Saturday, September 24, 2016

Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich

Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich is a book that dealt not only with an interesting topic, but one in which the author personally invested.

Dittrich's grandfather was Dr. William Scoville, one of the foremost medical proponents of lobotomies as a treatment method and Patient H.M. tells the story of Henry Molaison, perhaps the most famous patient in medical history, someone with his memory inexorably altered as the result of an operation conducted by the prolific Dr. Scoville.

Many of the lobotomies Scoville conducted during his career were done at asylums, on patients likely in no condition to agree to the procedure, but the 1953 surgery on Molaison an elective one to relieve the severe epilepsy and seizures he suffered from. The outcome was Molaison rendered unable to form any new long-term memories, and because he not mentally ill, also able to give interviews for decades about his experiences and memories, providing medical science much of what's known about memory today.

I liked the ending of the book jacket description of it as a one "that reveals the wondrous and devastating things that can happen when hubris, ambition, and human imperfection collide" and Dittrich tells an interesting story of medicine, surgical practices bordering on barbarism, and family secrets, with him learning that his grandfather likely performed brain surgery on Dittrich's grandmother who was in and out of institutions.