A descendant of skull-drilling trepanation, doctors introduced lobotomy in the 1930s as a psychosurgery that removed certain brain nerves. Psychiatrists believed these nerves to cause depression, anxiety, and other forms of emotional instability. Surgeons performed the procedure with a sharp instrument resembling an ice pick, lodged into the sedated patient’s eye socket, and moved back and forth into the brain’s frontal lobes. In the 1940s, mental hospitals in the U.S. were full to the brim, and lobotomies served to decongest them by treating patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychosis.
Despite lobotomy’s horrid nature, the world’s first lobotomist and creator of the procedure, Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz, received a Nobel Prize in 1949 for his invention. The procedure went on to peak well into the end of the half-century. By this time, experts introduced the first batch of effective psychiatric drugs, and lobotomy gradually fell into disesteem. Interestingly, doctors still practice it today, albeit extremely rarely using more elegant and sophisticated tools. It is only a last resort for patients who have not responded to all other kinds of treatments.