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The Ice Pick Surgeon | Search for a Cure | 1

The Ice Pick Surgeon | Search for a Cure | 1

Tue, 25 May 2021 09:00

Walter Freeman is devastated when he learns the truth about mental asylums. The medical care is barbaric, and for patients, everyday life is a nightmare. So Freeman begins searching for an alternative. It's a quest that leads him to one of the most controversial procedures in medical history.

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A listener note, this episode contains graphic descriptions of medical experiments and may not be suitable for younger listeners. It's late at night on Christmas Eve, 1936. In Washington, D.C., the streets are quiet and empty. Most people are home enjoying a white Christmas, but not Walter Freeman. Tonight Freeman is trudging through banks of snow. He's shivering and miserable with his shoes soaking wet. He'd give anything to be near a fireplace. But Freeman can't return home. He's looking for someone who's on the loose and he can't stop because if he doesn't find this man, something bad could happen. Freeman looks over at his professional partner who's following behind him. That man's name is James Watts. He's balding and wears wire rim glasses, looking very much the part of the job that both men practice. Freeman and Watts are doctors at a nearby hospital. Their pioneers in psychosurgery are radical new field in which brain surgeries performed on people with mental illness. Yesterday, the two performed an experimental surgery. It's known as the lobotomy. Freeman and Watts perform the surgery on an alcoholic who seemed hopeless. But Freeman believed the lobotomy could be a miracle for the patient and reverse his terrible addiction. And at first, the patient seemed to be recovering well. He said he had no desire for alcohol. Freeman was overjoyed because he was one step closer to proving that lobotomies could cure nearly every mental illness. But everything changed a few hours ago. A nurse entered the patient's hospital room and found it empty. It looked like the patient had pulled on his coat and hat and escaped through the front door of the hospital. Freeman knows that you can't just lose a patient, especially one who's been through an experimental procedure. So Freeman has only one option. He and his partner, James Watts, have to find the man before he hurts himself and discraces them in their new procedure. Freeman turns a corner and Watts catches up. Walter, the last thing we need is another failed surgery. James isn't a failure. We don't know that yet. Maybe he just wanted to go home, see his family. It is Christmas. Then why are we trying to find him at bars? Come on, Walter. You've got to face it. We've done 10 lobotomies. We've had one death and several other failures. It's not a good track record. Freeman stops and jabs a finger in Watts face. So what? Do you want to give up? These people are sick. They have no hope. No options in medicine. Don't for a second forget our mission. We're trying to find a cure for the mentally ill. But Walter is Christmas Eve. Don't you want to be home with Marjorie? I thought she's due to give birth any day. Oh, she's doing fine. Doing fine. What does that mean? Well, James technically she's in labor right now. Watts stops and stares at Freeman with a look of shock. Your wife is in labor? What are you doing out here? You should be with her. James, in case you have forgotten, we just perform an experimental brain surgery and our patient got up and ran away. We don't find him and people find out our careers are over. What do you think is a higher priority? Walter. No, listen, James. We're going to find this man. We're going to take him back to the hospital. It doesn't matter how cold we are and it doesn't matter if my wife is about to give birth. Understand? Watts wipes his nose and looking down. He nods. And one last thing. James, this is very important. No one can ever know about this. Our reputation is at risk. We have to protect it at all costs. Watts nods again and together the two doctors continue trudging in the snow, looking for the patient. They hurry down a sidewalk, appear into every bar they pass. As the night gets later, even Walter Freeman feels ready to give up. But then they approach one last dive bar and see a man slumped against the front window. He is obviously drunk and Freeman notices that he has bandages slipping off his head. It's their patient. Freeman begins to fume as he stares at the man. Watts was right. The surgery was a failure. He did nothing to curb the man's addiction to alcohol. It's a stinging rejection of Freeman's beliefs that lobotomy is a silver bullet for mental illness. What asks Freeman and Watts hoist the man to his feet, Freeman begins to relax. At least they found the patient. And now that they have him, they can take him back to the hospital and obscurity. Even if this man was a failure, Freeman will keep experimenting and performing lobotomies. The experimental nature of the procedure guarantees