In the middle of the 20th century, doctors performed crude brain surgery on thousands of people - often without their consent - in order to alleviate mental suffering. A wrong turn that claimed numerous victims.
Howard Dully doesn't know what to expect on this day in December 1960. His doctor, W alter Freeman, had told him he needed to run some tests on him. The neurologist accompanies the then twelve-year-old boy to a treatment room at the Doctor's General Hospital in San Jose, California. There Howard is fixed to the bed and then anesthetized with several electric shocks. Using nail-like instruments resembling ice picks, Freeman stabs one at a time under the creases of Howard's right and left upper eyelids, slowly advancing the tools toward the brain. When the tip meets the resistance of the cranial bone, he rams it into the frontal lobe with light hammer blows, a total of around seven centimeters deep. Using circular movements at specific angles, he then severed nerve cords on both sides that lead to the prefrontal cortex.
The entire procedure only takes about ten minutes. Even after Howard regains consciousness, he still doesn't know what just happened to him; only later will he learn that Freeman performed a so-called transorbital lobotomy on him. The doctor allegedly diagnosed the boy with "childhood schizophrenia" - after his stepmother complained that her son was unruly and wild and therefore afraid of him. The surgery aimed to alter Howard's personality and sedate him. And it works: When the boy leaves the hospital five days after the operation, he is transformed; he seems disinterested and jaded…