Lobotomy, lobotomy, lobotomy, lobotomy!
DDT did a job on me
Now I am a real sickie
Guess I'll have to break the news
That I got no mind to lose
All the girls are in love with me
I'm a teenage lobotomy
Slugs and snails are after me
DDT keeps me happy
Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em
That I got no cerebellum
Gonna get my Ph.D.
I'm a teenage lobotomy
On January 17, 1946 a psychiatrist named Walter J. Freeman launched a radical new era in the treatment of mental illness in this country. On that day he performed the first-ever transorbital or “ice pick” lobotomy in his Washington, D.C. office. His patient was a severely depressed housewife named Sallie Ellen Ionesco.
After rendering her unconscious through electroshock, Freeman inserted an ice pick above her eyeball, banged it through her eye socket into her brain, and then made cuts in her frontal lobes. When he was done, he sent her home in a taxi cab.
Freeman was convinced he’d found the answer to Sallie Ellen Ionesco’s depression. He believed that mental illness was related to overactive emotions, and that by cutting the brain he could cut away those feelings.
In the era before psychiatric drugs – when state institutions were over-flowing with mentally ill patients often living in snakepit conditions – hospitals, families, and the press were eager to embrace "miracle" cures like the "ice pick" lobotomy.
For over two decades, Freeman – equal parts physician and showman – became a barnstorming crusader for the procedure. He traveled in a van to 55 psychiatric hospitals across the country, performing and teaching the transorbital lobotomy
See two pages from Walter Freeman’s unpublished autobiography
Before his death in 1972, he’d crossed and re-crossed the nation 11 times, and had performed the "ice pick" lobotomy on no less than 2,500 patients in 23 states.
Dully in front of his childhood home in Los Altos, California, where he lived until the age of 12.
Photo by Harvey Wang
Howard Dully was one of the youngest patients to receive an “ice pick” lobotomy. Today, he is a tour bus driver living in California.
In collaboration with Sound Portraits producers Piya Kochhar and Dave Isay, Dully embarked on a remarkable two year journey to uncover the hidden story behind the lobotomy he received as a 12-year-old child.
While working on this documentary, Howard Dully traveled to Washington, D.C. to view his sealed patient records. Dr. Walter Freeman photographed each transorbital lobotomy procedure. Howard Dully is the first patient ever to obtain a picture of his own operation.
Dully's personal journey to find out about his lobotomy took him around the country as he interviewed lobotomy patients, their family members, and people who witnessed the operation. "This is my odyssey," said Dully. "Everyone has one thing have to do before they die, and this is mine."