that a few mistakes will be made along the way, but he's close to a breakthrough. As positive, he's going to lead a medical revolution. Okay, the kids are already asking what's for dinner, but breaking news, empty fridge. That's okay. I'll instacart. Let's add some organic asparagus and some farm fresh chicken. Easy. Wait, is the oldest vegetarian this week or was it gluten free? It's gluten free pasta, covered either way, cart it, and finally some vegetarian gluten free olives from my well earned cocktail. When your family shopping list has more footnotes than groceries, the world is your cart. Visit or download the app and get free delivery on your first order. Offer valid for limited time, minimum order $10. Delivery subject to availability, additional term supply. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together, and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. Some wonder a I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American scandal. One of the core tenets of modern medicine is that it's proven to be safe. New treatments are subject to rigorous clinical trials, surgeons receive careful training in their specialties long before using a scalpel on a patient. And government agencies regulate healthcare to make sure that medicine is based on established science. It's a system that's designed to protect patients. But this wasn't always the case. In the early 20th century a physician named Walter Freeman grew famous as a pioneer of the lobotomy, a procedure that involves physically severing connections between different parts of the brain. He believed the lobotomy was a key treatment for mental health and he went on to perform the operation 4,000 times. He lobotomized people of all ages, including small children. But his legacy was far from a medical revolution. Freeman would ruin countless lives and leave a dark stain on medical history. But his story raises a question, how did he get away with performing so many harmful procedures for so long? In this four part series based on Sam Keen's new book The Ice Pick Surgeon, we look at how one physician charmed a country with a promise of a revolutionary new treatment. He was a doctor who also earned powerful enemies and caused a fight that would change the future of medicine in America. This is episode one. Search for a cure. It's May 1911 on the Caribbean Sea. It's a cloudless day and a cruise ship sails through the sparkling light blue water. Men and women are gathered on the deck of the vessel and look out at the endless horizon. Walter Freeman is on board too, but he's not relaxing on deck. Instead he's crouched inside his small cabin, hanging photos on the wall. Freeman gazes at the black and white photographs and smiles. He's on a trip around the world and he has the pictures to prove it. He's shot photos of street dancers in Havana, sunbaters in Puerto Rico. Although Freeman life doesn't get much better than this, he's 15 years old and very far from his home in Philadelphia. He's getting a chance to see the world and just in time because everything changes next year. Freeman is going to start college at Yale. Inside his cabin, Freeman sits down on his bed and keeps scanning through his photos. This is all he ever wants to do. Sit back and look at pictures. He knows he's a bit of a strange kid, a kind of loner, but there's something magical about photography and developing pictures. It feels more life like than life itself. Freeman has even turned part of his cabin into a dark room. His passion for photography has driven Walter Freeman to break his family's tradition. His father is a doctor and his grandfather, William Keen, is a famous neurosurgeon. When he gets to Yale, Freeman is going to take a different path and he knows it'll be hard to share the news with his family. Just then there's a knock on the door. Freeman's grandfather is calling his name. Freeman stuffs the photos under his pillow and opens the door. His grandfather enters, filling the small cabin with his imposing presence. The older man is only 5 foot 2, but with his straight posture and bright white mustache, he carries himself like a world leader. And it's not just empty posturing. On this trip, the two went to visit the Panama Canal currently under construction. Most people weren't allowed in, but Freeman's grandfather is a famous doctor and got them a tour. The entire time they were flanked by smiling officers from the US Army. Freeman admires his grandfather and the way everyone seems to be in awe of the older man. But Freeman also fears his judgment. And so inside this small cabin, when his grandfather sees the photos sticking out from underneath the pillow, Freeman panics. He tries to hide them, but it's too late. His grandfather grabs a few and begins looking through them. The old man takes his time as he shuffles through the pictures. Finally, he looks up, with a smile. He tells Freeman that they're excellent and Freeman feels himself teaming with pride. In this moment, Freeman finds the courage to admit the truth. He looks