Friday, January 26, 2007

I would rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy

This semester is already shaping up to be much more pleasant than last semester (which I hated). I really like all of my classes, with my Intro to Guidance and Counseling by far being my favorite, and my second favorite being Abnormal Psychology.

For starter, there is no homework and there are no papers in the class. Our entire grade is based on only 3 tests, which is somewhat intimidating (especially since papers are, like, my thing) but I think it will be all right.

The professor is this really dry middle-aged woman who seems like she probably smokes 2 packs of cigarettes a day, and may or may not be a lez, I can't decide. But she's hilarious, and clearly loves the material. She gets such a visible glee out of talking about mental illness and out of drawing pictures on the chalkboard for us of body parts and surgical procedures.

Yesterday she showed us a bunch of "training videos" from mental wards in the 1940's of various mental illness procedures. Some of them are incredibly gruesome, and some just look horribly uncomfortable. She started out light, showing us footage of "patients" getting water treatments, which involved stripping them naked, tying them up while standing with their arms pulled out (think Abu Ghraib) and then being sprayed with, basically, a firehose of freezing water. Next there were glucose treatments, where patients would be injected with glucose, so their blood sugars would drop and they would basically go into a coma. Watching their bodies twitch and convulse and fall into the comas was pretty hard to watch. Then they would get injected (after the correct amount of time) with sugar to bring their levels back up, and they would awaken from the coma, supposedly cured.

After that we watched a bunch of footage of electroshock therapies. These were much worse, obviously, than what they do today, and it was pretty remarkable the way the bodies would curl up afterwards, almost as if they were trying to fold in on themselves. A lot of people would have grand mal seizures, but this is supposedly what would rearrange the neurons and "cure" the patient.

Then we got to the footage of the lobotomies. I don't think I've ever squirmed so much watching anything in my life. It was grainy, and the only sound was voiceover, but knowing these were real people was pretty tough. The pre-frontal lobotomy was invented by a Portugese doctor, Antonio Egas Moniz, in 1936, which involved drilling holes in patient's heads, then destroying the tissue connecting the frontal lobes by injecting them with alcohol. By the 40's, and the time of these videos, they didn't do so much alcohol injecting, but would chip away parts of the skull (after slicing the whole head open and peeling the skin back; and yes, we watched all of this), then get into the brain and literally cut synapses or just carve out chunks of the brain.

Later they started going in underneath the eyeball and snipping away parts of the brain, which did away with having to cut the whole head open.


The saddest parts of the videos, though, was the footage of the "success" stories. A lot of these people had what would today be considered very treatable illnesses (though some of them were schizophrenic), like excessive anxiety or depression. After their lobotomies, they would be much better in regards to their original problems, but most of them had been rendered totally childlike. Some of the these people were very well educated with PH.d.'s, and were doctors and professors. They showed footage of some of them playing cards with nurses, to show how "normal" they now were, but they would giggle, and wave at the camera like a child, and often just look up and stare off into space, their faces totally blank.

Incidentally, and my professor loves this story, you can tell by the way she smiles when she tells it, the Portugese doctor who invented these lobotomies was murdered by one of his former patients on which he had performed one of these surgeries.

1 comment:

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