Just What You Need - A Hole In The HeadIf you’ve ever read Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or seen the movie, you probably have a glimmer of lobotomies. Even if you have never heard of the book or movie, the word lobotomy is unlikely to conjure up any thoughts sunshiny. It is a word fear of pain, humiliation and impotence.
And yet, history is full of people who did just that, they volunteered for violent, ill-researched brain surgery. Lobotomies came in two flavors: the prefrontal lobotomy first by neurologist Egas Moniz (who won a Nobel Prize for his contribution to medicine), and transorbital lobotomy. Transorbital lobotomies were the brains of children psychiatrist Walter Freeman and touted as an easier, more successful alternative to prefrontal lobotomies.
While Moniz technique involved drilling holes in the skull to reach the brain’s frontal lobes, Freeman was relatively bloodless, as the brain is accessed through the eyes. Using the technique of upper eyelid patient Freeman rose and a fine selection of ice like instrument inserted through against the top of the eye socket. Mallet was then used to hammer the instrument, called leucotome, through the bone and into the delicate brain tissue. The leucotome was taken on a scientific way to cut the nerve fibers connecting the frontal lobes to the thalamus.
The intention was still too emotions, effectively cutting off the brain’s ability to process and react accordingly. The whole procedure took 10 minutes to make the unconscious patient with an electric shock to the patient wake up with two black eyes (both sides of the face that had to be done for the sake of balance).
Freeman first lobotomy, suicidal housewife Ellen Ionesco, was considered a great success by all, including herself Ellen, and Ellen’s daughter, who witnessed the procedure. Other results were unsuccessful, with some very nasty and very tragic results, at least according to Dr. Elliot Valenstein, who wrote a book on the history of lobotomies called Great and Desperate Cures. Vegetative state and death were not uncommon.
However, over 50,000 lobotomies were performed in the US. UU. between 1949 and 1952. Valenstein says the reason was simply because they were not any alternatives. Psychiatric drugs are only introduced in the mid-50s and until then desperate times and desperate measures go hand in hand.
You would think that with advances in medicine, particularly psychiatry, lobotomies have fallen completely out of favor with doctors prefer less invasive treatment measures. This is not entirely the case. According to a survey taken in 1999, 74 of the American Psychiatric Association members would consider neurosurgery patients. 74! This, though it is not yet sure how the four major psychiatric neurosurgeries work. He makes you want to choose their psychiatrist done very carefully.
Psychosurgery procedures have obviously come a long way since the ice-pick-in-the-eye days. But despite all the phenomenal progress since the 50s, there is much yet about the brain we do not know. Fiddling about sensitive gray matter should be an absolute last resort and not touted as a quick and effective cure for anything.