directly at his grandfather and says he's made a decision. When he gets to Yale University, he plans to study photography. His grandfather frowns. He agrees that Freeman is talented. When he's seen the boy work with his hands, he watch Freeman deathfully fix a broken saddle. So won't he consider going into medicine? Freeman shakes his head and says no. Medicine isn't appealing. He's worried he'd get sick of the work. His grandfather nods, says it's true. Sometimes you do get tired of your patients. But he tells Freeman that he's also operated on three US presidents. He never gets sick of that. Freeman points out that people also photograph presidents. His grandfather chuckles and tells Freeman that he's a clever boy. But there's no glory in snapping photos. As a surgeon, he didn't just operate on presidents. He also invented new surgical techniques. He performed the first successful operation on a brain tumor. Medicine offers a real glory. You get to blaze new trails. You hold life and death in your hands. How do you get that with a photograph? In the distance, the ship's bells ring and Freeman's grandfather moves to the door. He says he has work to finish before dinner, but Freeman should think carefully about what he said. His grandfather walks out of the cabin. And as the door clicks shut, Freeman again picks up his photographs. For as long as Freeman can remember, he's wanted to do this, to make these, to be a photographer. But now, with his grandfather's words ringing in his head, he's questioning his path. Photographers might be on the wrong side of the lens. Whenever the center of attention and Freeman wants to be more like his grandfather, bold, assertive, doing new things, his conviction is suddenly shaken. Maybe when he gets to Yale, he will study photography. Or maybe, he'll train to become a doctor. Seven years later, Walter Freeman hurries through a sick ward at an army hospital in New Jersey. Freeman goes from patient to patient taking temperatures and readings of blood pressure. After coughing, fevers through the roof, it's terrifying sight, but Freeman pushes past his fears. He can only focus on the work in front of him. Walter Freeman is technically still in medical school. Med students don't normally work at army hospitals, but the world has recently turned upside down. The United States joined World War I, and the army needed medical personnel. So with his grandfather's encouragement, Freeman enlisted. For weeks, he did nothing but grunt work, like running tests on urine samples. He began to worry again that medicine wasn't the right path. Maybe he should have pursued photography after all. But everything changed last week. The first case of Spanish flu arrived. Now the virus has spread everywhere. It looks like the start of a pandemic. The hospital wards are lined with soldiers who are hacking and spitting a flim. It's become an incredible matter of life and death. And Freeman has to be honest with himself. He's the happiest he's ever been. He's drawn to the action because it's thrilling. It's a fight, a quest, a crusade, and he's hoping to be a hero. In the army hospital, Freeman continues down a long row of beds where he hears someone call. Freeman, over here. Freeman turns to see his commanding medical officer approaching. Look, Freeman, we're getting killed here with this flu. I've got orders. We're going to run some new tests. We'll be drawing samples from patients. So we need a volunteer to do the blood work. Well, sign me up. Where do I start? But before you say yes, it could be dangerous. It's a blood test, sir. What's the issue? Freeman, think. You're a med student. What kind of issue could you encounter? Well, if the patient has low blood pressure, maybe I won't be able to fill a vile. That's exactly right. So, sir, what's our option? Freeman, we might have to use pipettes. Mouth? Pipettes? At first, the suggestion is shocking. Freeman has used mouth pipettes before. Our thin glass tubes inserted into a patient's veins, then a doctor has to suck the blood part way up the tube. Sometimes it's the only way to get a sample. Yes, Freeman, which means you're going to have to take your mask off around the flu victims and get very close to them. But at this moment, there's no other choice. So let me ask you again. Are you in? For a moment, Freeman considers the request. It's dangerous, and maybe even reckless. You could catch the Spanish flu, become sick, even die. But Freeman feels a tickle of adrenaline. Something about the danger is exhilarating. It's exactly what his grandfather talked about. Facing off against death, taking risks, this, more than anything, suddenly makes Freeman feel fully alive. So Freeman agrees to perform the test, and he gathers the pipettes. He turns back to the hospital ward and looks out at a row of patients. They're grievously sick. Some of them dying. This Spanish flu is a human catastrophe. But as Freeman lowers his surgical mask and prepares to administer the tests, he feels electric. It's time to do something dangerous. Six