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Tue, 01 Jun 2021 09:00
Walter Freeman and James Watts begin to experiment with the lobotomy. But their partnership is tested when a high-profile patient suffers disastrous results.
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Listener, no. This episode contains references to suicide as well as graphic descriptions of medical experiments. It may not be appropriate for younger audiences. It's September 13, 1936 in Washington, D.C. Inside the hospital at George Washington University, Alice Hammett paces back and forth. She's in a small hospital room with threadbare curtains and a cold tile floor. It's lifeless and quiet, and Hammett feels deeply uneasy. Hammett glances at her overnight bag, which sits in the corner of the room. She knows that it's almost time for her to fall asleep, but that seems impossible. Hammett can't get her mind to stop racing. Tomorrow morning, she is scheduled to have a surgery that could change her life, and change is what she needs. For decades, Hammett has lived with intense emotional pain. It's often unbearable. Her suffering began years ago, when her child grew ill, then died. He was only two years old. Hammett had started to recover, but then she suffered another tragedy. Her sister murdered her own husband, and then died by suicide. Hammett was consumed by pain. She has panic attacks and fits of crying. She often can't fall asleep or even sit still. And entire months can slip by in a haze. It's a miserable way to live, and recently, her husband snapped. He said he couldn't take it anymore, and he threatened to place her in a mental asylum. The threat was terrifying. Hammett couldn't imagine being locked up, spending the rest of her life surrounded by madness. She knew she had to do something. So Hammett met with a neurologist and begged for help. The doctor, Walter Freeman, surprised her and said there was a new type of treatment called psychosurgery, and he said it could fix her problems. Hammett immediately agreed to go through with the surgery, scheduled for tomorrow. But now, as she paces around her hospital room, Hammett is having second thoughts. She needs to speak with Dr. Freeman. The door opens and Freeman enters the hospital room. He looks like a professor with his wire glasses and short goatee. He approaches Hammett with a charismatic smile. Alice, how are we this evening? Oh, Dr. Freeman, I'm not good. The anxiety is worse than ever. Well, that's why we're going to perform this operation. But that's what I'm nervous about. I'm sorry, but I just can't go through with it. Freeman gives Hammett a calm and reassuring look. Now, Alice, I know you're scared. But let's think back. Remember the analogy I used? The one about the wires. Yes, that's right. You said my brain has some bad wires. Between the emotional parts and the frontal lobes. Yeah, that's exactly right. Think of it like a short circuit. That's the source of your pain. And the good news is, we can fix it. All we have to do is snip those bad wires. That's what I'm afraid of. It sounds too simple. But have you done this before? What about your other patients? Were they any better? What were the side effects? Alice, Alice, my dear. Take a deep breath. Let's calm down. And remember, we're talking about science. It's unambiguous. This procedure has a brilliant track record. So of course, take a moment. Let yourself think it through. But just remember that after this operation, you will be back to normal. You'll be happy. Carefree. After so many years of pain. And you'll be very, very far from any kind of mental asylum. Hammett feels herself tensing up. She's still deeply uncomfortable. She knows that if she undergoes this procedure, the nurses will have to shave off all her hair. She won't just feel like a freak. She'll look like one. But she's not only afraid of losing her hair. There's a real risk that this procedure could destroy her mind. That it would harm her in ways that she could never recover from. This fear begins to overwhelm her. When suddenly Dr. Freeman lays a hand on her shoulder. As she looks into his eyes, she can see that Freeman is poised and confident. He's entirely sure of himself. Hammett begins to think that maybe these are just nerves. She's overthinking the whole thing. Dr. Freeman is probably right. Even if this operation is risky, it's better than the alternative. She can't fathom spending the rest of her life in a padded room listening to people shriek and how. So Hammett takes another deep breath and nods. She tells Freeman that she's ready to move forward. Tomorrow morning, she'll go through with her operation. A new and promising procedure called the lobotomy. We get support from Audible. We've all got busy schedules. And I'm sure sometimes you feel like with all the things you have to do, it's hard to find time for the stuff you love to do. Like reading, that's why Audible is so great. Audible offers an incredible selection of audiobooks across every genre. From bestsellers and new releases to celebrity memoirs, mysteries and thrillers, motivation, wellness, business, and more. 