Our Body Is, at the End of the Day, the One Thing That Belongs to Us

One of the most amazing movies ever made, in my humble opinion, was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, directed by Milos Forman and starring an amazing cast including Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd and many other amazing actors who were not as well known back then as they are now.    The first time I saw it I was quite young, and didn’t fully understand the deeper meaning of the story.  I also didn’t understand what, in the end of the movie, the doctors had done to R.P. McMurphy, Nicholson’s character.  I remember my mother telling me they had lobotomized him, which meant they’d removed a part of his brain, making him docile.  This horrified me intensely, which is only natural, however, I still did not fully take in what this meant.  Nor did my mother fully describe to me the horrors of the widespread usage of the lobotomy back in the mid 1900s by Dr. Walter Freeman.

Thanks to YouTube, I’ve been recently enlightened.  I’ve also become more horrified.  There does not seem to have been any kind of finesse or intelligence to the giving of any lobotomies.  Simply thrusting a pick behind someone’s eyes and wiggling the thing around a bit does not seem like an operation of precision, but more a form of play.  Freeman seems more like he was a sociopath than a man concerned about the well-being of others.  What is possibly the most horrific aspect of Freeman’s career is his blatant disregard for the well-being of his patients and their caregivers who were often naive and/or desperate people who trusted him with their most precious things: their minds or the minds of their family members.

Update: Thanks to Coilhouse, I’ve found The Lobotomist, a very insightful documentary about Walter Freeman.  I highly suggest you watch it.  The movie can be seen in its entirety on Coilhouse or you can purchase it through WGBH’s website.

NPR recently published a piece on Howard Dully who was lobotomized when he was 10 years old.  The boy’s stepmother had insisted that her step son was intolerable and needed medical attention.  After being told by multiple doctors that Howard was fine and healthy, Freeman prescribed and performed his lobotomy on the boy to cure him of his supposed misbehavior.  Much to his stepmother’s dismay, Dully was one lobotomy victim who did not suffer as badly as so many others.  He was then and is still now fully functional in his life, although he did suffer in many other ways.  Knowing your step mother was wicked enough to have you lobotomized because she thought you odd can’t be easy on a child’s self-esteem, especially when your father did nothing to stop the procedure from happening.

Howard Dully during his transorbital lobotomy, Dec. 16, 1960

Dully was not the only person who was lobotomized for trivial reasons – there were quite a few.  This makes me wonder what kinds of similar treatments might we be torturing ourselves with today; are we blind to damage we might be doing to ourselves through medication or treatments we believe are trustworthy and effective?  We all know that medical sham has been around since the dawn of humanity.  The practice of trepanning is my favorite example:

The Extraction of the Stone of Madness by Hieronymus Bosch painted between 1488 and 1516

There is most definitely need for a more widespread acceptance and/or acknowledgment of how little we know about our own bodies.  Ideally this would allow us to better judge who is trustworthy to open us up.  I recall being struck by a quote in a book published in conjunction with an art exhibit by art star Damian Hirst entitled Theories, Models, Methods, Approaches, Assumptions, Results and Findings, shown at Gagosian Gallery back in 2000.  In this book, Professor Anthony Clare was quoted,

Why do doctors hoard knowledge? One reason is because they realize that the amount they know isn’t all that massive. There’s a feeling that the public is better off not knowing. But people do want to know; after all, their bodies are at the end of the day the one thing that belongs to them. I think it’s bad that the medical profession has not taken enough account of the need to get people to know more, to know the limits of medicine, to know the potential of the body and its limits, to know that man is a fallible machine, that disease, you might say is almost the more natural state of man than health.
Theories, Models, Methods, Approaches, Assumptions, Results and Findings

Well said!  Then again, trepanning is still a somewhat common practice, and is believed to be very effective.  Some people even perform the procedure on themselves and perceive wonderful results.  So who am I to judge?

An article on trepanning from Damn Interesting.

Discover Magazine on curing Alzheimers.

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