The Transorbital Lobotomy

1947 lobotomy
Reprinted from Eliot Valenstein's
Great and Desperate Cures.

This photo, from UPI/Bettmann News photos, was taken at Western State Hospital, Fort Steilacoom, Washington, on July 11, 1949, during the height of the lobotomy craze.

The patient was first "sedated" by receiving an electroconvulsive shock.

"Immediately following the ECS," according to Eliot Valenstein in his book, Great and Desperate Cures, "Dr Walter Freeman, began the operation" to sever the brain's two frontal lobes from one other. Dr. Freeman was the foremost missionary for lobotomy in the United States.

The operation shown is the transorbital lobotomy, administered without incision by introducing cutting instruments through the eye sockets.


lobotomy diagram
G.K. Yacorcynski. Medical Psychology
(The Ronald Press Co. 1951)

The result, according to one California institution superintendent, was the transformation of a troublesome young woman into one who, "asked if she expected to go home soon, answered pertly: 'That's up to the staff and I never debate with the staff.'"

The transorbital lobotomy replaced the surgical lobotomy, shown here in a drawing from a 1951 textbook, Medical Psychology.

lobotomy nurse
Photo of display by Patricia Deegan

Shown here, a display from the Glore Museum of Psychiatry, where a nurse points out the instruments used in lobotomy. The inventor of lobotomy, Dr. Egaz Moniz of Portugal, received the 1949 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work.

lobotomy tool
Photo by Patricia Deegan

Here is a closeup photo of the instruments from a Glore Museum display. Author Eliot Valenstein calls lobotomy "not a medical aberration, spawned in ignorance... These operations were very much a part of the mainstream of medicine of their time, and the factors that fostered their development and made them flourish are still active today." He attributes their use to "the strictly biological view of human differences."

From All Things Considered, Nov. 16, 2005
"On Jan. 17, 1946, a psychiatrist named Walter Freeman launched a radical new era in the treatment of mental illness in this country. On that day, he performed the first-ever transorbital or "ice-pick" lobotomy in his Washington, D.C., office. Freeman believed that mental illness was related to overactive emotions, and that by cutting the brain he cut away these feelings. Freeman, equal parts physician and showman, became a barnstorming crusader for the procedure. Before his death in 1972, he performed transorbital lobotomies on some 2,500 patients in 23 states."

Hear or read the whole story here:
   'My Lobotomy': Howard Dully's Journey

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