You're staring at the sickening blue-green tile walls of the operating room over on MS-1 (Medical and Surgical, first floor) at some state hospital somewhere back east. It's where they do the lobotomies. That's where our story takes place.
Hierarchy of Mental Institution "Treatment"
"When a patient won't behave, first, they try putting them on stronger medication and if that doesn't work, they try giving 'em a little time-out in the seclusion room. If that fails to get the desired results, they try to fix 'em with a little electro-shock therapy but if that doesn't make them behave, it's off with the frontal lobe."
Now days, mental institution staff have many ways to get uptight patients to cool it, but that was not the case in 1936, which was the year of the lobotomy. They didn't have the major tranquilizers (you know the -zines) and they didn't even have electro-shock therapy. About the only thing they could do with an uptight patient is throw them in a padded cell. I don't have a whole lot of background information about how lobotomies came to be, except I do know that they were the brainchild of Dr. Walter Freeman, who will probably go down in history as the lobotomy king (the lobotomy queens being the psychiatric nurses referred to by Kesey as the Big Nurse.
At first, they used lobotomies on extremely psychotic patients because they didn't have the anti-psychotic medicine to treat them with. Then, they discovered that lobotomies also worked "wonders" for what they used to call morons, but what we now call mildly retarded (IQ between 60 and 70). These patients were a pain in the neck as far as the hospital staff were concerned, and anything that would get them to stop "acting like a moron" was welcome. Well, the lobotomies did just that. Only trouble was the operations converted the patients from morons to vegetables. Of course, that was no problem for the staff. They'd just transfer the lobotomized patent to one of the Geriatric Wards and put them in with all the other vegetables.
Back in those days, the needs of the hospital staff seemed to come before the needs of the patient, which is usually not the case today, but I'm afraid that even today, there are still a few Big Nurses around. Even so, handicapped patients no longer get lobotomized just for the crime of being handicapped, which is exactly what happened to one of the Kennedy daughters. You can read all about it in the book, The Kennedy Women. This has to be one of the most despicable things ever done to a retarded child. Joe Kennedy was all for the operation, because the kid was giving the product (ihs political carreer) a bad name. The Kennedy mother, however, wasn't convinced that the treatment wasn't more deadly than the disease. In other words, she was against it.
Of course, Joe Kennedy won and it was off with the girl's frontal lobe. They took her to the operating room and she didn't put up a fight because only 60 lobotomies had been performed before and lobotomy was not a household word on the wards yet. They had only been doing them in the United States since 1936. They gave her a local anesthetic, which did not make her unconscious, because they needed her awake so they could monitor the progress of the lobotomy. They drilled the burr holes in her skull, got out the hammer and chisel and started chipping away at her brain. They kept telling her to sing, which she did until they chipped the last neuron out of the frontal lobe. Suddenly the singing stops, and the doctor knows that the lobotomy has been a success, and he tells the Kennedys that they will never have to worry about their daughter acting like a moron again.
Of course, the Kennedys didn't keep their kid home after the lobotomy. After they became aware that the operation had turned their kid into a vegetable, they left her on some ward somewhere to rot with all the other vegetables, and she's been there ever since 1940. Think of what a bummer that would be. It's bad enough for the geriatric patients, but when you take a teenager, give her a lobotomy and throw her on a goddamn vegetable ward for the rest of her life, man, I can't think of anything worse that can happen to a human being. The worst part of it was when the staff found how much more "manageable" the Kennedy girl had become after the lobotomy, naturally, they want to lop off the frontal lobe of every other retarded patient that comes in the door. Just luckily, the science of mental health started to progress after that.
The use of lobotomies might have really gotten out of hand, but sometime in the mid-forties, they came out with electro-shock therapy, which for a while seemed the most popular way for the hospital staff to get patients to stop "acting like morons," plus it didn't seem to do as much damage as a lobotomy did. The use of electro-shock therapy might have also gotten out of hand, but by the early 50's they discovered the major tranquilizers. Those seemed like a godsend at first, but after a few decades, they found these drugs have the nasty side-effect of destroying the part of the brain that produces dopamine. God knows how they torture the patients these days.
Here are a few ways you can investigate the scandals that happen to mental patients. Actually, I have no idea as to how less deadly mental institutions have become since the 40's. The dangers seemed to have changed. The old dangers (lobotomies) seemed to have been replaced with new dangers (the medicine and electro-shock therapy). Anyway, here's some places you can read all about it and maybe you can even write a good term paper on the subject.
If anyone knows about any newsgroups where mental institutions are discussed, please let me know because I've looked all over the place and have drawn a blank so far.
Copyright © 1995-1997, Colin Pringle