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Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.
Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.
Tue, 15 Jun 2021 09:00
President Kennedy signs a bill that transforms mental healthcare in America. With his legacy on the line, Walter Freeman begins a desperate—and dangerous—quest to redeem the lobotomy.
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A listener note, this episode contains graphic descriptions and may not be suitable for younger listeners. It's September 1953 in Washington, D.C. Winfred Overholzer walks down a long hallway in St. Elizabeth's Asylum. His leather shoes tap against the concrete floor, and often the distance he can hear patients shouting and pounding on the walls. Overholzer turns a corner when suddenly there's a loud shrieking noise. He looks up, a patient is standing at his doorway. His hair is dishevelled and his eyes are wild with rage. The patient snarls and then disappears from view. Overholzer shakes his head. He knows that to most people working in this asylum would be a nightmare. But he's grown used to it. Overholzer is the superintendent of St. Elizabeth's, and he spent years helping them mentally ill. These days, Overholzer doesn't spend as much time working directly with patients. But that could soon change. Overholzer recently discovered a new promising treatment. It's a drug that could change lives. And now he's going to meet with a long time patient named Janice, and hopefully he'll convince her to try this new miracle drug. Overholzer steps into a small room where he finds the patient Janice sitting up in bed. She's an older woman with gray hair, clutching a set of rosary beads. Janice suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and so Overholzer starts by giving her a warm and friendly smile. Good morning Janice. You look nice. Hi. How are we today? Who are you? What are you doing here? Oh, who am I? Come on. You know me. I'm Dr. Overholzer, superintendent. I don't know. You don't know? Well, who else would I be? The devil takes strange forms. Hmm. The devil. Well, how about this? I know your favorite dessert is pistachio ice cream. Would the devil know that? Yes, he might. Oh, okay. But would the devil do this? Overholzer reaches out and touches the cross on the rosary, and slowly Janice begins to relax. No. The devil wouldn't do that. No, he wouldn't. Like I said, I'm Dr. Overholzer. You sound distressed. That's actually why I'm here. I have something I want to share with you. It's an incredible new drug called chlorpromazine. It's helping a lot of people, and I think you should try it. Janice shakes her head. No, I don't want drugs. And why not Janice? Because they turn you into a zombie. Oh, Janice, you're thinking of the old drugs, the barbitwits, and this drug, it's different. No, no, no, drugs. I heard there's something better than drugs. Janice reaches under her mattress and pulls out a crumpled magazine. It's an old Saturday evening post, and has an article about Walter Freeman and his campaign to perform lobotomies. I want this surgery. I want to be fixed. Janice, I know Walter Freeman, the man in that article. We used to work together, and there's something in the magazine that's got very wrong. Those lobotomies, they leave people worse off than before. Walter Freeman is hurting people. No, it says right here that it's a cure. Well, you know, Janice, I want to show you something. Let's take a short walk. Janice hesitates, but then rises and follows Overholzer down the hall. Overholzer down the hall. A few doors down, the two stop. Overholzer points inside an empty room. Now, Janice, tell me what you see. I don't see anything. No, that's right. A woman, her name was Emily. She used to live here. Do you remember her? Just like you, she heard voices. She was in pain. But take a guess. Where do you think Emily is right now? Is she dead? No. No, she's not dead. She's at home. And it's because of the drug I told you about, not some brain surgery. She took her promosine, and she got her life back. Doesn't that sound nice? Going home? Getting out of here? For a moment, Janice stares into the empty room. Overholzer can see it in her eyes. The yearning for something more unimaginable sadness after spending years inside the asylum. Janice begins to cry. She wipes her eyes with the side of her hand and turns to overholzer and nods. She'll do it. She'll try this drug. Overholzer lays a hand on her shoulder and tells her it'll be all right. They'll start the new drug tomorrow. And soon all of this will be a distant memory. The two begin walking back to Janice's room. And without making too big of a scene of it, Overholzer takes her copy of the Saturday evening post, a magazine that glorified Walter Freeman and his lobotomies. Soon, Overholzer will get back to his office and he'll toss this magazine into the trash, where it belongs. Because Overholzer is certain that drugs, not lobotomies, are the future of medicine. Finally, they might have a real cure for mental illness, one that doesn't require a terrible surgery. And finally, Winford Overholzer may be able to stop Walter Freeman. American scandals sponsored by Sachi Art. I'm lucky. 