years later, Walter Freeman walks through Vienna, Austria. It's a beautiful city with baroque architecture, and Freeman passes buildings that look older than time itself. Still, Freeman hardly notices any of the sights. He's too deep in thought because he's facing a tough choice, one that could decide the course of his young career. Freeman is now officially a doctor. And for the last year, he's been training in Europe to be a neurologist. It's been a whirlwind tour. He's traveled through France, Italy, Austria. All the while he's been learning exciting new techniques and even helped with surgeries, his future had seemed bright and clear. But that changed last week, when a letter arrived from his grandfather, with what had sounded like promising news. The famous neurosurgeon had pulled some strings and secured a job for Freeman at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. The job offer should have been good news, but when Freeman asked around, he learned of stunning truth. St. Elizabeth's is an insane asylum. Freeman knows that asylum through medical backwaters. At best, the patients are neglected, at worst, their beaten, tortured, and locked in padded cells. The so called medical treatments sounded more like something from Eglaryl and Poe. He's heard stories about doctors drugging patients into a stupor, even injecting them with horse blood. Freeman knows that if he agrees to the job, he'll be trapped in the most miserable corner in all of medicine. But if he says no, he'll disappoint his grandfather, who he still admires. The decision is tearing him up, and Freeman needs some help making up his mind. So he's walking through this city, closing in on the large brick facade of the Vienna Insane Asylum. Freeman is hoping if he gets a good look around, he'll gain a little clarity about his future. Freeman approaches the round building and peers up at the windows. They're small and narrow, like those of a prison. He squints and tries to make out the faces of patients, but he can't see anything. He only hears muffled shouts coming from the distance. Freeman begins circling the perimeter of the building. He's closed off, and once again it reminds him of a penitentiary. It's impossible to believe that this is a place of medical care, that insane asylums are actually supposed to help people get better. Freeman can imagine the patients inside, bound in straight jackets, or shackled with other restraints. He can imagine the hospital staff pushing gurneys loaded with dead bodies, and shoveling the bodies into a truck like saxopatatos. He's heard stories. Freeman knows that asylum staff can be callous, that patient might have a serious mental illness and refuse to eat, but in an asylum the staff might just laugh it off and let the patient die. As Freeman walks around the asylum, he begins to feel sick with rage. The people inside this building could be somebody's daughter, somebody's mother, and instead of getting help, these patients are just locked away. And it's not just here in Vienna. This is the case all around the world. This is how the mentally ill are cared for. Freeman glances again at the asylum, and inside him something flips. This asylum no longer looks like a prison, or a place to be afraid of. It looks more like a castle that he can storm. Walter Freeman has a sudden burst of clarity. He knows that if he wants to live a meaningful life, he has to do something great in medicine, and what could be greater than helping patients who are trapped in a silums like these? If he takes the job, he'll have the chance to do something big and meaningful. He could change things. Freeman knows it'll be a daunting challenge, but he could follow in his grandfather's footsteps. He could transform medicine for the mentally ill, if he succeeds. 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, asks 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. Walter Freeman climbs a creaky staircase as he scans a medical chart. He reads through the notes and frowns. He's seen so many patients like this one. Yet another woman whose husband had her forcibly committed in St. Elizabeth's and asylum for the mentally ill. As Freeman looks through the records, he can easily imagine what happened. The husband and wife probably had a dysfunctional relationship, fighting often, and the cops called repeatedly. Then the husband got angry during and especially ugly dispute and decided it just be easier to send his wife away. Freeman hates cases like this one. But he's seen plenty of them in the last four years, ever since he started working at St. Elizabeth's. The job's been nothing but depressing. Half the staff doesn't care about the patients, and the other half harm the patients with so called medical care. Altogether Freeman has spent more energy fighting other doctors and fighting mental illness. Freeman reaches the top floor of the asylum and looks around. This is where the most troubled patients live, and it's where the conditions are the worst. The hallways are cramped, paint chipping off the