Howard Dully, Charles Fleming
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At twelve, Howard Dully was guilty of the same crimes as other boys his age: he was moody and messy, rambunctious with his brothers, contrary just to prove a point, and perpetually at odds with his parents. Yet somehow, this normal boy became one of the youngest people on whom Dr. Walter Freeman performed his barbaric transorbital—or ice pick—lobotomy.
Abandoned by his family within a year of the surgery, Howard spent his teen years in mental institutions, his twenties in jail, and his thirties in a bottle. It wasn’t until he was in his forties that Howard began to pull his life together. But even as he began to live the “normal” life he had been denied, Howard struggled with one question: Why?
“October 8, 1960. I gather that Mrs. Dully is perpetually talking, admonishing, correcting, and getting worked up into a spasm, whereas her husband is impatient, explosive, rather brutal, won’t let the boy speak for himself, and calls him numbskull, dimwit, and other uncomplimentary names.”
There were only three people who would know the truth: Freeman, the man who performed the procedure; Lou, his cold and demanding stepmother who brought Howard to the doctor’s attention; and his father, Rodney. Of the three, only Rodney, the man who hadn’t intervened on his son’s behalf, was still living. Time was running out. Stable and happy for the first time in decades, Howard began to search for answers.
“December 3, 1960. Mr. and Mrs. Dully have apparently decided to have Howard operated on. I suggested [they] not tell Howard anything about it.”
Through his research, Howard met other lobotomy patients and their families, talked with one of Freeman’s sons about his father’s controversial life’s work, and confronted Rodney about his complicity. And, in the archive where the doctor’s files are stored, he finally came face to face with the truth.
Revealing what happened to a child no one—not his father, not the medical community, not the state—was willing to protect, My Lobotomy exposes a shameful chapter in the history of the treatment of mental illness. Yet, ultimately, this is a powerful and moving chronicle of the life of one man. Without reticence, Howard Dully shares the story of a painfully dysfunctional childhood, a misspent youth, his struggle to claim the life that was taken from him, and his redemption.
From the Hardcover edition.
owner, and she was construction-crazy. She started building the house in the 1880s, and kept workers going around the clock for more than forty years. The house, which turned into a big tourist attraction, was seven stories tall and was supposed to be haunted. The Winchester house on Edgewood wasn’t haunted until we moved into it. It was just a big old house. It was two stories, not seven. The paint was peeling. Some of the woodwork was sagging. Some of the shingles were missing. But to me the
institutions. He would perform transorbital lobotomies and, in the process, teach the resident psychiatrists how to do the operation themselves. He worked hard at it, and he did it practically for free. He charged large institutions twenty-five dollars a patient to perform the lobotomy at a time when, as a private physician, he could have charged thousands. In one year he visited hospitals in seventeen states, and also made presentations in Canada, Puerto Rico, and South America. On one
bicycle and how the handlebars have been poorly adjusted; he was trying to do something about them. But he also spoke of recently patching a tire five times in one day, after which he got a new tire. But he likes his old bicycle, even though it’s only a 26". He told about his paper route which brings him some $20 each month and he’s saving up to get a record player, but he finds he spends his money, sometimes without too much thinking about it. He’s helped his half-brother George on three
have me adopted by Gordon, so he could take us away from our dad and raise us as his own. “Gordon wanted to adopt the kids” my dad told me later. “He would raise them, himself. He said I was a lousy father, that June should never have married me. If I’d had a gun, I would have shot him.” I wasn’t conscious of any of this at the time. All I knew was I missed my mother, and she was gone. No one told me she was dead. I didn’t understand that she was dead. But I understood that she was gone. My
to treat people who were seriously ill. When she was sixteen she went to work for Our Lady of Fatima Villa, where she met Chris. By the time I met her, she was good enough friends with Chris that she knew something I didn’t know: Chris was fooling around behind my back. She had a boyfriend at work, a dishwasher named Brian. So Barbara probably wasn’t all that surprised when I started showing an interest in her. My relationship with Chris was bad. Our life together was bad. But our boys needed a