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Follow the generation why podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. From Wondery, I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American Scam. In the 1940s and 50s, Walter Freeman faced a number of intense challenges which threatened to derail his career. Freeman was planning to embark on a cross country tour to promote the lobotomy but suffered a terrible tragedy when his son died at Yosemite National Park. And after, his life only took a turn for the worse when Freeman suffered a stroke. Freeman also faced professional challenges. New psychiatric drugs were emerging as viable treatments for the mentally ill and a safer option than the lobotomies. Winford Overholzer, Freeman's most vocal critic, began building a case against lobotomies. And although Freeman had been the most famous doctor in America, soon he found himself up against the greatest threat of his entire life, a fight that would grow to consume him. This is episode four, JFK's response. It's February 1955, a sunny day in San Francisco, California. A car comes speeding into a parking lot, screeching to a stop. And when the door opens, Walter Freeman jumps out. Freeman grabs his things and looks up at a bright white building, the Langley Porter psychiatric hospital, where he has an important meeting, one that could save his career. But already he's running late. Freeman hurries into the hospital and bounds up a staircase. He mutters a curse under his breath. He should have known there'd be traffic today. But there's a lot he still doesn't know about his new home in the San Francisco Bay area. This past summer, Freeman moved his family out of Washington, D.C. and headed west. There were a lot of good reasons for the move. Freeman's relationship had soured with George Washington University, his long time employer. Freeman is almost 60 years old and he knew he'd done years of incredible work. And yet the hospital asked him to stop performing lobotomies, the procedure that's defined his career. It was a stunning request, even if it wasn't a total surprise. Doctors are now getting excited about chlorpromise, a drug being celebrated as a cure for mental illness. Many are even now dismissing the lobotomy, claiming that Freeman has done incredible damage in his campaign to lobotomize thousands of patients. Some even now call him the ice pick surgeon. So with all his problems back on the east coast, Freeman knew he needed a fresh start. He moved to California to find one, but hasn't performed a lobotomy in months, and his bank account is duendling. That's why he's here at the psychiatric hospital. He's going to make a pitch. One that could earn him a lot of business. Freeman pushes open a heavy door and steps into a conference room. A dozen doctors sit waiting impatiently. Freeman knows that this is going to be a tough audience. So he summons all his charisma and begins his presentation. Freeman tells the room that he's here with a good plan. He wants to perform lobotomies on teenagers at the hospital. Freeman reminds his audience that as members of the ethics board, they need to vote on the proposal. Freeman then takes out charts, graphs, before and after pictures. He drives home his main point. All across America, patients are sitting around as silums, doing nothing but rotting. But if you administer a treatment early enough, you could avoid a silums altogether. That's why teenagers should receive lobotomies. They'll set them up for a better future. Freeman concludes the presentation, believing that he made a good case for himself. But his confidence is shaken when he opens the floor for questions. One doctor points out that young brains are still developing. Teenagers could just grow out of their problems, making a lobotomy unnecessary. Another doctor questions Freeman about the evidence for lobotomies, and says that everyone knows the dirty truth. Letbotomy patients often regress. It's not a permanent solution, and some patients seem to grow worse after getting lobotomies. Freeman pushes back against the opposition. He reminds the room that the Nobel Prize was awarded for psychosurgery. The evidence is conclusive, and drugs like chlorpromising only treat symptoms. They're not a cure. But as Freeman looks out over the room, he suddenly feels like he's sinking. He can tell that many of the doctors still aren't convinced. Soon it's time for the vote. Freeman begins to grow jittery. He's fully prepared for some crushing news that they're turning down his proposal, and he'll have to keep searching for new patients. But then there's a surprise. The vote concludes, and although it was close, the ethics board agrees to accept his proposal. Freeman can operate on teenagers at the hospital. Freeman feels a wave of relief. He promises the room that this was the right call. They're going to have a real impact on people's lives. But as Freeman packs up his bag, he can see several doctors shooting him nasty looks. He knows