Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Lobotomist

"The Lobotomist," a documentary about Walter Freeman (master of the "ice-pick lobotomy") aired on PBS in January of this year , but I just came across it online. Wow! In addition to introducing Walter Freeman and his methods for curing mental illness, the documentary features testimonials from several patients/their descendants. The daughter of Ellen Ionesco, the first patient to receive a "transorbital lobotomy," describes Freeman: "He looked kindly... very gentle."

Jocelyn Rice writes in Discover:

By the mid-1940s, Freeman was touring the country performing dozens of ice-pick lobotomies each day. He used picks from his own kitchen and carpenter’s hammers. Sometimes, for kicks, he’d operate left-handed. Physicians who gathered to watch would throw up and pass out—but patients often got better. Freeman could turn people who were smearing feces on walls and cowering naked under furniture into calm and docile citizens.

Freeman refined the technique of Egas Moniz, who in turn, was inspired by the work of Gottlieb Burckhardt, who is mentioned in "The Siblings", one of the stories in DOCTOR OLAF VAN SCHULER'S BRAIN, which, I suppose, is why I'm writing about it here. Check out the documentary if you have a chance. It's broken into short chunks, perfect for those times when one is feeling brain dead...