodness!😱😱
    Sometimes I feel that it is today that man is so cruel and insensitive, but then there are cases like these which show that since long man has been crazy! I mean it’s terrifying, ice pick, hammering the head without anesthesia, to mess with the grey matter.
    A question though: Did people live normally after such ‘surgeries’?

      1. Incredibly he died in his seventies no reprisals.
        But a Portuguese doctor who did the same procedures was shot in the back for what he did and spent his life in a wheelchair.

      2. A fascinating read…As a teenager in the 1950s, I knew someone in our small town who had a lobotomy. I’m not recalling at the moment just why she consented to the surgery. The fact is that she was a very strange person after the procedure, not vegetative, but definitely ruined. What a horrible time for the human race!

      3. Indeed, a real horror. People who ended up ‘cured’ were often like the person you mention, lives utterly ruined, but because their essence or being had been brutalised by the procedure, their so called problematic behaviour deceased and no wonder, the front of their brains were shredded.

  4. Hmm.. I have heard of these methods, they definitely belong to a horror movie.. sheesh.. thanks, now I will have weird dreams.
    :p Dajena

      1. Yes, I have read about it, and what a terrible practice.. How was “translating” last night? 😀

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