that they were skeptical of his presentation and had rejected his proposal. But Freeman doesn't care. His entire career, he's run up against small minded doctors like these, people like his old partner, James Watts, who had no vision, no hope to change the world. But Walter Freeman knows that he's different. He's transformed medicine, and even if psychiatric drugs are getting headlines, for Freeman, they are only a temporary solution. The pendulum will swing back once again, and the public will come back around on his miracle cure. A year later, Winfrog Overholzer walks up the steps of the U.S. Capitol. He looks up at the towering white dome and almost shivers at the site. This is one of the most important buildings in the entire world. And in just a few minutes, Overholzer is going to speak to the most powerful politicians in the country. As Overholzer enters the Capitol, his legs feel shaky. He's about to testify in front of Congress to make an urgent plea. He's going to ask the federal government to expand funding for psychiatric drugs. For Overholzer, nothing is more important than securing this money. He's been hearing stories that Walter Freeman is now out in California, performing lobotomies on teenagers. And rumor has it that Freeman is also performing multiple lobotomies on the same patients. It's a terrifying prospect, and Overholzer will do whatever he can to stop Freeman. That's why he's speaking to Congress today. Overholzer is the superintendent of St. Elizabeth's Assignal, and he knows he has the influence to push Congress in the right direction. If they provide funding for drugs, they could save patients lives and put Walter Freeman out of business. Overholzer steps into a congressional hearing room with high ceilings and portraits of old politicians. All around him are members of the House of Representatives. Overholzer takes a seat at a small table, and a white haired congressman raises his wooden gable. I call this meeting to order. Overholzer recognizes the congressman in charge. It's John Fogarty, a powerful representative who controls most of the health care spending in Congress. He's the person who overholzer needs to impress. Dr. Overholzer, thank you for coming today. Now we've all read your prepared statements. You do a good job detailing the benefits of psychiatric drugs, but I want to start with some questions. You say you bought these drugs for $100,000. Yes, sir, that's right. Mr. Overholzer, that is a lot of money. It seems like a real gamble if you're going to spend it on experimental drugs. Well, sir, I don't see it as a gamble. In fact, Representative Fogarty, members of the House, I'm here to tell you that these drugs are the future of psychiatric care. That's a bold statement, don't you think? It may be bold, but it's one I can back up. I've been at St. Elizabeth's for two decades. I've seen a lot of patients, but never. Never in my entire career have I seen something as incredible as these drugs. Fogarty looks down at his notes and reads for a file. And you're referring to a chlorpromazine, is that correct? Yes, sir, it is. And your proposal has to do with this drug? Yes, Representative. I believe Congress should invest heavily in chlorpromazine and other new drugs. I think we're at a crucial moment in human history. Finally, medicine has a cure for the most hopeless patients, people who for centuries could never live in normal society. We can finally restore their lives with these drugs. Again, Mr. Overholz, that is a very big claim. You're asking us to use taxpayer money for what sounds like something that might still just be an idea. But it's not just an idea. Sir, we have 1,000 patients using chlorpromazine right now. And for the first time that I can remember, we're sending home more patients than we're taking in. Well, sounds like I'd be careful. You're going to put yourself out of business. Overholz are smiles and waits for the laughter to die down. Well, I guess you're right. But that's the best possibility I can hope for. I want to send people home. And while this drug isn't for everyone, for those who do respond to it, it's incredible. Well, this all sounds very promising, but I do have one last question. We have other doctors like Walter Freeman. And they're out there performing lobotomies by the thousands. Are you claiming that these drugs are superior? Overholz or it gets a steely look in his eyes. Representative Fogarty, members of the house. This is a very important discussion, so I want to be perfectly clear. When a patient receives a lobotomy, her brain is mutilated. These are dangerous operations. The lobotomy is not a cure. But these drugs, they keep the brain intact. They allow us to manage brain disorders just like we manage diabetes or blood clots. It's actual medicine. It's the future. But if we want to treat our patients, we need financial support. Well, Dr. Overholz, thank you for your time. You make a compelling case. The hearing comes to a close, and Overholz packs up his belongings and exits the capital. Speaking in front of Congress isn't easy. And he's not sure what'll happen from