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Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. From Wondry, I'm Lindsay Graham and this is American Scam. In the 1930s, Walter Freeman began searching for a cure for mental illness at a time when patients had few good options. Freeman was a neurologist and as he looked into the newest research, he discovered a type of brain surgery known as the lobotomy. The procedure involved severing physical connections in the brain. And to Walter Freeman, the lobotomy seemed like it could be a silver bullet. But Freeman wasn't trained in surgery, so he recruited a neurosurgeon named James Watts to help pioneer the operation. Freeman began administering lobotomies for more and more patients, but he grew frustrated with the pace of his progress. And so he began to experiment with a new procedure, one that could be performed quickly even if it was more dangerous. This is episode two, trial and error. It's September 15th, 1936 in Washington, DC. Inside the hospital at George Washington University, Walter Freeman stares in horror at one of his patients. It's Alice Hammett, the woman who went through lobotomy just yesterday. Hammett should be awake right now, but instead, she's lying in a coma. Freeman can't figure out why. He lifts one of her bandages and checks the wounds on her bald head. There's no sign of infection. He raises her eyelids and shines a light into her eyes. Her pupils dilate exactly as they should. Next, he scrapes a key across her barefoot. He watches as her toes curl down. Freeman steps back. He doesn't know what to make of this. Hammett's reflexes all appear to be normal. She should be fine, and yet nothing can rouse her. Freeman falls into a chair, thinks back on the operation yesterday. It was his very first lobotomy, and everything seemed to be going perfectly. Freeman's partner, James Watts, operated with incredible precision. And after the operation, Hammett had regained full consciousness. But suddenly, she started vomiting and lost control of her bladder. Finally, she fell into a coma. Freeman stares at Hammett, unconscious in her hospital bed. He knows this could be a disaster. This was their first attempt at a lobotomy. And if their patient is brain dead, or if God forbid she dies, then this whole experiment will be over. They'll never be allowed to perform a lobotomy again. Time seems to drag on as Freeman considers the worst case scenarios. But then about an hour later, Freeman hears something. He looks over and sees that Hammett is stirring. Freeman leaps to her side. He begins calling her name, trying to bring her back to consciousness. There's a knock on the door, and a nurse peeks inside the room. Freeman orders her to go find the patient's husband. Soon, the husband arrives, and Hammett continues to show signs of waking up. But Walter Freeman knows it's not yet time to celebrate. They still have to see if Hammett's mind is intact. Freeman points to Hammett's husband, and asks the now awake woman who he is. For a moment, Hammett squints and cocks her head sideways. She doesn't seem to recognize him. But then her face relaxes, and she whispers, he's my husband. Freeman feels an incredible relief. But now it's time to learn whether the lobotomy was actually successful. So Freeman asks Hammett about her mood. He wants to know if she still feels anxious. Hammett shakes her head. Says she doesn't have any anxiety. All of her pains seem so distant now. Freeman can barely contain himself. The anxiety, the depression, the misery that had played Hammett for years, all that seems gone. This patient was looking at a lifetime spent in a mental asylum. But if this treatment holds up, she'll be able to live a happy and meaningful life. She's proof that the lobotomy works. A feeling of excitement runs up Freeman's spine. If this operation really is so remarkable, it could change the world. So for Walter Freeman, there's only one thing to do. He says goodbye to Hammett and her husband. And then goes looking for his partner, James Watts. It's time for them to get to work. There are more patients this procedure could save. It's nine months later in New York City. Nolan Lewis grabs a cup of coffee and starts sorting through stacks of paper. Lewis is a researcher who works on psychiatric and neurological diseases. And he has a lot of work ahead of him today. As he sorts through the papers, Lewis hears a pair of footsteps approaching. He looks up in spots one of his colleagues. The man grins holding up a newspaper and says it's not every day that neuroscience makes the front page of the New York Times. Lewis sets down his coffee and asks what the story is about. The colleague explains that apparently