If you know anything about lobotomies, your knowledge probably goes as far as to at least realize how horrible of a surgery it is. And if you don’t know anything about lobotomies, just know that it is one of the worst surgeries doctors have ever performed on innocent patients, mostly affecting the mentally ill and women.
Mental health is something that even in our modern medical world we know very little about. The brain is an intricate and sensitive organ, and you can’t just go prodding around in there with a sharp tool. But unfortunately, lobotomies did just that. They were an extremely damaging and invasive type of brain surgery that had tragic results on innocent patients.
But we’ll get into the details more throughout the rest of the list. When we think about doctors, we imagine someone we can trust. If you don’t have any experience in the medical field, even getting a common cold can be frightening at times. We laypeople don’t always know how our body works or why it does the things that it does, so we usually confide in a medical professional to treat our ailments. These are supposed to be people who know exactly what we need to get better, and that is something especially crucial for someone suffering from a mental illness.
That is what makes the story of lobotomies so tragic. These were all patients who were seemingly suffering, though you’ll soon see that not all of these patients were even sick. They put their faith in the doctors, and the doctors failed them. Here are 15 images that show the true horror of lobotomies.
15. There Were Two Men Responsible For It All
The kings of lobotomies, the guys who came up with the idea and probably performed the most of these horrifying surgeries, were Dr. James Watts and Dr. Walter Freeman. So you can assume that these two men, who performed tens of thousands of brain surgeries, must have been brain surgeons, right? Nope, not at all. These two men were still doctors but were only psychiatrists! It seems a little odd that two men who had no training in surgery were allowed to perform such controversial surgeries! But these two were pretty good at marketing themselves and these surgeries. Dr. Walter Freeman was actually given a Nobel Peace Prize for his work. It was really nothing more than a surgery that could be marketed towards a variety of people who were scared about how to treat a mental illness that no one knew much about. At least now we’ll remember them throughout history as the monsters they truly are.
14. The Procedure Is Disturbing
There were a few different types of lobotomies, but the most common procedure was the one you see above. It involved taking a sharp tool, most commonly an ice pick, inserting it into the patient’s eye, inserting the object into the brain, and disconnecting nerve endings from parts of the affected brain. The horrifying part is that the brain wasn’t even opened, so doctors weren’t even able to exactly see what they were doing to the patient’s brain! Often times, the patient would remain awake and would be told to sing songs or recite poems. Once their recitals got a little off, or it became harder for them to talk, the doctor knew they had gone a little too far so they would stop. This is a horrifying and completely unprofessional way to carry out an extremely invasive surgery on such a precious organ in our bodies!
13. It Was Performed On Children
Now we know how lobotomies were performed, but why exactly did doctors feel it necessary to go digging around in the most sensitive organ of the body? Lobotomies were a garden variety surgery that was performed to treat countless types of mental illness. Mental illness refers to any diseases or disabilities affecting the brain. Most commonly we know these as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.. These are common and a large portion of our population suffers these diseases while still maintaining an active and normal lifestyle. Mental illness also includes more serious conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and dementia. Well, in a time that didn’t understand mental illness as well as we do now, mental illness meant more than just these common diagnoses. It also included unruly and badly behaved children. That meant that if you were a little kid who couldn’t put away their toys, sit still in class (probably due to ADHD, which can be easily managed with modern drugs), or even just listen to your parents, you risked getting a lobotomy.
12. The Surgical Tools Used
Above are the tools most commonly used to perform lobotomies. You would probably assume, if you saw this picture with no context, that these are the tools of a dentist. They are sharp, metal, and look like they could seriously do some damage. Perfect tools for dentists, right? Teeth are bones, so they can stand to be poked and prodded with some sharp tools every now and again if it means removing months of popcorn kernel build up. Unfortunately, that is not the case. These tools were used and were meant for brain surgery! The skull is one of the thickest bones in the body. The brain is the only organ that is almost completely encased in a bone as well. This, even to common people and not even doctors, gives us a pretty clear sign that you really probably shouldn’t go digging around in your brain with sharp objects.
