Since two whole people have, to date, suggested that they would try to supply a tune for lyrics I might try to write, I started to write a song called "Goldfish on a Clothesline." The funny thing is that as I wrote it I realized that I was really writing about Case 68, my favorite of Walter's patients. The low number indicates that she got in on the ground floor of lobotomy, as it were, with a prefrontal rather than a frontal operation. She was an artist and Walter mentions her in a chapter in one of his books on lobotomy -- the chapter about how you can't do art as well afterward. Nevertheless Case 68 retained at least some of her artistic ability and even wrote James Watts a very nice poem after her operation. Specifically it is a poem about his hands: "They cut so sure they serve so well/They save our souls from Eternal Hell." (I'd post the whole thing but I have no idea who has the rights to it.) Jim liked it so much he had it framed and hung it in his office. But Case 68 -- I wish I could call her by her name! -- liked Walter best.
Among the many many letters from patients I read in the Freeman-Watts papers, hers stand out for a few reasons. The first is that, just like me, and unlike any of the other patients or family members with whose letters the collection is full to bursting, she addresses him by his first name. "Dear Walter" is her invariable salutation. She expresses gratitude and affection, thanking him repeatedly for having operated on her, but one gets the feeling from her wording that she is trying to make up for something unpleasant that may have happened between them in the past -- or that she imagines happened between them, because she was, after all, a former mental patient, and she had been given, after all, a lobotomy. "I won't ever hurt you in any way so never fear me," she writes. But she is also very demanding, and what she demands is him, his attention, his acknowledgment of their connection. In almost every letter she twits him about not writing enough. "Maybe you’d prefer it should I stop contacting you" in 1956 and "Be a good big boy + write me a welcome letter in my new home" in 1957. Heaven knows what he was writing to her, though he was writing something, because she alludes to his letters in her own. Unless, again, she was hallucinating the whole thing.
She asks if lobotomy changed her all at once or if she is going to get dumber and dumber as time goes on. She says the operation must have affected her "financial lobes" because she can't stop spending too much money on hats. She signs one letter from "Your patient old patient."
When you have performed thousands of the same operation you can't be expected to remember everyone's name, so it is not surprising that when Walter got letters from lobotomy patients or their relatives he would label them with the appropriate case numbers. Every single heartbreaking letter from Case 68, therefore, and even the Valentine's card (in which she mentions having ptomaine poisoning), is firmly labeled LOB 68. Oh, Dr. Freeman. Would you have forgotten her?
So anyhow, I started writing this song about a goldfish on a clothesline that is really a song about her. Whose name I know, but cannot print. I've got two verses so far. I'll let you know when it's done.