I’m reading a really interesting new book. I tweeted a review of it from the Washington Post (see @bruddajack, August 26) and bought it yesterday. It reads like a hot knife through butter. The name of the book is Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich. H.M. suffered from epileptic seizures after an accident in childhood. About 20 years later he would find himself on the operating table of William Scoville, M.D., who, after failing to find the focal point of a seizure happening as the operation began, removed both temporal medial lobes of the patient. Scoville did this without any idea of the consequences, H.M. could never form short-term memories again.
Dittrich reviewed some of the history of what was called psychosurgery. In the 1940s and 50s, brain surgery was not rocket science. Brain mapping was in its infancy. Information about the functions of parts of the brain were based on accidental injuries. Dittrich chronicles the development of brain surgery with a strong focus on ethics, touching on Nazi medical experiments; the Tuskegee experiments in the US, where syphilis was allowed to run its course in a population of black men even though the disease could be cured; the lobotomy spree of the most prolific of lobotomists, Walter Freeman.
The book is surprisingly intimate since the author’s grandfather was Dr. Scoville. Dittrich’s privileged point of view and research allowed him to illuminate the beginnings of brain surgery.
Given my older brother’s condition (Mike is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal), I have always been interested in the brain and how it works (or doesn’t). One of my ‘hobbies’ is to learn as much about the brain as possible. I want my artwork to depict the effect that different brains have on each other, particularly the ability or inability to communicate. I consider my brother’s brain as ‘broken’, in terms of its affect on me. I have never been able to communicate with him on any meaningful level. Much of the early part of my blog was devoted to my thoughts about what I could do better to understand him.
Below, a slice of brain stands between my brother and me.