11. It Changed People Forever
If you break a bone, you can usually put it in a cast and with patience and rest, the arm will be fine again. If you accidentally chop your finger off and are quick enough to grab it and make your way to the hospital, you can probably have a normally functioning finger once again! But if you damage your brain, there’s a pretty slim chance of you ever going back to normal. Common diseases that affect the brain are treatable and even with some brain damage, you can probably live a normal life again, but it will never be the same. Once you break through your skull and start prodding around with needles and sticks, you’re not going to be the same person you were before. Even drinking too much alcohol and doing too many drugs can mess with the way we think and who we are as people; just imagine what a super sharp stick jammed into your skull will do.
10. The Side Effects Were Terrifying
We’ve learned about how people give lobotomies, and we’ve discussed some of the reasons why someone might get a lobotomy, and we definitely know they’re horrible, but what exactly does a patient who has had a lobotomy act like? You can see from some of these before and after images that something is definitely off. The results of the procedure almost always varied. For the first few weeks, most patients showed a lot of improvement in the behavior they were being treated for. Someone who was depressed might act happy. Someone who was schizophrenic no longer acted out and lived normally. But what would often follow would be more tragic. Many patients, who made it out of the surgery (still functioning, that is) would resort back to their old bad habits or develop new or worse mental illnesses. Suicide after a lobotomy was common, as was developing the brain and habits of an adolescent. Many people weren’t able to live the normal lives they sought when getting the surgery in the first place.
9. Electroshock Was Also Used
There were a few variations of the average ice pick. One of these was the use of shock therapy. American Horror Story gave a realistic depiction of actual shock therapy in the second season when Jessica Lange’s character underwent the surgery. It involved just what you’d imagine; a patient getting electrocuted in their brain. The results varied just as much as they did with the ice pick version of a lobotomy. In some cases, a patient would undergo shock therapy and then be given an ice pick lobotomy! For most of these surgeries, the patients would be awake and conscious as well. Any drugs that might put you under or out of consciousness would interfere with the brain surgery a little too much. The sad part is that these surgeries weren’t tested that well, so it was almost always a gamble with what the results would actually be.
8. Rosemary Kennedy Was An Infamous Victim
Rosemary Kennedy was one of eight siblings; her brother was our former president, John F. Kennedy. The Kennedys were a perfect family. They were all bright, intelligent, and successful children that would make any parent proud. But Rosemary was one exception. She was a slow learner and didn’t pick up on social cues as well as her other brothers and sisters. She couldn’t learn as quick of a pace or retain the same amount of information, resulting in a lack of success compared to her siblings. She was also a victim of violent mood swings and bouts of depression, probably brought on by her feelings of failure reinforced by her family. She was also rumored to be promiscuous and enjoyed indulging more than reading books. Because her behavior was sometimes embarrassing, her family decided that a lobotomy was the best option to make her a model child. What happened instead was one of the most tragic incidents involving a president’s family. The surgery left her brain-dead and unable to function normally in society.
7. The Damage Was Permanent
The damage that lobotomies left was absolutely tragic. Even though people did have mental illnesses that greatly affected their lives, their lives post-lobotomy were hardly ever better! The woman above looks happier, but does that mean she is? It is likely that she is just more subservient now. Depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are all illnesses that do affect people daily and many of those who suffer would probably love to have the ability to get a quick surgery to fix it all. But would you still get that surgery if it meant a piece of who you are is taken away from you forever? Nowadays, people who suffer mental illness still seek treatment for their disabilities. But it usually involves therapy and medication, both which can be stopped at any time. These mind altering drugs are still reversible, so even if you feel like a part of you is lost while taking medication, at least you have the ability to get it back.
6. Some Are Still Done Today
After reading all of these so far, you probably know well enough that you would never get a lobotomy yourself, and especially would not subject a loved one to such a tragic surgery. At the very least, you have a little bit of a headache, right? How does it feel to know that these incredibly dangerous surgeries are still performed today? Lobotomies were extremely popular at one point, but after learning of the dangers along with the introduction of more common anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, many people chose alternate ways to treat their mental illness. By now, people know well enough that these surgeries have a low success rate and are too risky to try. But they are still used as a last resort to treat mental illness and are completely legal in the United States. However, only two facilities can do the procedure, one is located at Brown University and the other at Harvard University. It still doesn’t seem quite right, though.