there are some doctors developing a new surgery in Washington, D.C. They're calling it the lobotomy. And according to these doctors, two thirds of their patients are showing big improvements. Lewis's throat goes dry. He used to work in D.C. at George Washington University. He developed a new theory about schizophrenia, which he thought was caused when patients had smaller than normal hearts. It was a promising idea until Walter Freeman disproved it. Freeman had humiliated Lewis. And so Lewis decided to leave D.C. and take this job in New York. So suspiciously, Lewis asks his colleague which doctors are developing the surgery. Man checks the paper and says the surgeon is James Watts. But the doctor developing the procedure is someone named Walter Freeman. Lewis rises and grabs the paper from his colleague. Reading the article, he learns how Freeman and Watts are drilling into people's skulls and severing connections in the brain. To Lewis, it sounds medieval. There's no talk about ethical reviews or safety tests. And no one seems to be considering the biggest problem he sees. If the patients are mentally ill, they couldn't be able to give consent for the lobotomy. Lewis's colleague says he agrees. There are real issues. But if patients are finally getting better, then the benefits outweigh the concerns. Lewis pushes back, reminding his colleague that it's far too early to claim that this procedure works. It hasn't been tested nearly enough. Lewis's colleague shrugs. And as he turns to leave the office, he says that they'll see. It could be a revolution. And Lewis shouldn't be so quick to write it off. The colleague walks away leaving Lewis fuming. The New York Times is making Walter Freeman look like a hero. But they're not asking important questions, questions that could be the difference between life and death. Lewis knows he can't sit around and do nothing. He picks up the phone and asks the operator to patch him through to Washington. He still has some friends in the city. And he needs to warn them to keep an eye on Walter Freeman. It's a cold November morning, four years later. In Northwest Washington, D.C. James Watts steps up the front stairs of a row house. He takes out his keys and enters the building where he and Walter Freeman run their medical practice. Watch steps inside his office and takes off his coat. He feels grateful. It's a cold one outside. But in his office, it's already warm and pleasant. He likes it that way, even if the heat is expensive. But he has no trouble paying the bills. For the last five years, his practice has been booming. Walter Freeman has been hustling out patients and Watts has been performing lobotomies on them. But for Watts is about more than money. Watts believes in the work they're doing. Families of mental patients are desperate for a cure and lobotomies seem to be helping. Watts has seen a few patients completely transform, becoming happier and more stable. He and Freeman are still developing the procedure, but he can already see huge possibilities. The lobotomy could transform mental health. Inside his office, Watts heads to his desk. But before he can get to work, he hears the front door open. Watts looks up and finds Walter Freeman standing in the doorway, his eyes sparkling with excitement. Freeman lifts a folder in his hand and says he has a new patient, the most important one yet. Freeman walks over and sets the folder down in front of Watts, whose eyes go wide when he sees the name at the top. Rosemary Kennedy, the daughter of Joseph Kennedy, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a former ambassador to Great Britain. He is a big deal in Washington and well connected. Watts flips through the file and learns more about Rosemary Kennedy. Apparently she's always been slow ever since she was born. She can't read well or even hold utensils properly. But the real problem is that she's defiant. She has wild mood swings and won't listen to her parents. She keeps running away, which is why Joseph Kennedy wants her to be brought under control. He wants her to undergo a lobotomy. Watts looks up from the file. Freeman is grinning, but Watts is troubled. He points out that Rosemary is only 23 years old, and her symptoms don't seem promising for a lobotomy. She's not like the other young people they've operated on. Those patients were psychotic. Still grinning, Freeman nods and admits that Rosemary isn't the strongest case. But with a lobotomy they can at least stop her mood swings. And most important, they'll get a lot of press. Rosemary Kennedy could make them world famous and let them expand their practice. Watts rises from his desk and begins pacing. He doesn't like this case, and he's noticing a disturbing trend. At first, they only operated on the most desperate patients. But now they're taking on some who might not benefit at all from such a major surgery. Watts is uncomfortable with this, and even though