I haven't heard back from that Dr. Breggins, the advocate psychiatrist from the 1970s who got the funding for violence & psychosurgery research at Mass General (Mark Vernon).
I haven't heard back yet from my sister about interviewing my aunt. I'll call her this weekend.
I still plan to schedule a conference call with my brother and sister and just sort of recap and also get all of our perspectives on the situation.
I found a Massachusetts report on psychosurgery in the state dated 1975. It is not available on line or at the university library so I have had to order it through the Inter Library Loan service. It will take a few days. I have a feeling a list of hospitals will be in that report.
I found a few more things. A few. They were in a plastic bin back behind all the camping stuff on a shelf in our basement. I know I have more. I don't usually throw artifacts away--maybe that's why my mother sent them to me. It's a crime to throw away the past.
Dad's Obituary. I am trying to imagine who sent that to me. It was from the Standard Times newspaper, February 10, 1994.
I found a preschool "graduation" certificate dated March 1970. That would have been five months before the surgery.I wish I could say I remember that preschool experience. I should have. It was Romper Room on the local television station. I don't.
I also found a diary I kept in 1988. (I did throw / lose all of my earlier diaries--there were a lot over my young adolescence. I started keeping a diary when I was 13.)
1988- I would have been 23. When I read the entries, it seems unlikely that I would have been that old. It was only a year before I moved to San Francisco. The diary has poems in one half of the bound book. If I turn it over and open it (upside down) there are journal entries. The book is full. No blank pages. The poems are painfully terrible. What's worse is I half remember thinking they were brilliant.
Infinitely now I dream of love
In particular, no one I think of
Yet it's real and strong
as though I've known it before
To me it belongs yet
I know it no more
The most recent of romances
I now attribute it to
could it be perchance
this recollection's untrue?
I thumbed through it and read a few entries. There's a lot about my dad receiving a diagnosis of brain cancer.There are lists of child abuse perpetrated by my mother. I almost remember making the lists, trying to understand if I was making it up. I can't write the list because there are some things that are too painful. The strange thing is that I don't remember some of the items. Weaved in and out through all the hardship are my boyfriends. My relationships. Like this:
I think I really need to sort some things out about what's going on.
Firstly, my father has a brain tumor. Most of the time I don't even deal with it at all. It's like its not true or its not happening. Mostly it feels like none of it is real and it's all a sick joke. I've heard all my life from my mother that terrible things were going to happen. They never dead. Death was never real anyway. Why should it be now?
I know I love my father and I didn't think I'd ever feel like that again. That disappeared a long time ago. It just disappeared. Now, all of a sudden here he is again. My dad. All of a sudden I realize how I did love him and how I still do. Then again, he has a brain tumor and if I do finally let go and love him there is a very good chance he'll leave me forever. So I proceed with caution with so much fear. Nothing is forever!
I was thinking today about Peter D. and a solution. Everything is so mixed up together, that solution probably has to do with dad too. At first I saw the whole situation with Peter as existing within a bubble. I'm not trapped inside of it through. I have a choice. I can step inside of it and get caught up in the whole scene but I can never get trapped. I can walk away. I can even look beyond it into my own future or to another place like Boston or at home where it's not so significant at all. Where people aren't even remotely aware of the circumstances. This doesn't have to consume me. Yet, I want it to. I want to not think about Dad. I want to watch Peter D. hurt me. I don't want all of this to be happening. But, i can't control it the way I can control my situation with Peter. I'm trapped inside the bubble with my dad. I can sit and look inside of it with my back turned and see how pretty everything must be somehow if I can escape. Soon I'll have to turn around and see my dad's face and look deep into his eyes. I'll have to see he has a brain tumor and I'll have to really look at the truth. I'll have to know for positively sure that it is there. Then I'll have to look at him again so he knows I know for sure.
It wasn't long after the diary entry that I moved to San Francisco. I loved San Francisco and it was the best decision of my early life. But, I didn't know until I read this old journal what a child I was when I left. Then again as a parent I can see that only a child would have bought a one way ticket with only $300 and two acquaintances on the other end.
But it was beautiful the day I arrived. The light in San Francisco is so beautiful Bright yellow, hopeful. The green hills were dramatic. It was all glorious because it was the end of the abuse.
I don't know if I'll do it here but I will make some video diaries of the journal entries. I am starting to think this whole thing is going to be a performance piece for the stage. Maybe a story retold in letters and projected photographs.