here. But Overholz or knows that even if today went well, his work isn't over. He needs to keep lobbying for funding and pushing Congress to lead the way on mental health. It's a large task. But if he's lucky, Overholz could help shift the future of medicine and put an end to Walter Freeman before he does any more damage. Three years later, Walter Freeman is busy at work in his office in Los Alitos, California. It's late on a Friday night, but Freeman can't go home, not yet. He still needs to write letters to his old patients. He can only hope that if he contacts enough people, he'll get some more business. Freeman takes off his glasses in size. It's been four years since he was allowed to perform lobotomies on teenagers. That was supposed to be the start of a new life and a new growing practice in California. But the fact is Freeman's medical practice has continued to crater. More and more people are turning away from lobotomies and embracing new psychiatric drugs. Freeman is losing business, which is why it's so important to reach out to old patients. Maybe someone will give him a referral. Freeman's pen is scratching across the page when he hears a door opening downstairs. That's strange. He isn't expecting anyone at this hour. A moment later, Freeman hears footsteps on the stairs. He drops his pen and walks out into the dark hallway. Freeman flips on a light and suddenly his body freezes. There's a woman right in front of him. Her blouse is dirty and ragged, and the woman is twisting her face in a look of agony. It takes a moment, but Freeman recognizes her. Her name's Peggy, a patient, and he gave her a lobotomy last week. She even still has traces of black eyes from the procedure. But Freeman is confused. He has no idea what she's doing here. He's about to ask when he sees her fumbling around in her purse. And when her hand emerges, Freeman stops. She's taken out of pistol and pointing at a Freeman's chest. Peggy wipes her lip and demands to know what he's done to her. She says that ever since the lobotomy, she can't concentrate. She can't think straight. She can't sleep. Freeman takes a deep breath. He knows he needs to stay calm and get the gun out of her hands. The way to do it is to talk, to be kind and distract her. Freeman reminds Peggy that she had these same issues before the surgery. She had a successful lobotomy, but she needs to understand her problems won't resolve overnight. With one hand, Peggy scratches her head. As her other hand slowly lowers the gun. Freeman sees a chance and takes a step forward. But Peggy whips the gun back up and screams. She tells Freeman that he ruined her life. She can't believe he talked her into getting a lobotomy. She'll never be the same. Freeman tries to calm his voice and reminds her that violence won't solve anything. He takes a small step forward and asks Peggy about her life. Why can't she sleep? What are her racing thoughts? Peggy answers the questions and Freeman keeps the conversation going. All the while, he takes small steps forward, getting closer and closer. The two keep talking for several minutes. Finally, when he's only a few feet away, Freeman pounces. He tries to wrestle the gun out of Peggy's hand, but she's stronger than he expected. The two grapple until Freeman pins her arm against a wall. Using all his strength, he holds her back and manages to seize the pistol. Freeman leaps back and quickly empties the bullets from the chamber. He pockets the gun and slumps against the wall, his breath heavy. He looks up. Peggy is on the floor, trembling, looking scared and confused. Freeman knows he should probably call the police, but he can't do that. The police would ask questions and the incident could somehow get dragged into the newspapers. It would be yet another mark against lobotomies at a time when the world is already turning against them. So Freeman decides he can't risk having this go public. He's up against too much, doctors like Winford Olderhalter, who are trying to end his career and the rise of psychiatric drugs. So Freeman walks over to Peggy and he helps her up. He'll have to calm her down and somehow make this right. And when she finally leaves, Freeman will have to get back to work. He still has a lot he needs to accomplish. There are still so many more patients who need his help. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion? Or you woke up in the morgue? Or you were seriously injured miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening. Ask our listeners this very question. While we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives. Even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening is available ad free only with Wondry Plus. And if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. It's the summer of 1961 and Walter Freeman stands alone on a stage. He feels like he's trapped underwater. Freeman's eyes dart left and right. He knows where he is at an auditorium in San Francisco. He can hear muffled voices. He sees an audience full of disapproving faces. And there's a quiet voice inside him reminding him to talk to say something. He