Monday, October 10, 2016
Book review: My Lobotomy: A Memoir by Howard Dully with Charles Fleming
When Howard was a child, his mother died. His father remarried, and his step-mother was just horrible to him. She started in smaller ways like not allowing him to eat dinner with the rest of the family (including his brother, as she was only horrible to Howard) but she progressed to consulting with Dr. Freeman, the doctor who pioneered the lobotomy procedure, Through lies, and manipulation of Howard's father, she eventually got Dr. Freeman (who wasn't hard to persuade) to agree to lobotomize Howard at the age of 12.
Honestly, Howard (as he himself says) probably had some ADHD and was a rambunctious child with a lot of energy. But he wasn't at all a bad kid. He had a very bad step-mother. (And a pretty bad father to go along with it.) As adults, he went back to most of his siblings to ask about this time and many of them admitted to being frightened of her, and even more frightened that one day she'd turn on them and treat them the way she treated Howard. I was heartbreaking.
He had a troubled young adulthood, understandably. He was essentially kicked out of the house after the lobotomy didn't "fix" him (or make him into a hospitalizable vegetable.) He lived in a variety of places including an asylum for a while. He married young. He didn't know how to be an adult at all. He didn't know how to cook, how to pay bills, how to hold down a job. No one had ever taught him any life skills. Eventually, in middle age, he got these things figured out and was in a stable marriage and did hold a job for a long time. That's when a radio producer from NPR got in touch with him about his story, as they were researching Dr. Freeman and lobotomies. With their help, he did a lot of the research that turned into this book, and interviewed people like his father about what had happened back then. At one point he had an MRI done and the doctor who reviewed it was astonished--he said that if he just saw the MRI, he'd assume whoever's brain that was was non-functioning completely. Luckily, Howard was young enough that his brain was still plastic enough to rewire itself.
The story was compelling. The writing was understandably rather pedestrian, but it was completely appropriate for the story and for Howard. I could almost hear his voice, reading it to me. It was a hair long, but not so much so that it was annoying. Chilling story. That doctor should have been held more responsible for his actions.
I bought this book used at The Book Rack in Charlotte, NC.