Items from the Plastic Bin I Found Today
I finally got a chance to talk with my sister Terry yesterday. She lives across the country from me so we spoke on the phone. I was in the parking lot at Starbucks and she only had fifteen minutes to talk and I wanted to catch her up on everything as we move forward on the project. So, I tried to record the conversation but found out later that you can't record and talk on the i phone at the same time. That was a bummer because I feel like our conversation would have added so much to the story. But, we will be doing a conference call between my sister, my brother, and myself this week (I hope). As I've said before, the three of us have very different takes on things. In my opinion, that's because of our age and our different relationships to our mother. My sister had been doing some of this research about my mom's surgery back in December. She found out information that I didn't so I talk about that a little in the video. But basically this is the summary of our conversation:
She thinks mom was very disturbed before the surgery and that was why they did it. She did not think the disturbance was caused by postpartum depression / psychosis, but that could have exacerbated it. But she felt that my mother was mentally ill and abusive before the surgery.
She pretty much confirmed that it WAS psychosurgery. When she did her research she found out that one of the doctors at Vernon Mark's clinic at Mass General was on the board or was a visiting doctor (or something) at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford where we believe my mother's surgery took place.
My sister also told me that my mother had mailed the records from the surgery to her (this would have been back in early 2000). My sister had been living in this terrible apartment with mold so EVERYTHING had to be thrown out. As a result (and also because none of us knew the significance of these documents) they were thrown away. However, my sister basically said my mother was coming to the same conclusions that we are. She had gotten the records to find out why they did the surgery. She was trying to find a lawyer to sue for malpractice. Damn I wish we had those records!
My sister agreed that we should probably talk to my aunt Brenda because (a) she was around before and after the surgery, (b) she was one of the few people who really enjoyed and loved my mother for who she was, (c) she would just add dimension to this story. My sister didn't necessarily want to be the one to talk about mom with Aunt Brenda so I said I would :( I have only spoken to my Aunt Brenda once in 30 years and that was when my mother was dying and my Aunt called me to admonish me. I think I hung up on her. She tried to facebook friend me last October and I blocked her. So the road to that interview is not necessarily going to be a smooth one. The other piece of it is that the reasons I never kept in touch with my aunt was because of their own family problems. We used to say that her husband, my mother's brother was my mother's evil twin. Her male counter part. He paralleled her abusive behavior but with a more aggressive masculine approach. YIKES! Still, I think it would be worth while for the story and maybe for my own sense of what happened. So, my sister is going to broach my aunt Brenda. She said that she would forward me the email she sends. She'll ask aunt Brenda if she would be willing to help with my project. And, if so can I record it? I have "unblocked" my aunt on facebook. This whole thing with my aunt gives me the feeling that I'm preparing to go on an expedition. It is being belayed down into a deep, dark crevasse. i know the metaphor is cheesy but there is that fear that my line will break and I will be sent free falling into nowhere or worse.
When I went through the box of pictures and I picked this one up, I remembered this day. We were at the beach near our house in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. It was a really hot day and my mother was in the hospital. The reason I know this to be true is not only because the picture depicts my cousins from Georgia sitting there on the stone dolphin with my sister. It's not that. I don't even know where I was while the picture was being taken. Maybe there wasn't room on the fish or maybe I was too scared to play.
I spoke with my mother's older sister Betty once after my mother died. I asked her why my mother was such a liar, why she did the things she did. My aunt Betty didn't want to talk about it. Instead she said "I wouldn't call your mother a liar. I would just say she embroiders the truth." The thing she did say to me that might have meaning is this "When I came to Massachusetts that time when your momma was in the hospital, you were my little baby. You wanted me to hold you every minute."
So maybe I was in my Aunt Betty's arms while the picture was being taken.
i remembered this day because my mother was in the hospital and everyone was serious. I can remember my mother's oldest brother, my uncle Dick being there at the beach with us. He was wearing what he always wore: white pressed pants, a golf shirt, and white shoes. One of his shoes had a two inch sole. He said it was because he was inured in the war. He might have been teasing me. He seemed to delight in my incessant curiosity with it. According to my mother, my uncle Dick picked favorites and I was one of them. He looked like a Southern gentleman, right out of a Tennessee William's play. His black hair was slicked back and he was handsome. He smelled like aftershave and his wrist watch picked up the light. I remember being there with him on the beach and I can't remember my own feelings but I can recall his seriousness. A feigned lightness for our sake. I knew my mother was in the hospital and Uncle Dick and Aunt Earldine had taken the kids down to the beach. It was a hot, still day and even now days like that make me think of death.