knows he's the center of attention that he's supposed to be defending his latest work, performing lobotomies on teenagers. And yet Freeman stands frozen, unable to speak. Until he hears a vile word comes spilling out from someone in the audience. Not see. That stabs Freeman back to attention. A man in the audience is telling Freeman that he's like the infamous Germans, accusing Freeman of performing reckless experiments on young people, demanding that he has his medical license revoked. Freeman straightens his color and prepares his thoughts. Six years ago, he got approval from this very institution to perform lobotomies on teenagers. He's here to present the results of all his good labor. But this backlash isn't surprising. Lobotomies have grown unpopular. Psychiatric drugs are now the rage. And even though there was a time when Freeman was the most famous doctor in America, now he can see that the world has turned against him. Freeman has only one option. He has to defend himself to push back against these harsh critics. So Freeman looks out at the audience and with a stern expression, he says that he's nothing like the Nazis. The comparison is outrageous. He won't deny that he's performing lobotomies on teenagers. But the parents of his patients have been happy with the results. And their kids are now calm and easy. An old man suddenly stands up, interrupting Freeman. He looks familiar. A moment later, Freeman remembers where he's from. The old man was one of the doctors from the hospital ethics board. It was the group that allowed Freeman to perform lobotomies on teenagers in the first place. This doctor voted against Freeman. And now it doesn't look like his feelings have changed. The man's scowls pointing a finger at Freeman, saying that Freeman's work is a sham and everyone knows it. There's even talk that one of his patients ended up in jail after robbing a church. How is that a sign of success? Freeman shakes his head and admits that the story is true. But nothing in medicine is ever perfect. But the old doctor continues to rail on Freeman. He says that Freeman destroyed lives and violated his sacred oath to do no harm. Members of the audience break out in applause. Freeman can feel himself starting to sweat. This presentation is spiraling out of control. So Freeman takes a desperate measure. He reaches for a cardboard box which he brought to the event. He opens it and hold it up in front of the audience. He pours out the contents onto the floor. Piles of paper flutter to the ground. And as they do, Freeman tells the stunned audience what they're looking at. These are 500 Christmas cards, all from former patients. Their messages of gratitude and joy. These patients all wrote to Freeman and told him how the lobotomy had restored their lives. The crowd murmurs as Freeman continues dumping the letters onto the stage. Freeman knows this is a cheap stunt. For the attacks against him, his opponents are jealous and hateful. It's just like Galileo or Darwin. Freeman has done something bold and transformative, and the public has responded with venom. Freeman looks out at the audience. They're silent. And Freeman knows he has nothing more to say to this group. So he grabs his bag and walks off stage. As Freeman makes his way back to his car, he feels himself fuming. Ever since he was a young man, he dreamed of making a difference in the world. He wanted to do something exciting, something new. And when he discovered the lobotomy, he believed he'd found the key to his future. He could transform the country, eliminate mental illness. But the last few years have tested every ounce of his resolve. The public has turned against him, even with all the good work he's done. Still, Freeman isn't yet ready to give up. He knows the public can be fickle, opinions have been flow, and even if he's losing popularity, Freeman can always turn that around. He can earn back the public's trust. And that starts by proving once and for all that the lobotomy is one of the greatest inventions of modern medicine. Two years later, Walter Freeman turns the steering wheel of his car and passes over a creaky wooden bridge. He's driving through rural West Virginia. And as he looks out the window, he can see rusted cars on the side of a riverbank. Freeman Yons, it's been a long few days. Freeman is traveling the country trying to track down old patients. He needs to find people who were cured after receiving a lobotomy. Because once he records their stories, he'll have enough evidence to prove his critics wrong once and for all. Freeman pulls into a gravel driveway in front of a small green house with peeling paint. Chickens run wild in the yard. He steps out of the car and walks up to the house looking for an old patient named Irma. He remembers her as fidgety and anxious. He wants to see if the lobotomy was a permanent fix for her symptoms. Freeman walks through the yard when he sees an overweight woman hanging laundry on a clothesline. Freeman calls out, excuse me ma'm, I'm looking for Irma. I'm Irma. I'm Irma. Freeman waves and walks toward her. Well hello. I'm sure you remember