Two radio programs I listened to in the last two days were documentaries about people attempting to deal with severe procedures received to treat mental illness. Yesterday, The Current dealt with former Rolling Stone writer Jonathan Cott who received Electroconvulsive therapy in 1998 that wiped out all memories the previous fifteen years of his life.The thing that always floors me about ECT is this: "The exact mechanisms by which ECT exerts its effect are not known" and this is a statement from a wikipedia entry that generally seems pretty defensive about the whole treatment saying that the benefits can in some situations outweigh the risks. The Current documentary is not available for download for copyright reasons, which is a shame.
And today I listened to a podcast of NPRs All Things Considered about Howard Dully, a man who received a particularly nasty sounding "Ice Pick lobotomy" when he was only 12 years old and his search to discover more about the man that did it to him, Walter Jackson Freeman. Freeman conducted the ten minute procedure in on roughly 2,500 to 3, 500 clients depending on what web page you read, a procedure that involved sticking an ice pick through the tear duct and then hammering it into the frontal lobe (picture here if you can stomach it) . From Wikipedia:
Freeman embarked on a national campaign in his van which he called his lobotomobile " to "educate and train" surgeons in the procedure at state-run institutions. According to some, institutional care was hampered by lack of effective treatments and horrible overcrowding, and Freeman saw the transorbital lobotomy as an expedient tool to get large populations out of treatment and back into private life. Critics contend that Freeman was a sociopath who greatly enjoyed lobotomizing people.
Apparently, it was pretty much the only effective procedure before pharmaceuticals and was used to cure poorly behaved children and people who had bad headaches, along with people that were suicidal. Theres been a movie made about it too called A Hole in One, from 2004 which isnt out yet on DVD, and has mixed reviews on IMDB. (Which doesnt mean much because there are only two reviews). Download the episode by clicking here.
Now that I have a daughter Im finding myself thinking of everything in terms of "What if anything like this ever had to happen to Lola?" Which tends make things that are already horrifying even more so. The other side of the equation is "How would I feel if Lola was ever suicidal and this seemed like her only option for stopping her from killing herself?" Which is another fair question, and I would guess would be the position of anyone supporting these, or many of the drug treatments.
Also came across this interesting, and understandably angry, blog about the impact of these types of procedures on families and friends as well as the individuals who receive them.