An x-ray of an unidentified individual who has undergone stereotactic surgery. Electrodes can be seen from the burr holes in the skull down to where lesions were made in the limbic system structures deep in the brain.
Violence and the Brain by Vernon Mark & Frank Ervin. Dr. Mark was a Harvard pscychosurgeon in Boston in the 1970s. He advocated for screening individuals for violence and performing psychosurgeries and received funding for a Psychosurgery Research Center affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (50 minutes from where we lived when my mother underwent brain surgery).
This was taken from a 1974 Harvard Crimson article (here: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1974/1/16/mindbending-controversy-pimost-neurosurgeons-now-agree/)
"After the Detroit riots of 1967, in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association, Doctors Vernon Mark, associate professor of surgery, William Sweet, professor of surgery, and Frank Ervin, former professor of surgery, cited brain dysfunction in certain individuals as a possible factor in urban riots. They called for intensive research to diagnose and treat "those people with low violence thresholds before they contribute to future tragedies".
The next article was dated 1967, three years before my mother's brain surgery.
This entire article is sending chills down my spine. It is totally UNBELIEVABLE. The article reports on the case studies in Vernon's book and reveals the very nefarious work of these barbaric surgeons.
TAKEN DIRECTLY FROM: Boston College The Heights, Volume LV, Number 13, 25 November 1974
The largest group of persons, however, upon whom psychosurgery is being done is women. To be exact, 70% of reported psychosurgery in this country has been done on women. (Congressional Record, February 24, 1972) However, it must be noted that few psychosurgeons keep and-or publish accurate records of their work, so the percentage may well be larger. As Joanna Beam has pointed out in an article entitled "Psychosurgery, Sexism and the Law." this statistic is particularly alarming in light of several facts. 1) All psychosurgeons are male: 2) Most psychosurgery patients are referred for treatment by male psychiatrists or by staff members of mental institutions which are infamously paternalistic: 3) The behavior of women is defined as deviant by primarily male psychiatrists who assess such deviancy largely on the basis of accepted stereotypical female behavior. I would also point out here that with men. of course, the range of accepted behavior is much wider and. therefore, what is many limes judged deviant for females would be judged normal for males.
Let us return to some of Mark and Ervin's statements in Violence and the Brain (1970). In one of their four major case studies described in this book, the case of Mary is related. Mary was diagnosed as a psychomotor epileptic who caused fires by careless smoking habits. When asked to stop smoking, she would become violent and physically resistant. Subsequently, an amygdalotomy was performed. Mark and Ervin sum up her "success" story in this way: "The initial results of this temporal lobe surgery have been gratifying. She still has seizures but her rages have disappeared. She has set no fires, and she has been able to function once more as a housewife and a mother."
Together, Mark and Ervin have published what could be termed a psychosurgical manifesto in which their pro-psychosurgery theories are more fully explicated. (Violence and the Brain). They assert here that certain portions of the brain which govern particular behaviors can be localized. By this process of localizing, violence that is the result of epilepsy, for example, can supposedly be brought under control by surgery performed in the relevant area of the brain. In an earlier letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Mark and Ervin emphasized quite a different theme. Here they tied their psychosurgical theories directly to the control of political dissent. The letter was occasioned by the Detroit urban riots of the 19605, and in it, Mark and Ervin summarized what can be perceived as an ideological basis for their work in the following years. "It is important to realize that only a small number of the millions of slum dwellers have taken part in the riots, and that only a subfraction of these rioters have indulged in arson, sniping and assault. Yet if slum conditions alone determined and initiated riots, why are the vast majority of slum dwellers able to resist the temptations of unrestrained violence? Is there something peculiar about the violent slum sweller that differentiates him from his peaceful neighbor?"
They relate this "peculiarity" to "brain dysfunction" and then conclude: "The real lesson of urban rioting is that, besides the need to study the social fabric that creates the riot atmosphere, we need intensive research and clinical studies of the individuals committing the violence. The goal of such studies would be lo pinpoint, diagnose and treat these people with low violence thresholds before they contribute lo further [social unrest.]"