he hates confrontation, he tells Freeman the truth. Freeman listens and nods, but says it's too late to argue. He already promised Joseph Kennedy that he could fix his daughter. They've scheduled the surgery for next week. Watts stares at Freeman, shocked. He can't believe his own partner would be so reckless. Wouldn't even consult him. Watts hates to fight, but he reminds Freeman that he is the surgeon. He's the one in charge, and they're not doing this surgery. But Freeman just laughs and says if that's how Watts feels, he can call up Joseph Kennedy himself and back out. Watts goes silent. He knows his back is against a wall. If he disappoints Kennedy, he could make a powerful enemy, someone who could ruin their practice. It's not a risk worth taking. So Watts shakes his head and says, fine, he'll do it. He'll operate on Rosemary Kennedy. Freeman clapped Watts on the shoulder and says he made the right decision, then he stride out of the office. For a few minutes Watts stands alone, feeling bitter and humiliated. He knows he has no choice. He has to perform this operation. But he also makes a promise to himself. This is the last time Walter Freeman will ever bully him again. It's June 1945 in Washington, D.C., and Walter Freeman is staring at his telephone. He's in his office and should be working, but he can't concentrate. Because any minute now Freeman is supposed to receive a call from his lawyer with an important update. Freeman was recently sued by one of his lobotomy patients. She's claiming malpractice and arguing that Freeman left her with permanent brain damage, a claim that could devastate his career. Freeman shakes his head. He thinks about all the legal troubles he's now facing. It all started with Rosemary Kennedy. Her lobotomy proved to be a disaster. Ever since the surgery, all she does is sit in a chair all day doing nothing. The surgery also left her incontinent, and now she appears to have the mental capacity of just a child. The Kennedy's were furious, and words seems to have gotten around that Freeman is reckless. Which is why this other patient is now suing him. Freeman can only hope that when his lawyer calls, he'll have some good news. Finally, the phone does ring, and Freeman quickly picks it up. Yes, this is Dr. Freeman. Walter is Gary. I've got something that's going to make you happy. Oh, thank God. Tell me what is it? It looks like they're going to settle. It'll be entirely out of court. You'll have to pay up, but it won't ruin you. That is great news. Oh, thank you. I've been on edge for days. I can imagine. But look, Walter, I think you got lucky this time. So I'm going to give you some advice. You know there are other patients out there. Patients who are just as angry. That might be true, but it's medicine. The human body, it's complex. Nothing ever goes according to plan. Yeah, that might be medicine, but when it comes to the law, you have to start making smart decisions. And legally, what would be the smart decision? Well, as your lawyer, I recommend you stop performing the bottomies. Well, no. I can't abandon my patients. They don't have any other options. Well, that's my advice. I think you dodged a bullet. And next time you might not be so lucky. For a moment, Freeman is speechless. He would never let the threat of a lawsuit dictate his life's work. There's always a risk when you try to achieve something great. Freeman hangs up the phone with his lawyer and glances at his patient charts. Suddenly, it's as clear as day. He shouldn't stop performing the bottomies. He needs to pick up the pace. He and Watts are only performing one operation a week. That's hardly enough to put a dent in the bigger problem. And Freeman realizes that this is the issue. He has to find another way to perform a lobotomy. He needs to bypass the surgeons and hospitals. Everyone who slows down the process. Freeman grabs his bag and heads for the door. But he doesn't have time to go home to see his wife. Instead, he's going to hit the library to make the next great discovery in medicine. 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. Generation Y is one of the longest running true crime podcasts out there. And we are still at it, unraveling a new case every week. We break down infamous cases like the Evil Genius Bank robbery. And lesser known cases like the case of Kimberly Rico. Did she actually kill her husband after they took part in a murder mystery game? We cover every angle, breaking down theories, diving deep into forensic evidence, and interviewing those close to the case. And with over 450 episodes, there's a little something for every true crime listener. