Category Archives: Mad Neurologists

Walter Freeman: Ice Pick Lobotomist

freeman_profile2Neurologist Walter Freeman strapped 29-year-old Ellen Ionesco to the operating table and delivered coma-inducing jolts of electroshock to her brain. Depressed, manic, violently suicidal, Ionesco was just the sort that was thought to benefit from traditional shock therapy—only Freeman wanted to do more than just shock her.1

Holding an ice pick to Ionesco’s tear duct, the doctor began chiseling into her eye socket. With an audible crack the thin layer of bone separating Ionesco’s brain gave way, and the ice pick sunk deep into her frontal lobe. Freeman then swished the metal rod back and forth, severing the neural pathways he believed were the root of Ionesco’s illness.1

This was in 1946 people. “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chicken’s” was tearing up the jukebox charts. Future sitcom legend Ed O’Neil was born amid thunderous hooting and canned applause. And Walter Freeman, who would go on to perform thousands of similar operations in the coming years, was well on his way to garnering one of the more sinister nicknames in modern medicine—The Ice Pick Lobotomist. Continue reading

Mad Scientist #13/14: Vladimir Demikhov and Robert White

Robert White and Vladimir DemikhovOkay, so you’ve got the job interview of your life tomorrow, just one small problem: your kidney is failing. Also your spleen has ruptured. You’re experiencing necrosis of the liver, critical hyperkalemia, and, why not, septic shock. In short, you’re dying…or are you?

With your last ounce of strength you set out and grab the sturdiest, most passed-out homeless man you can find and drag him to the nearest experimental surgery clinic that’s open late. Plunking his rum-soaked body on the counter so as to startle the triage nurse you yell, “I need a full body transplant! Stat!” Continue reading

Mad Scientist #3: Duchenne de Bologne

The first problem with cadavers is that they’re actually hard to come by. The early Italian anatomist Vesalius was known, on occasion, to send his students into cemeteries to obtain recently deceased corpses for his famously theatrical public dissections.

The second problem is that cadavers are…um…dead. All the muscles, viscera, nerves and ligaments are there in plain sight, but they’re still and lifeless. What’s more, the very act of dissection cuts their connection to the skin, prohibiting us from understanding precisely how the body’s internal mechanics give rise to a coherent outward appearance.

19th century French physiologist Duchenne de Bologne cracked this little conundrum. He discovered a way to perform living dissections through electrical stimulation, which is (slightly) less sadistic than it sounds. Continue reading