walls. Many of the doors are padded rooms where people muttered gibberish or stare into the distance with empty eyes. As usual, Freeman can only hope that he'll get through to his patient. Maybe make her life a little better. As Freeman walks the hallway, he notices that for some reason, even though it's 2 p.m., the corridor is dark. The windows are covered with wooden boards and the flowers are all gone. Freeman approaches a nurse who sits idly flipping through the pages of a magazine. Freeman gestures to the boarded up windows. Excuse me, what's happened here? Well, we had an incident. An incident? What kind of incident? Without looking up the nurse points to a spot on the hallway floor. Freeman walks over and squatting down. He can see blood stains. Oh god, what happened? Well, Dr. Freeman, 503 attacked Dr. Springer with a flowerpot. 503 has a name. Alvin? Well, Alvin attacked Dr. Springer with a flowerpot. So management had us remove all potential weapons. Okay, well, that explains why the flower pots are gone, but what about the windows? Why are they boarded up? Well, the inmates could break the glass. They could use the shards as weapons. Not everything as a weapon. The nurse finally looks up with a sour expression. Staff safety comes first, Dr. Well, I don't know. Don't you think you might have that backwards? What if we put patients first? You know, it's bad enough that we can't heal them. Now we make the place look like a prison. You're a nurse. You should be able to see this. If we didn't treat them like animals, then maybe they wouldn't behave like animals and keep having psychotic breaks. Dr. that's what the drugs are for. Freeman's stiffens. He hates drugs. He believes they're designed for lazy doctors because all they do is turn people into drooling zombies. He grabs one of the wooden boards nailed to the window and wrenches it from the wall. Freeman stands there as sunlight pours onto his white coat. He looks over at the nurse and feels a tremendous satisfaction. Her mouth is hanging open. Freeman then grabs his clipboard and gets ready to see his next patient. Later on, he'll get all of these boards taken down. But as he stalks down the hall, he has a sad realization. This small victory isn't close to enough. There will always be nurses or doctors who don't care about their patients. It's a broken system. And Freeman notes that if he truly wants to help his patients, he has to find some way to actually fix them. It's about three years later in Washington, DC. It's a Sunday morning at the hospital of George Washington University and Walter Freeman is getting ready for an experiment. He's inside the room for autopsies where three naked bodies lie still and cold on metal tables. There are two men and one woman. All three suffered from acute schizophrenia. They died without any hope for a cure. As Freeman sees it, they were failed by the medical establishment. But Walter Freeman is planning to change things. And he's in a better position now than he ever has been. Freeman is now a teacher at this medical school, and that gives him access to all kinds of resources, including these cadavers. But even so, Freeman is still incredibly frustrated. He's been scouring medical journals looking for new mental health treatments, but the whole field is a mess, full of unproven theories and pseudoscience. One of those theories was developed by Freeman's colleague here at the university. This doctor theorized that schizophrenia have smaller hearts than normal people. According to his theory, their smaller heart struggled to pump enough blood to the brain, and that's the cause of schizophrenia. Like so many theories about mental illness, Freeman doesn't trust this hypothesis. It could be badly mistaken, and that could lead other doctors to prescribe dangerous treatments. Freeman knows that if he wants to protect people with schizophrenia, he needs to investigate this theory. And that's what he aims to do today. Freeman gets started with the autopsies. He leans over one of the bodies and slices open the rib gauge. Then he inserts a retractor and cranks it, which forces the ribs to split apart. Freeman looks over to an assistant who's helping out today. He gestures for the assistant to shine a light into the cavity. Freeman then snips the aorta and other vessels. Before long, Freeman removes the heart from all three bodies. Freeman carries the hearts over to a scale in order to weigh them, to see if they actually are lighter than normal adult hearts. If they are, it'll support his colleague's theory, but Freeman suspects he might prove his colleague wrong. Freeman turns to his assistant, and with a smile, asks if anyone wants to place a bet. The assistant grins and says he'll bet $5. The hearts are going to be smaller. One by one, Freeman places the hearts in the weighing pan. His own heart is in his throat as the needle swings back and forth. Finally, it comes to rest. The first heart is well within normal range. So is the second, and the third. And the third, it seems, is a wapper, 25% heavier