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or every listen to podcasts. Or you can listen ad free by joining Wondry Plus in the Wondry app. It's October 1945 in Washington, D.C. James Watts takes a seat across from a young woman who has a pained look on her face. She fidgets with her hands and starts to get choked up as she glances around Watts's office. It's no surprise why she's so upset. The patient has a brain tumor and it's grown large enough that it's causing her to lose her vision. Watts can only imagine the terror she's feeling. But Watts is a neurosurgeon and he's excited to share some good news with her. He explains that he's going to remove the tumor and that there's a very real chance that she'll regain her vision and be able to return to a normal life. The woman looks away and then smiles as a tear trickles down her cheek. She wipes her nose with the side of her hand and Watts reaches over to give her a handkerchief. The woman laughs self consciously as she blows her nose. And with tears still welling in her eyes, she thanks Watts from the bottom of her heart. This is a proud moment for James Watts. He loves when he can actually help a patient. But it's a feeling that's grown increasingly rare. He's still performing lobotomies and while sometimes the operation can be helpful, patients often backslide. At the same time Watts partner, Walter Freeman, keeps trying to push lobotomies on more and more patients, including those who don't truly need the operation. Watts knows that other doctors are starting to take notice. It's upsetting and you can feel a strain developing between him and Freeman. In his office, Watts continues talking with his patient about her brain tumor. When suddenly the door swings open. Walter Freeman enters carrying a large book. James, sorry to bother but look at this. Walter, I'm with a patient. I know and ma'm I am sorry but James, please, I need a minute. Just one minute. Before Watts can say a word, Freeman leads the patient out of her chair and back into the waiting area. Then he returns with a grin. Okay, look Watts, it's all right here in this book. Walter, what the hell is going on? Freeman opens the book and flips to an earmarked page. Now think, watch the one problem with lobotomies. The one problem, I can think of a few. James, come on. The problem is they're too slow. We need a surgeon and a seizure, a whole team, but this book, it suggests a whole new approach. Watts looks down at a diagram. It shows a surgeon operating on a patient's brain, but the surgeon is accessing the brain from the front through the eye socket. Walter, what is this? Now think it through. The skull is thick on top. To get inside you have to use a drill or a saw, but that's not the only way in. If you go through the eyes, James, the brain is much easier to access. You're suggesting we're performing lobotomies through the eyes. Yeah, exactly. And just imagine we could turn lobotomies into an outpatient procedure. We'll have them home in an hour. Watts is almost too stunned to speak. Outpatient neurosurgery. That's right. We could do a dozen in a single day. Walter, this is not acceptable. I cannot allow that surgery at the hospital. Of course you can. No, listen to me. I'm the licensed surgeon. You work at my pleasure and I forbid this operation. Freeman stares at Watts, obeying pulsing at his temple. Forbidden. Well, I guess I have no choice. I won't operate at the hospital. And that's all there is to it. Have a good day, James. Walter Freeman grabs his book and walks out of the office. Watts sits at his desk speechless. But then he remembers his patient with a brain tumor. She's still standing out in the waiting area. He leaps up from his chair and leads her back into his office, while apologizing repeatedly. But as he sits and talks with his patient, Watts can't focus. He can't let go of the conversation he just had with Freeman. This new kind of lobotomy sounds like madness. And what sort of promise did Freeman just make? That he won't operate at the hospital. A month later, Walter Freeman picks up a surgical needle and walks toward a cold body lying on a metal slab. Here in the cadaver lab at George Washington University, Freeman is trying to develop a technique for a new, faster way to perform lobotomies, a method that might let him bring the procedure to the messes. Freeman turns his attention to the textbook he recently showed his partner, James Watts. He studies a diagram revealing how surgeons can access the brain through eye sockets. And he steadies the needle in his hand. It's skinny, about eight inches long, with a hollow shaft and a wide tip. Normally, it's used for spinal taps. But Freeman hopes it can also be used for this new kind of lobotomy. It's the only one he's found long enough to reach through the eye socket and penetrate deep into the brain. Then Freeman turns back to the body. Lifts open an eyelid and slides the needle through the cadaver's tear duct. He feels resistance from the orbital bone behind the eye. He tries poking and applying more pressure. And then he hears a crack like an egg shell breaking. The bone has shattered. Freeman swears under his breath. If this were a real patient, it