5. Homosexuals Were Victims
Just like you’ve probably guessed by now, electric shock therapy and lobotomies were commonly used to treat patients who exhibited homosexual behavior. Homosexuality was just thought of as a sexual deviance in past times, like how we might think of someone who enjoys BDSM in the bedroom today. People didn’t realize that homosexuality wasn’t just about who people liked to have sex with. It actually involved a lifestyle and romantic connection between people of the same sex. But no one really believed this and instead thought it was treatable by ripping out part of your brain or shocking you until you didn’t think” bad” thoughts about the same sex anymore. This seems absolutely insane, right? Well, the horrifying truth is that our vice president-elect Mike Pence is a big fan of using shock therapy to treat homosexual individuals. It’s 2016 and Mike Pence still thinks you can pray (or shock) the gay away.
4. It Affected The Prefrontal Cortex
All bodies are made differently; no two people look the same. But even though this is true, we still have a lot of similarities, like what organs we have where and how they function. We all have a prefrontal cortex, but this is arguably the part of our body that differs the most. Our prefrontal cortex is responsible for a lot of what makes us who we are as individual people. The brain develops from the back to the front, so the prefrontal cortex is made last. This is why a lot of teens can give into peer pressure, why young adults are still making bad decisions, and why you can’t drink until you’re 21-years-old, as this is the age when it is estimated that our brain is finally finished developing. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for our self-control, coordination, emotional control, focus, organization, planning, and most importantly, it’s the brain that is responsible for holding our personality. Horrifyingly, this is the part that gets scrambled like eggs during a lobotomy.
3. They Were Given For Silly Reasons
As we’ve already discussed, they were given for some pretty outlandish reasons. One woman was given a lobotomy for being “the meanest woman on the planet.” After her lobotomy, she was known for smiling more and being friendlier. She also had trouble controlling her bowels and would often drop things or bump into things. Another, a small child, was given a lobotomy because she would constantly tear up and destroy her toys. After her lobotomy, she did it more often, but this time because she was confused. Obviously, like the woman above, schizophrenia can be a debilitating illness that can’t be left untreated. But a lobotomy isn’t always the answer. Luckily we live in a time when there are medications instead of just having a big chunk of your brain removed. But there’s probably something you can think of in your life now that you’ve done that would probably have led to you getting a lobotomy by now if you had lived in the wrong time.
2. The Results On The Brain Are Startling
In the above picture, a brain is pictured before and after it received a lobotomy. As you can see, the damage is startling. An entire chunk of the brain no longer appears to be there! How could anyone in their right mind honestly believe at one point that removing part of a patient’s brain was the best way to treat their mental illness? Especially when it was something as low key as unruliness or misbehaving. And the fact that they were done on children is especially terrifying. Children’s brains aren’t even fully developed yet and people were already willing to poke around in the brain and take chunks out of it. How can anyone expect a person to normally function after going through all of that terrifying treatment? Hopefully, we have learned enough from this procedure to never subject innocent patients to such torture in the future.
1. Women Were The Biggest Victims
Out of the 50,000 plus lobotomies that are thought to have been performed, the majority of them were done on women. Throughout history, women have always had a certain mold they have to fill. They used to have to be the caretakers of the house. They were domesticated beings told not to think too much, read too much, or act out too much. If they showed signs of defiance towards their fathers or husbands, they would easily be called insane; especially if it was at the time of their menstruation. Many women who acted out of this mold created by men would be subjected to unjust lobotomies in an attempt to maintain control over their psyche and their bodies. The result was exactly what men wanted: a loss of the woman’s personality, the ability to control her, and the loss of ability to think clearly for herself. They became dependent and subservient; something that men have desired in women up until this day.
Want to see more historically scary pictures? Check out 15 Disturbing Images Of The KKK or 15 Old Pictures Once Considered Normal But Are Now Terrifying