me. I don't know. I'm Dr. Freeman. You came to me for an operation back in 54. Do you recognize me? I guess. It's a good sign. She still has her memory. So Freeman digs a notebook out of his jacket. Well, I'd like to ask you some questions for some follow up research. First, how are your anxiety levels? Do you still worry a lot? No, I never worry about anything. Oh, okay, great. Well, looking through your case report, it says you were hearing voices. Do you still hear them? Well, yes, but they don't bother me, none. Hmm. Well, that's still an improvement. Suddenly, a small dog runs over and begins yipping. The Irma doesn't do anything. She just smiles and looks baconly at the dog. A screen door then swings open at the front of the house. And a man steps outside. He's wearing a stained white shirt and a cigarette dangles from his lips. He squints and walks over to Irma and Freeman. Damn dog, shoot! Get back inside. And Irma, you go on with him. Freeman takes a step forward. Well, hold on, sir. I'm interviewing her. I'm Dr. Freeman. I know who you are. Irma, go inside. Irma follows the instructions. And when she's back in the house, the husband turns to Freeman. What are you doing here? Well, as I was telling Irma, it's follow up research. I came to see how well she's adjusted after her lobotomy. Well, not well at all. Well, she just told me that her anxiety is all gone. And I would guess what? She doesn't care about anything. She burns dinner, crashes the car. She wouldn't care if the dog was biting off her leg. Well, if I remember right, you complained that she used to be very high strong. Maybe, but back then, at least she could hold a thaw. Now all she does is eat all the time and laugh. Dr. Freeman, you broke my wife, but she was miserable. If it weren't for me, she might be dead. Now listen to me, Dr. Freeman. That woman there inside the house, she is not the woman I marry. Why don't you get off my property before anything happens? You know, we're very far from a hospital. The husband flexes his cigarette to the ground and squins it, Freeman. He has a fiery look in his eyes. Freeman's heart begins pounding. He doesn't want to end up in a ditch next to one of these rusted old cars. So he returns to his station wagon. In the driver's seat, Freeman takes a deep breath and tries to calm himself. This visit may have been a failure, but he's got two more patients to find today. It'll be another long drive and another lonely night, but he can't give up. It still has to prove without a doubt that lobotomies are a cure. It's October 1963 in Washington, DC. It's a sunny fall afternoon and wind from Doverhulsar is walking the grounds at St. Elizabeth's asylum. Doverhulsar gazes around the massive complex with its large brick buildings and sprawling grass lawns. Doverhulsar recently retired as the superintendent, but he still loves to walk through the asylum grounds. They remind him of the years he spent helping patients, trying to make a difference in the world. These walks are also a reminder of all the work that's still unfinished. Doverhulsar did a lot of good work in his career, but now that he's retired and slowing down, he can't help but wish he could have done a little more. Doverhulsar's thoughts are interrupted when he hears the crunch of footsteps behind him. He turns and sees an old colleague, Dr. Jacobs. He's the doctor who first told Doverhulsar about the miracle of chlorpromising. Jacobs waves and says he's busy with work, but wanted to congratulate Doverhulsar. Doverhulsar furrows his eyebrows. He's not sure what Jacobs is talking about. But Jacobs smiles and asks Doverhulsar if he's heard the radio. It's done. Congress just passed the Community Mental Health Act. President Kennedy is about to sign it into law. Doverhulsar is stunned. He can't believe it. He's overwhelmed with happiness. Congress has just passed one of the most sweeping bills in medical history, one that will fundamentally change how the nation approaches mental health and offer relief to countless patients. For Doverhulsar, this is one of the great moments in his professional life. Because under the bill, Congress will fund new research for mental health. And that's what Doverhulsar was advocating when he spoke to Congress so many years ago. It appears that all his work has paid off. Doverhulsar also knows that this bill will effectively shut down a silence across the nation. It'll establish community mental health centers with more outpatient care. Patients will get treatment and then go home, instead of living their lives behind locked doors. It's a development that was only possible with the advent of chlorpromising. And that drug only gained popularity after Doverhulsar and others spoke out in favor of it. Doverhulsar smiles at his old colleague, Dr. Jacobs. But it's a bittersweet moment. This could be the end of St. Elizabeth's. Still, Doverhulsar was never attached to the buildings themselves. He really only cared about the patients. And he and Jacobs agree. This bill is good for the patients. Jacobs announces it's a busy day and he has to get back to work. Doverhulsar