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My Lobotomy by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming

hmarcia's picture


Herman Marcia

Professor Grobstein


My Lobotomy by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming

My Lobotomy, written by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming, is the memoir of Howard Dully's life before and after his lobotomy.  Dully is considered by many to be one of the youngest patients ever to undergo the procedure of lobotomy by the Dr. Walter Friedman, and through this memoir we observe how the procedure has affected every facet of his life.  My Lobotomy serves as an important scientific text because of the wealth of information that it provides to its readers about the effects that brain damage has on the individual.  In the memoir, we see how damage to the brain alters the development of personality and maturity, as seen by Dully's life.  Rarely are there literature that contains the perspective and the entire history of patients that undergo radical brain surgery, while usually the perspective of the doctor is almost always recorded.  Before the publication of My Lobotomy, this was the case of lobotomy patients who had Friedman operate on them.  Many of these patients became unable to express their perspectives on the operation, while Friedman's perspective dominated and made him famous.  This text expands our knowledge of lobotomy beyond the biological and the historical; it provides a first-hand account of lobotomy from the patient.  From this account, we have a more complete understanding of lobotomy.  

Howard Dully narrates the text and begins with his childhood.  We discover that his mother died when he was very young from cancer, and as a result his father remarries with a woman named Lou.  For an unexplained reason, Lou develops immense hatred toward Dully and begins to physically and emotional abuse him from the age of seven.  It appears that from the constant abuse from his stepmother, Dully begins to have problems in school because of his inability to follow directions from the teachers and fights with other students.  This infuriates Lou further, and after a couple of years of abusing Dully decides that Dully needs medical help.  While researching for My Lobotomy, Dully found records that Dr. Friedman kept about his lobotomy and we discover more about Lou's attempts to seek medical help.  By the time that Lou meets with Friedman, she had already met with numerous doctors who felt that there was nothing wrong with Dully but with Lou.  Of course Lou does not believe that is something wrong with her and seeks out Friedman as a last resort.  In the records that Friedman kept, we find that he too believed that it may be Lou suffers from mental issues.  These changes once he meets with Dully because after their first meeting, Friedman concludes that Dully suffers from schizophrenia and may pose a danger to his family.  His solution is to lobotomize Dully as soon as possible.  Once getting the approval from both Dully's father, he proceeded with the procedure, and at the age of 12, Dully became one of the youngest people in the world to have had been lobotomize.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The memoir suggests that although Dully lived in an unsupportive family environment, he could have classified as a normal child, but after his lobotomy everything changed for the worse.  One of the most noticeable differences was how Dully constant forgot things.  This forgetfulness will haunt him throughout his life.  There are points in the memoir where Dully cannot remember how he lost a certain job or how he met certain people.  Another changed that occurred after his lobotomy was a change in personality.  After interviewing his half-brothers, Dully discovered that they noticed a change in how Dully interacted with people around him.  His half-brothers felt that he had become distant from everyone and no longer enjoyed the same activities as he had before the lobotomy.  Although Lou got the lobotomy that she wanted for Dully, she continued to abuse him and resorted to finally removing him from the house forever.  Despite all of these negative changes for Dully, Friedman attempted to pass off Dully as an example of how beneficial lobotomy is for patients with mental illnesses.  Friedman presented Dully and other children on whom he had lobotomize to a medical conference in order to spread his methods.  By this point in time, doctors began to see lobotomy as too barbaric and upon seeing that Friedman had operated on children; he was booed out of the conference and never invited to another conference for the rest of his life.  To further underline how doctors' perspectives dominate, none of the doctors attending the conference asked any questions to the children, most (if not all of the questions) were directed to Friedman.  My Lobotomy was the first time that Dully ever had the opportunity to discuss about the event.  As the years advanced, Dully began involved drugs and had problems keeping jobs.  It was very difficult for him to focus on something for long periods of time, and it was not until he met his second wife that he was then able to focus on his life and improve it.  At the date of publication (2008), Dully was working as a bus instructor and maintaining a stable family environment of his own.                

For the first time, someone who underwent a horrific surgery such as lobotomy was given the opportunity to explore what happened to him and write about it.  After having the perspective of the doctor, we have that of the patient.  The effects of the lobotomy are unfortunately already present at the very beginning of the memoir.  Constantly, Dully (the narrator) excuses himself for not remembering why something occurred, such as why he lost a job.  Pockets of his memories have to be filled by the people he interviewed on his journey to discover more information about himself and his operation.  In terms of the writing style of memoir, it is clear that Dully needed help developing structure throughout.  The construction of every sentence is very basic, but this in turn legitimatizes the memoir as Dully's.  It reminds the reader that this is the account of someone who did indeed undergone lobotomy.  I enjoyed the memoir and will recommend it to anyone interested in neurobiology.  Text such as this brings a human aspect to the sciences that are often missing in research.  In addition, the text as a whole provides information about the effects caused by damage to the brain, and we understand it from the point of view of the patient.  Hopefully, there will be more texts of this nature that might expand sciences to include other perspectives and further advance the field.  




Work Cited

Dully, Howard, and Charles Fleming. My Lobotomy. New York: Random House, 2008. Print. 



Paul Grobstein's picture

lobotomies, from the inside

"This text expands our knowledge of lobotomy beyond the biological and the historical; it provides a first-hand account of lobotomy from the patient."

I very much agree that the book is important for this reason.  Things look different from the inside, and there's lots to learn from that perspective.  One correction, the doctor in this case is Walter Freeman, instead of Walter Friedmam.