would be a disaster. So Freeman starts over on another cadaver. But this time the needle snaps off. Freeman curses again. He just can't get this to work. Freeman is happy to be here in the lab, running these experiments by himself. He doesn't want James Watts or anyone else to know what he's doing. Doctors like to gossip. But still, Freeman is hitting a wall, and he doesn't know what to do next. So he returns to the medical book and studies the diagrams again, trying to figure out what he's doing wrong. Freeman can feel it. He knows this technique can work. He's on the cusp of something big, a revolution in mental health. But he's stuck. And he knows that if he's going to make this work, something needs to change. A few weeks later, Walter Freeman grabs a bottle of gin and pours a shot into a cocktail shaker. He squeezes some lemon and begins searching for other ingredients. Freeman is at home in Washington, D.C. But even though it's only 7 p.m., his wife Marjorie is already drunk. She's asking for yet another round. Walter shakes his head as he looks for a mixer. He sees a lot of patients with mental health problems, and he's more than familiar with addiction. But still, it's hard to witness that kind of behavior at home with his own wife. And while Marjorie has always been a drinker, things have gotten out of hand recently. His wife was furloughed from her job, and she hurt her hip in a fall. Since then, she's gotten drunk almost every night. Their marriage isn't doing well either. Walter is often totally consumed with work. For weeks, he's been toiling away in the cadaver lab, trying to revolutionize the lobotomy. But no matter what he does, the experiments end in failure. It's been a huge source of stress, when it's rubbing off on Walter and his wife. Walter knows it'll just make things worse if he tries to talk his wife out of this drink. So he'll make one more cocktail for Marjorie, and when she's asleep, he'll go back to the lab. Walter is moving through the kitchen when Marjorie calls out from the other room. She reminds him she wants her cocktail on the rocks. Walter's size. That means you'll have to chip away at the ice. Walter opens the utensil drawer looking for a tool. When suddenly, he sees it. The answer to all of his problems. Every time he experiments with this new kind of lobotomy, the needles break, where they'll bone shatters around the eyes. He's had a hunch that he just needs a new tool. But just now, standing in his kitchen, he may have stumbled on the perfect instrument, an ice pick with a wooden handle. Walter lifts up the pick and turns it over, watching it glint in the light. He doesn't have a doubt in the world, it is perfect. It's sturdy, but also slender and shaped like a needle. It's just the right length. With this tool, he should be able to reach through the skull and perform a lobotomy in only a fraction of the time. He gives a bit of a laugh, thinking that such a common tool could change the future of medicine. Just then, Marjorie calls out again from the other room, asking what's taking so long. Walter feels the reverie slip away. He realizes he's still in his kitchen. It hasn't finished making the drink. But he's lost his patience. So he grabs the cocktail shaker and walks it over to his wife, saying he's sorry that there's no ice. He has to get back to the lab. He has worked to do and it cannot wait. Before Marjorie can finish protesting, Walter grabs his keys and walks out the front door. Walter has a long night of work ahead of him, attempting to perfect the delicate procedure of severing connections in the brain with an ice pick. It's March 1946 in Washington, D.C. Walter Freeman is waiting in the alley behind his office. It's an unflattering sight. The alleyway is full of overflowing trash cans and leaky pipes. From the shadows, he hears the rustling movement of rats. Freeman doesn't normally meet new patients in a setting like this. But this is anything but a normal situation. Any minute, Freeman is supposed to meet with a patient who needs a lobotomy. But this time Freeman's partner, James Watts, won't perform the operation. And it won't take place in a hospital. Instead, Walter Freeman himself is going to perform the lobotomy using the technique he just pioneered. He'll use an ice pick to navigate through the patient's eye socket and access her brain. It'll be quick, taking no more than an hour. And Freeman will perform the operation in his own office, right above the office of James Watts. That's why he has to be stealthy. He can't let Watts or anyone else see him. Because while Freeman is a doctor, he is not a surgeon. And performing neurosurgery in his own office could spell big trouble. A few minutes passed by, and finally, Freeman hears the clicking of women's shoes on the pavement. Freeman looks over, sees his new patient approaching in the alley. Her name is Helen Mortensen, and she has short brown hair