What we have here can be interpreted as a plea for a technology of violence control which is effected by screening procedures and brain surgery. Support is lent to this interpretation when the facts surrounding the funding of their program in Massachusetts become known. Dr. William Sweet, a collaborator of Mark and Ervin, became the prime mover of financial backing for the project. In 1970, Sweet, Mark and Ervin were awarded a $500,000 grant from NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health). The key to their financial success was the influence of Eliot Richardson, the then Secretary of HEW, who was a long-time personal friend of William Sweet and who had encouraged him to apply, through HEW for an NIMH grant. The Sweet and Richardson collaboration goes back even further to the days when Richardson was Attorney General of Massachusetts, and they had planned a psychosurgical violence control project for Massachusetts. In testimony presented before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee in 1970, Richardson clearly noted that he had full knowledge of the violence project. "I have had several conversations with Dr. William Sweet, who is the project director about this, and I am bound to say I encouraged him to apply to the Department (HEW) for funds for this. I had hoped at that time to be able to work with him as the Attorney General of Massachusetts on the basis that Mark, Sweet and Ervin claimed only to do surgery on individuals with probable brain disease and dysfunction."
Other psychosurgeons have not even theoretically bothered to make such a claim. They are blatantly and openly operating on individuals who suffer from anxiety and tension to socalled hyperactive children. O.J. Andy, Professor and Department Director of Neurosurgery at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in Jackson has operated on thirty to forty patients, aged seven through fifty, the majority of whom were designated as hyperactive children.
This is so crazy. Several Boston Universities and journalists were railing against this doctor. He was basically a mysoginist racist. Saying that riots could be cured with psychosurgery and women can be "tamed" with psychosurgery is FREAKING me out.
Really, it was Vernon Mark who was violent and deviant.
I'm going to keep looking and see what connections I can come up with at mom's hospital.
So far I have: the same time period, the leading hospitals in Boston were promoting it, 70% of the surgeries were done on women. These surgeries were done for depression, anxiety, aggression. My mother suffered both depression and anxiety during the time and she had delusions/ hallucinations saying voices were telling her to kill the children.
And what about the 6 weeks—would that be a typical recovery period for something like that?
Also, if there were a stroke, wouldn't there be other symptoms—not just behavioral?
When I got the book, Violence and the Brain and started skimming it and looking at the pictures, I felt a little traumatized at first. It was written in 1970 and one of the main authors Vernon K. Mark is / was a neurosurgeon at Mass General. The book discusses the brain and origins of violence. I found it on line and I bought it originally because of the photographs of psycho surgery and the xray of a skull after stereotastic surgery. So the book came in the mail today and it was sickening to me to see the photographs of the surgery. It made me feel very sad because even if it wasn't a lobotomy or psychosurgery, my mother underwent something like that. The book however, made me think that she did undergo psychosurgery. The pictures in the book must depict something like the operating room where my mother had her surgery. I decided I wanted to see if I could find out if the book was still copy written so I can use the photographs and maybe some of the text. As I started doing copyright look up, I found out it that it's not really that easy to find out if a book before 1977 has a renewed copyright and what I found said to assume it has a 96 year copyright protection. So then I thought what if I looked up this doctor? I have contacted other researchers for my work, experts to consult about a study or related topic. So I started looking up Dr. Vernon H. Mark. And, he I found a page indicating he was still a neurosurgeon at Mass General. There was no reason for it but I felt like I'd found a ghost. No. I felt like he was the one who did the surgery. He wasn't I'm sure—or probably wouldn't have been the one. Boston was an hour from Mass General. But, what if? If I talked to him, he could tell me the likelihood or if those surgeries were conducted at hospitals like St. Lukes? Then for a moment it seemed weird that they would do a surgery like that at that small hospital. So, then that led me to think maybe it was an emergency surgery for a stroke or something else. What else would they do brain surgery for?
I believe she was in the hospital six weeks. I don't know for sure but the story my mother told –her retelling of the events around the brain surgery included being in a coma for six weeks after undergoing brain surgery. She did undergo brain surgery. I don't know if he had been in a coma. I felt like if I had been able to talk with him, some big door would swing open.
But then a Google search pulled up his obituary.
Of course I can't talk to him. He's dead.
Ok. So the next thing is to look at historical newspapers and maybe do some searches for his name and St. Lukes' Hospital. I'll still try and figure out copy write stuff and post some of the pictures from his surgeries. I don't know if it's just me, but I really don't like the way he looks in the picture. Terrible to say, but something about him, I don't know. I'm always amazed too at the accolades these kinds of doctors get into their old age and after their death. It's interesting that they say "neurosurgeon" with no mention of the psychosurgery he pioneered. How many did he conduct and for what reason? There is a woman in his book that I started to read something about on line. He treated her for violent behavior during epileptic seizures and basically, he caused her harm. Anyway, I have to read the book and do the searches.
These pictures were a couple of years after when my brother refers to my mother setting fire to a doilie with a cigarette lighter.