knows how it goes, saying he remembers it all too well. The two say goodbye in part ways. As Doverhulsar continues walking through the asylum grounds, he reflects on all the big changes that are about to come. He knows why President John F. Kennedy was driven to pass the bill. His sister, Rosemary, received a lobotomy from Walter Freeman and James Watts. And she was never the same. JFK wanted something better for the rest of the country. And with this bill, Doverhulsar believes that JFK's dream will come true. America will enter a new, more humane era of mental health care. In Walter Freeman and his lobotomies will be a thing of the past. It's February 1967 in Berkeley, California. In a quiet operating room, Walter Freeman looks over his instruments. He has a set of electrodes which can stun a patient and knock around conscious. On a nearby table is a mallet and Freeman's long, thin, metal stiletto. Freeman enhales and looks around the large operating room. Years ago, Freeman would come to this very hospital and demonstrate the lobotomy to a full house. But that was then. And this is now. Today, he doesn't have an audience. He's working all alone in the only hospital that still allows him to perform lobotomies. Freeman approaches the operating table and looks at the patient. Her name is Helen Mortensen and she's here for her third lobotomy. When the two spoke, she was resistant to yet another operation. Freeman had already performed the first two lobotomies on her. But Freeman made an offer. He could tell she was still suffering from anxiety and so he would perform the procedure for free. He would even cover her costs from the hospital. The two still went back and forth, but finally Mortensen agreed. Freeman knew that even if he had to pay out a pocket, the operation was worth it. He's now 70 years old and he needs work. But if he cures Mortensen, he can use the operation to generate publicity and get new patients. Before long, his practice could be booming once again. In the operating room, Freeman approaches Mortensen, who lies unconscious on the operating table. He pulls up her eyelid and then he begins. At first, Freeman's hands feel unsteady. He's done very few lobotomies recently and he can't seem to fit the stilletto into the tear duct. It keeps slipping. But finally, he gets it in place. He needs to strike it with a mallet several times. With the first few blows, his aim is off and it takes longer than usual to crack through the orbital bone. Finally, after the fall starts, he can feel the tool gliding across the patient's brain. Freeman relaxes and performs an old familiar motion. He swings the stilletto wide, severing connections in the brain. A few minutes later, he's done with the first eye. Freeman moves to the next eye. He inserts the stilletto and taps it with the mallet. Except this time, there's a terrible surprise. When he takes out the instrument, a torrent of blood comes gushing down Mortensen's face. Freeman curses. He must have nicked an artery. But he knows not to panic. He's dealt with this before. Freeman gives Mortensen a shot of vitamin K, which helps induce clotting. Then he begins pumping saline into the wound. Freeman flutches the wound five times, then ten. But for some reason, the blood remains just as thick as before. Something's not working. Freeman can feel himself sweating. He considers calling in another doctor, but then he rejects the idea. No one can know about this. This procedure is supposed to be the beginning of his comeback. He has to save this patient himself. He gives Mortensen another vitamin shot and keeps working. But the bleeding seems to be getting worse. And then everything happens quickly. Her breathing grows labored. Her heartbeat becomes faint. Freeman starts to panic. Maybe the patient just needs more vitamin K. But he doesn't have another shot. You'll have to prepare one. And so for a full minute, Freeman works feverishly, his hands shaking, as he prepares the vitamin shot. But by the time the injection is ready, Mortensen's face has turned to sickly white. Freeman swallows hard, presses his fingers to her neck. There's no pulse. Freeman drops the syringe and scrambles up onto the table. He kneels over Mortensen's body and starts pumping on her sternum, trying to get a heartbeat. Every minute he stops and checks her pulse. But each time there's nothing. Freeman keeps frantically pumping over and over. He has to save Mortensen. And not just for her sake, his career, his reputation, his legacy, everything is on the line. He cannot let her die. Not when he's so close to coming back, resuming his position as a pioneer in mental health. One of the great doctors in medical history. A few days later, the doctor who's head of neurosurgery sits in his office in Berkeley, California. He's waiting for Walter Freeman to arrive, but Freeman is already 15 minutes late. The surgeon has been dreading this confrontation all day, and wishes he could just get back to work. But he can't avoid this conversation. Days ago, Freeman made a horrifying mistake at this hospital, and as head of the department, the