than an average adult heart. Freeman's assistant digs out his wallet. This experiment was small, Freeman only measured three hearts. But it was still a triumph. He now has evidence that this theory about schizophrenia is nonsense. And that's progress, because Walter Freeman has narrowed down the causes of mental illness. And if he continues his research, he may have a real cure. It's August 1935, and four years later, Walter Freeman takes a seat near the front of a large auditorium. He's in London for a conference on neurology, surrounded by some of the top researchers in the world. They've gathered to discuss the developments in brain science, and Freeman is there himself to highlight his own investigations. It should be an exciting conference for Walter Freeman. But the truth is, he feels like he's hit a wall in his research and needs to find some other way to move forward. Freeman has been doing pioneering, work involving visualizing the brains of his patients. Freeman has been injecting a liquid into the arteries near the brain. Then using X rays, he can actually see inside a living human brain. It's a big accomplishment, and he wishes his grandfather were still alive to see that he did end up taking photographs, but of human brains. But even with his new research, Freeman has a basic problem. He hasn't found a cure for the most stubborn mental illnesses. Freeman is now 39 years old, and he's been practicing medicine and working as a researcher for years. He's gotten older, and his mustache is now flecked with gray. And yet, Freeman doesn't have much more to offer his patients than he did years ago. That's partly why he's attending this conference. He's hoping to learn something, anything that could offer a breakthrough. Inside the auditorium, the crowd hushes as the speaker steps on stage. He's a physiologist from Yale. His latest research involves chimpanzees. He's trained the chimps to perform complicated tasks that reward them with grapes. It's a test of their memory and ability to solve problems. In the audience, Freeman sinks deeper into his chair. Nothing about this research is revolutionary or even remotely helpful. He wonders whether he should just leave the conference now. But then, as an aside, the researcher on stage mentions one chimpanzee that experienced an interesting side effect. The animal's name is Becky. The researcher explains that Becky used to have a difficult personality. When she missed out on a treat, she'd scream and shake her cage. She sometimes threw feces at the researchers. Becky the chimpanzee was out of control. But then the researcher explains that all changed after an operation. The researcher had opened up Becky's skull and sliced out a whole lobe of tissue near the front of her brain. After the operation, Becky needed to heal, but after she did, it was obvious that her personality was radically different. The researcher explains that Becky was suddenly calm. Nothing could rattle her. She seemed endlessly happy. Out in the audience, Walter Freeman grows excited. From the sound of it, this chimpanzee used to act like some of his patients, wild and violent and unpredictable. But a single procedure changed that, making the chimpanzee calm and happy. Freeman isn't sure what this means for his own work, or for the countless people who suffer from mental illness, but it's very interesting, and he intends to find out more. Minutes later, inside the auditorium in London, Walter Freeman waits for the next portion of the event, questions and answers. Freeman has a million questions on his mind, but for now he's going to sit back and listen. One of the first to ask a question is a man in the back. Freeman turns around and is surprised to see someone he met yesterday. A goss monies, a neurologist from Portugal. Monies seemed arrogant, but there was also something mysterious about him. It sounded like he had some big ideas, something he wasn't yet ready to share. Monies rises and clears his throat. He reminds the audience that the chimpanzee Becky experienced a dramatic emotional change. She was violent, then she became calm, and all it took was a procedure on her brain. So Monies asks, would that surgery have similar effects if it were performed on humans? A murmur tears through the crowd. Freeman knows that this kind of experimental brain surgery is a dangerous proposition. The speaker on stage fumbles through an answer and says there's no way of predicting the results in humans, human frontal lobes are vastly different from those in chimpanzees. And besides, the speaker says, Monies can't possibly be thinking about performing this operation on humans. The room goes silent. Monies gives a cryptic smile and shakes his head. He says no, he's not planning to do that. But he doesn't say anything else, and then he sits down. Soon there are more questions, but Freeman is too thrilled to pay attention. That neurologist Monies won't come out and say it, but it's obvious he's considering experimenting on human brains. Even the suggestion of it rattled the audience. He