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Freeman performed 2500 lobotomies in 23 states, mostly based on scanty and flimsy evidence for its scientific basis, but more significantly he popularized the lobotomy as a legitimate form of psychosurgery. A neurologist and psychiatrist without surgical training, he initially worked with several surgeons, including James W. Watts. In 1936, he and Watts became the first American doctors to perform prefrontal lobotomy.
Frustrated by his lack of surgical training and seeking a faster and less invasive way to perform the procedure, Freeman invented the "ice pick" or transorbital lobotomy, which, at first, literally used an ice pick hammered through the back of the eye socket into the brain. Freeman was able to perform these very quickly, outside of an operating theatre, and without the assistance of an actual surgeon. For his first transorbital lobotomies, Freeman used an actual icepick from his kitchen. Later, he utilized an instrument created specifically for the operation called a leucotome. In 1948 Freeman developed a new technique which involved wrenching the leucotome in an upstroke after the initial insertion. This procedure placed great strain on the instrument and often resulted in the leucotome breaking off in the patient's skull. As a result, Freeman designed a new, stronger instrument, the orbitoclast.
Freeman embarked on a national campaign in his van which he called his "lobotomobile" to demonstrate the procedure to surgeons working at state-run institutions; Freeman would show off by icepicking both of a patient's eyesockets at one time - one with each hand. According to some, institutional care was hampered by lack of effective treatments and extreme overcrowding, and Freeman saw the transorbital lobotomy as an expedient tool to get large populations out of treatment and back into private life.
The “ice pick lobotomy” was, according to Ole Enersen, performed by Freeman “with a recklessness bordering on lunacy, touring the country like a travelling evangelist. In most cases,” Enersen continued, “this procedure was nothing more than a gross and unwarranted mutilation carried out by a self righteous zealot.”
Freeman's most notorious operation was on the ill-fated Rosemary Kennedy, who was permanently incapacitated by a lobotomy at age 23. Another of his patients, Howard Dully has now written a book called My Lobotomy about his experiences with Freeman and his long recovery after the surgery.
With the advent of antipsychotic drugs, notably Thorazine, in the mid-1950s, lobotomy fell out of favor as a treatment, and Freeman saw his reputation crumble quickly. He continued to drive cross country in his "lobotomobile" to visit his former patients until his death from cancer in 1972.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Walter_Freeman". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|