Saturday, August 26, 2017

"My Lobotomy: A Memoir" by Howard Dully and Chris Fleming

I want to start out by saying that “My Lobotomy” was a very difficult book to read, not because of the writing or editing but because of the subject matter. Everything talked about in this book actually happened. This book at times made me want to cry or to shout at the parents of Howard Dully demanding to know how they could put a child through everything that happened to him. I had to often set the book down for a bit and come back to it later. It was a very emotional experience. If what Howard went through as a child were experienced by someone his age today, that child would have been taken away by Child Protective Services.

Howard’s mother died when he was 5 years old. That was where his normal, happy childhood ended. His father was working multiple jobs trying to make ends meet and remarried a woman by the name of Lou who had sons of her own from a previous marriage. She clearly favored them over her new step-children Oddly, this was mostly taken out on Howard and not his brother. No matter what Howard did, he seemed to get punished for it. Generally Lou would spank the boy, then have his father continue the punishment when he got home from working. Nothing Howard ever did was right or good enough for her. Now that isn’t to say he didn’t misbehave, but his behavior certainly wasn’t any worse than that of other children his age.

At some point, Lou sought the advice of no less than 6 psychiatrists as to what was wrong with the boy. Each of them, after listening to her, told her in no uncertain terms that there was nothing wrong with Howard, but that the problem lay with her and thought that she could benefit from therapy. Each time that happened, she would seek the help of another doctor to try and solve the problem of her stepson. That all changed when she met Dr. Freeman.

Dr. Freeman performed hundreds of lobotomies over the course of his career. He believed it cured all sorts of mental problems, from anxiety or depression to emotional problems such as anger or rage. After meeting with Lou several times and hearing about Howards emotional problems, he diagnosed Howard as schizophrenic and suggested that an “icepick” lobotomy could cure him. Howard had just turned 12 when the procedure was performed on him.

Howard was one of the fortunate few who survived the procedure with relatively few side effects, but his home life did not improve. Lou did not want him around and eventually got Dr. Freeman to agree that the boy would be better off elsewhere. Howard spent time in halfway houses and other homes before that option was unavailable to his family.

Over the years Howard spent time in an insane asylum, in juvenile detention centers, homeless, in jail, and in just about any situation you can imagine. Eventually, he met a woman he fell in love with and after they both got completely off of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes, they were married. He continued to have ups and downs in his life, but for the most part his life improved. He found and held a stable job and also had a happy family of his own. He was one of the lucky ones who survived having had a lobotomy at some point in their lives. Yet still one thing haunted him... Why had it been done to him?

There is so much more to his story. I won’t tell you the rest of it as you may want to read it for yourself. I have only included the barest of details in this review. As I said above, this was a very difficult book for me to read. My own child is the same age as Howard was when the (in my opinion unnecessary) lobotomy was performed on him. I couldn’t help but compare my own child’s worst day to his, and still believe he was simply a normal boy who was too often and too harshly punished. He was a just a normal pre-teen who deserved far better than he received.

The book continues to tell about Howard’s life well into his 50s. If you are at all curious about him or what happened to him, you should take a look at it. The book was told from his perspective, as well as having been written by him. While it is a very emotional read, he did live an extraordinary life despite everything he went through. While I may have had to put it down a few times, I also had to pick it back up again each time so that I could find out how it ended. I just couldn’t give up on the book without knowing how it all turned out.

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