probably think experiments like that would be dangerous and immoral. But Freeman knows that this is a short sighted view, one held by timid people who shy away from great challenges. The kind of people who for generations have offered nothing to people with mental illness. Patients have suffered unbearable lives with no hope in sight. But a surgery, some sort of procedure on the brain, could solve all of it. It could change lives. So it is time for Walter Freeman to head back to the lab. He has a lot of work ahead of him, and he'll need to find a partner for the research. But if he's successful, if he can cure people of mental illness with a simple procedure, his could be one of the greatest advancements in medical history. It's a Saturday morning in September of 1935. And with glasses walks down a hallway at the medical school of George Washington University. James Watts is a new professor on campus, but it's his first week, and he's completely lost. Watts considers asking a student for directions, but he's too embarrassed. So he retraces his steps and tries to find his way again. Finally, he sees the building he's looking for and hurries up the stairs. Watts is on his way to a class that he's about to begin co teaching. He won't take the podium until later in the semester, and right now his co teacher is leading the class. But Watts doesn't want to miss anything. He's thorough in everything he does, and he plans to be well prepared when it's his turn to take the podium. Watts arrives at the classroom and checks his watch. It's only $755. He's five minutes early. But when he opens the door, Watts is shocked. There are maybe 75 desks in the small lecture hall, but they're all practically filled. It doesn't make sense to Watts. It's a Saturday morning class. They're always the last to fill up. Watts fears he may once again be lost and in the wrong place. But with the clock approaching eight, Watts knows he can't stay silent. He gathers some courage and taps a young woman on the shoulder, asking her if this is intro to a neuroanatomy? The young woman nods and says it is. Watts is relieved, but he is still confused. He tells the woman he didn't realize this class had so many students. The young woman laughs and says the truth is she's not actually enrolled. She came here to see Dr. Freeman perform. This class is better than the movies, and cheaper, too, she says. Watts is baffled. But before he can ask anything else, the door flies open and Walter Freeman strides in. He's smoking a pipe and wearing a wide brimmed hat. He takes off the hat with a flourish and gives a deep bow. A few of the students clap. And then steps up to the podium and says he's eager to dive right in. He looks around the room and asks a question. Who can prove the Pythagorean theorem? Watts has no idea why Freeman has just brought up high school math. But suddenly everyone starts laughing and Watts feels dumb. He realizes it was a joke, and as usual he's missed it. At the front of the class, Freeman grins and apologizes. He pretends that he was confused at first, but he says that this is, in fact, intro to the new year's own anatomy, everyone's in the right place. Watts gazes across the lecture hall and sees the students beaming. Walter Freeman has already won them over. Freeman sets down his bags and says he has another announcement. There's someone special in the lecture hall. Freeman then points to Watts and introduces him as the co teacher of the course. He adds that Watts has just come from Yale Medical School and he's a talented neurosurgeon, the university's lucky to have him. The students break out in applause and Watts turns to bright red. He's not used to this kind of playful attention, so he remains in a seat and waves modestly to the students. Soon the real lecture begins and Watts can't take his eyes off Freeman. He paces, waves arms, cracks jokes. At one point Freeman picks up a piece of chalk in each hand. Then he starts drawing two different brain structures on the board using both hands simultaneously. It's like a magic show and the students are eating it up. As the lecture goes on, Watts can't help but feel some envy. Watts grew up in an old money family in Richmond, Virginia. In his house, children were seen but not heard. Which suited Watts. He was a quiet and timid boy and never grew out of it as an adult. Still even if he is shy, Watts is clear headed about his professional talents. He is an excellent surgeon. Watts can remove tumors and he can stop epilepsy. He can fix people. It's one of his favorite things in the world. That moment when he closes a skull back up and a person is made whole again. But Watts also wants to do more. He wants to find new ways to heal people, but blazing trails is for the bold. He needs a partner, someone who can make connections and be a public face for the research. Sitting here in the lecture hall, Watts thinks he may have just found that person. Watts for a Freeman clearly loves to be in the spotlight. Maybe the two can collaborate and team up on some