surgeon has to deliver some bad news. When Freeman does arrive, the sight of him almost takes the surgeon's breath away. Freeman is disheveled, looking tired. The surgeon watches Freeman's hands tremble as he takes the seat. Well, Walter, good of you to show up. Oh, I'm sorry, there. Well, you know. No, Walter, I don't know. But I think you know why I asked you here today. A third lobotomy, on the same patient, and then she died on your watch. Well, it was an honest mistake. I've been out of practice. But you'll see, once I'm doing more procedures, I'll get the old touch back. You want me to let you perform more lobotomies. Walter will be lucky if the state doesn't investigate this. Well, it won't happen again. But I understand you can suspend me for a little while, until things calm down. Then I'll come back better than ever. The surgeon stares at Freeman. Incredible. Walter, I'm not suspending you. This is it. You are no longer allowed to perform lobotomies at this hospital. Freeman's head snaps up. His eyes wide with alarm. But on the best at it. If you ban me, who else can perform a lobotomy? No one, Walter. We're never doing another lobotomy. Not with you, not with anyone. Freeman blinks. He looks like he's on the verge of crying. Oh, please. No, is there... is there any way you can change your mind? No, Walter. I'm... I'm... no. I'm sorry. Freeman's lips start to quiver, and his face turns red. And then tears start rolling down his cheeks and through his white beard. The surgeon looks away. Despite his anger, this is painful to witness. He used to admire Freeman. He seemed so heroic and daring. A maverick who pushed the bounds of medicine, who brought people back from the brink of madness. But this man, crying in front of him, doesn't look like a hero. He looks broken and worn thin. And when the tears have stopped flowing, Freeman rises from his chair and disappears down the hallway. The 1967 operation that killed Helen Mortensen was the last lobotomy that Walter Freeman ever performed. Yet for the remainder of his life, Freeman's beliefs never shifted. He maintained that the lobotomy was a viable treatment for mental illness, and that psychiatric drugs were dangerous. Freeman died in May of 1972 due to complications from colon cancer. Today, medical historians view Freeman as one of the most dangerous doctors in American history. Freeman performed about 4,000 lobotomies on men, women, and children. And despite Freeman's conviction, the evidence suggests that the vast majority of these operations either did nothing or harmed the patients. And while Freeman himself was prolific, he was also influential. His campaign to spread the lobotomies led American doctors to perform the operation about 40,000 times. Freeman's former partner, James Watts, also continued to perform lobotomies despite his troubled split from Freeman. Watts remained convinced that as an operation of last resort, lobotomies could help the truly desperate. He died in 1994. As President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act, he ushered in a new era for mental health. The law prompted the silence to empty out and offered funding for new research. But the federal law didn't live up to its promise. After Kennedy was assassinated, mental health care reform lost momentum. The large asylums remained closed, but small community based centers never fully rose up to take their place. With nowhere to go, many mentally ill patients were pushed out onto the streets. In the decades since, drugs have remained the focus of mental health treatment. But that appears to be changing. The field of psychiatric neurosurgery has begun to reemerge. Decades after Walter Freeman performed his final lobotomy. Researchers are exploring new technologies, including deep brain stimulation. A treatment in which electrodes are surgically implanted on the brain. And while we may be far from Walter Freeman and his ice pick lobotomies, doctors and researchers are by no means done tinkering with the human brain. From Wondry, this is episode four of five of the ice pick surgeon from American Scandal. On our next episode, we speak with Christine Keenley, an author and journalist. We'll discuss new treatments for mental health, including the use of devices called neural implants. Plus, we'll look at the promise of these high tech devices, as well as serious concerns that are already emerging. If you'd like to learn more about Walter Freeman and other scandals in science, we recommend the book The Ice Pick Surgeon by Sam Keen. This episode contains reenactments and dramatized details. In while in most cases, we can't know exactly what was said. All our dramatizations are based on historical research. American Scandal is hosted, edited and executed produced by me, Lindsey Graham, for airship. Audio editing by Molly Bach, sound design by Derek Barrettens, music by Lindsey Graham. This episode is written by Sam Keen, edited by Christina Malzberg. Our senior producer is Gabe Riven. Executive producers are Stephanie Jens, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and her nonlop has for Wondering.