and a nervous look on her face. She suffers from terrible anxiety. That's why she's here to get the operation. But Freeman knows it doesn't help that they're meeting in the alley like criminals. Mortensen is alarmed by this roundings, asking timidly why they couldn't just meet in his office. Freeman can't tell her the truth. That this operation is a secret, and only the third he's performed. Instead, he tells Mortensen that the front stairway is under construction. But she shouldn't worry, it's just an inconvenience. Mortensen nods and Freeman leads her through the back entrance. Midway up the stairs, Mortensen begins to ask another question. But Freeman shushes her. He knows that James Watts is working in his office on the first floor, and he can't let Watts know that this operation is taking place. Watts would probably try to shut it down. Finally, Dr. and Patience step into Freeman's office. As she takes a seat without prompting, Mortensen begins talking about all her recent troubles. She's grown scared of her own shadow. Her anxiety is through the roof. She can't work. She can't ride the bus. She can't even go to the grocery store without having a meltdown. As she talks, Freeman gathers his equipment. Everything is ready for the quick lobotomy he's about to perform. Freeman then takes a seat in front of Mortensen, and lays a hand on her shoulder. He tells her that her anxiety is about to be a thing of the past. She can soon go back to living a normal life, but Freeman needs to know, is she ready to make that change? Mortensen swallows hard and looks down. For a moment, Freeman worries that Mortensen has cold feet, that he'll have to work his charm to convince her to go through with the operation. But in the end, he doesn't need to say anything. Mortensen looks up, and in the quiet voice, she says she can't live like this anymore. She's ready. Freeman passes her on her hand and rises. He then grabs a set of electrodes and applies into her temples. Mortensen is beginning to sweat. This is normal, merely a sign that she's nervous. But Freeman knows that soon this patient will be a changed woman. She'll finally have her life back. With the electrodes in place on her temples, Freeman hits a switch on a small box. Mortensen's body suddenly jolt, and she falls quiet and unconscious. She's now ready for the procedure. Freeman heads over to his desk and grabs his ice pick. He also grabs a wooden mallet, and then he kneels down next to his patient. Freeman has to admit this is thrilling. Of course, he's practiced this operation on cadavers using an ice pick for this kind of quick lobotomy, but an operation on a living, breathing person is something else entirely. He's only performed this new kind of lobotomy twice before, and the risks are very real. With life and death now on the line, Freeman can feel his senses grow sharp. He's focused and clearheaded. He moves quickly. He slides the ice pick through the patient's tear duct and taps it with a mallet to get through to the brain. Then he swings the pick back and forth, which severes the brain tissue. Freeman repeats this on the other side, and soon the operation is done. He's given Mortensen a full lobotomy, and it took only about 20 minutes. Freeman wipes down his ice pick and sets it on his desk. He takes a seat and looks at his patient who's still unconscious. Now all Freeman can do is wait. If he's right, and this operation is as good as it seems, he may have discovered a true cure for mental illness. But if this operation does not go as planned, well Freeman won't allow himself to consider that possibility. It's about a half hour later in Walter Freeman's office. Helen Mortensen begins to gurgle and cough. Slowly she comes back to life. At first, she's groggy, and tomorrow she'll have two huge black eyes from the operation. But so far she appears to be doing fine. Freeman asks how she feels. Mortensen frowns in an acquired, childlike voice. She says she's a little dizzy, but she's okay. Next Freeman asks if she's still anxious. Mortensen blinks, and her head bobs as she considers the question. Then she shakes her head, and mutters no. She doesn't think so. Freeman feels the rush of excitement, and he pushes it further. He wants to know if she's scared by the thought of getting on a bus, or going to the grocery store. But again, Mortensen shakes her head and says she's not feeling scared anymore. Freeman's chest swells. There's no mistaking it. This patient is cured, and this operation, which he developed, is nothing short of a breakthrough. Freeman wishes he could spend a minute celebrating, but he also knows he can't risk letting James Watts see any of this. So Freeman leads his patient to the stairwell in the back. As she walks down the steps, Mortensen stumbles and nearly falls, but Freeman catches her and holds her steady. The two exit the building and reach the back alley again. Mortensen continues to stumble