project. Because while James Watts may not be a public performer, he knows he has the talents and ambition to change the face of medicine. Nine months later, James Watts grabs a seat in a busy cafeteria. He's on campus at George Washington University and about to dig into his lunch when he hears someone yell his name. This looks up and sees Walter Freeman racing over, waving a book. Watts sets down his fork and braces for what's likely to be another high energy conversation. In some ways, the two men have grown close. Freeman has gone out of his way to make Watts feel at home at the university. But something about Freeman still makes Watts uneasy, and he can tell that this conversation isn't going to be any different. Freeman arrives at the cafeteria table and drops the book in front of Watts face. James stop everything you're doing. Okay? Not doing much. It's a sandwich. It doesn't matter. Put it down. I need you to read this book. He's by a neurologist I met at a conference last year at God's Moniz. He's been performing brain surgery on patients in Portugal, 20 of them, and it's working. Well, what's working? The same procedure I told you about in that chimpanzee Becky, Walter. You're saying Moniz chopped out these people's frontal lobes? Oh God, no. He's not a butcher. He severed the connections between the frontal lobes and the brain's emotional center. Watts is relieved. It would be barbaric to remove someone's entire frontal lobe. But he still doesn't understand the procedure. So he severed connections. What does that do? Well, here's the theory. Moniz believes insanity is caused when people's emotions get out of control. These emotions overwhelm the rest of the brain. So if one were to sever the connections between the frontal lobe and the emotional center, you could never overwhelm the entirety of the brain, leaving it to function still. It's plausible. Well, it's more than plausible. He's cured six patients, completely. The other third showed improvements, and the last third were no worse off. Watts takes a bite out of his sandwich, as he considers the implications of these findings. Then something occurs to him. Walter, when did he start these operations? Right after the conference last year, and he already wrote a book about it. It's impossibly fast. When did he do his animal testing? James, who cares about animals? You're missing the point. No one has ever cured a patient of mental illness. Cured. But Moniz did. This is the future. Psycho surgery. And I think we can be on the vanguard. I'm sorry, we? Yes, you and me. Freeman and Watts. I mean, you're the one who said we should work on a project together, right? Oh, I don't know about this. Freeman leans in with an intense look in his eye. James, there are people out there who desperately need treatment. They have no options. I want to give them an option. But I'm not a neurosurgeon. I'm not allowed to operate at the hospital. But you are. You're a surgeon, and the damn good one. The only thing you lack is access to patients. And that's where I can help. What, because of St. Elizabeth's? Yes, because of St. Elizabeth's, I can get patients. And you can operate. And we can bring this cure to America. Watts looks down and swallow his heart. No, Walter, I'm not comfortable with this. For one thing, I haven't even read the book. And start here. Freeman pushes the book toward him. You're not allowed to say no. And you know why? Because you once told me that you wanted to do something big, something real, something consequential. This is it. This is your chance to be a part of history. And I don't care if you're too scared or have some doubts at the moment because I know you can do it. So, you want to do it. Watts is silent. This new surgery sounds reckless, maybe even barbaric. How are you supposed to cure the brain by hacking it up? It's madness. But Watts can't deny it. Freeman is right. He is scared and timid. That's always been his problem. But Freeman is right for another reason. Watts does want it. He must conquer his reluctance. Because hesitant people. Make history. From Wondry, this is episode one of five of the ice pick surgeon from American scandal. On the next episode, Watts or Freeman and James Watts begin to experiment with the lobotomy. But their partnership is soon tested when a high profile patient meets with disastrous results. If you'd like to learn more about Watts or Freeman and other scandals in science, we recommend the book The Ice Pick Surgeon by Sam Keane. This episode contains reenactments and traumatized details. And while in most cases, we can't know exactly what was said. And largeometizations are based on historical research. American scandal is hosted, edited, and executive produced by me Lindsey Graham for Airship. Audio editing by Molly Bach. Sound design by Derek Barons. Music by Lindsey Graham. This episode is written by Sam Keane, edited by Christina Malsburner. Our senior producer is Gabe Ribbon. Our Stephanie Jenns, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and her nonlopez for Wondry.