on her feet, and so Freeman holds her up and hails a cab for her. A moment later, she's speeding off into the distance. As the cab rounds the corner, Freeman grins. He knows he should get back to work, but he can't stop gazing at the bustling streets of Washington. Everything seems so alive and full of promise. For so long, Walter Freeman ate to cure those people suffering from mental illness, but medicine didn't have a single good option for any of their pain. Today, Freeman consents that this is the dawn of a new era. Gone are the days when people live with fear or depression or uncontrollable rage. This is the end of psychosis of crippling addiction. Walter Freeman has found a cure, an easy, cheap solution, and it's time to bring it to the masses. A few weeks later, James Watts climbs the stairs of his office building in Washington, D.C. He's about to confront Walter Freeman, and he won't leave until he gets some answers. Just this morning, Watts got a telephone call from a colleague who said he'd heard a rumor. Apparently, Walter Freeman brought a patient into the ER with disturbing symptoms. Patient was bleeding from the eyes and in the brain. As Watts listened to the story, he had a bad feeling. Freeman had been so excited about that textbook he found, the one showing how you could operate on the brain through the eye sockets. Freeman had thought he discovered a new way to perform lobotomies, but he had promised he wouldn't go ahead with such a reckless experiment. Watts had thought that Freeman gave his word, but at this point Watts is unsure that he can trust Walter Freeman. So now as he reaches Freeman's door, the two need to have an honest conversation. Watts enters the office and then freezes in horror. There's a man lying on a table, unconscious. Walter Freeman is hovering over him, digging into his eye socket with an ice pick. Freeman turns away from the patient and looks directly at Watts. Well, hello James. Walter, what the hell are you doing? You said you wouldn't do this surgery. No, no James, I promised I wouldn't do it at the hospital. And this is not the hospital. But none of this is sterile. For God's sake, you're performing neurosurgery in an office. You cannot do this. Ah, but I can do this and I'll tell you the truth. This is my tenth patient. Watts stares at Freeman in complete shock. Walter, Walter listen very carefully. I'm ordering you to stop this madness right now. Put that down. James, I'm in the middle of the operation. I can't stop now. Walter, sit down that the ice pick and listen. Either you're going to stop this surgery or we're done as partners. Freeman shakes his head. I had a feeling you would be too scared. But what you're looking at right here, this is the biggest breakthrough in the history of psychiatry. And you want to just abandon it. Well, history doesn't remember the people who are Tim and James. No one's ever going to remember you. Watts feels his breath grow short. He wants to grab Freeman by the neck and strangle him. He's never felt such violent rage in his entire life. But James Watts is not a violent man. He never has been. And so he takes one last look at this horrifying procedure and then turns and hurries out the door. Watts flies down the staircase and steps out onto the city street. He sees crowds of faces, the hawking of horns. He's overwhelming. And Watts heart beats faster and faster. He finds a city bench and collapses onto it. He tries to steady his breathing and slow down his heartbeat. Even though it feels like it, he knows he's not dying. He's just experiencing a panic attack. And he knows the reason why. For years, Watts has been Walter Freeman's willing partner. He followed Freeman's orders and performed unnecessary surgeries. He's helped Freeman build a lucrative and growing medical practice in willingly ignored warning signs. But what he's just seen, there's no coming back from this. Watts knows it's time to dissolve their partnership. But as hard as he tries, Watts can't shake a feeling of dread and guilt. He fears that this is too little, too late. Watts knows he helped create a monster. And he may never be able to stop him. From Wondry, this is episode two of five of the ice pick surgeon from American's candle. On the next episode, Walter Freeman goes public with his ice pick lobotomies. But in the process, he earns himself new enemies who are determined to stop him. 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 Kean. This episode contains reenactments and traumatized details. In while in most cases, we can't know exactly what was said. All of dramatizations 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 Barrettens, music by Lindsey Graham. This episode is written by Sam Kean, editing by Christina Mallsberger. Our senior producer is Gabe Riven. Our executive producers are Stephanie Jenns, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and her nonlope has for Wondry.