"We had the history of psychology class on our books but no one taught it. Dr. Crawford asked if I would. That got me back into the history of psychology mode. If not for psychology, it would be history for me, so it was a perfect combination.
"I'd always had a passing interest in lobotomies. Five years ago, I noticed a PBS special, 'The Lobotomist,' about Dr. Walter Freeman. Part of it was about West Virginia. There was a brief interview with a fellow who had been at Lakin, Julian McCleod.
"The documentary was based on a book by Jack El-Hai, so I read his book. Students in my history of psychology class have to do a project. One of my students wanted to do hers on lobotomies.
"She contacted Howard Dully who wrote a book called 'My Lobotomy.' He had been lobotomized by Dr. Freeman in the early 1960s at the age of 11. His mother had requested it. My student contacted him on Facebook, and he sent her all this stuff, including an ice pick, which he autographed.
"In his book, El-Hai refers to the West Virginia Lobotomy Project. I found several references to it in the Gazette and Daily Mail from the late '40s up to the mid-'50s.
"I interviewed Julian McCleod. He lived down the street. He had been at Lakin when he was 18. As part of his training, he had to witness lobotomies.
"I was able to reconstruct a lot of details about the lobotomy project. I've written a paper about it. I want people to understand what went on in West Virginia. There were more lobotomies per capita in West Virginia than any other state.
"At the Culture Center, in a gray box, I found records of 119 people who had received lobotomies in 1952 and 1953 at Spencer State Hospital.
"Freeman photographed virtually all of his procedures, before, after and during. Anesthesia was electric shock. Then he would take the orbitoclast, his fancy word for ice pick, and put it in the eye under the upper eyelid and take a mallet and move the pick around. He did at least 30 or 40 lobotomies a day.
"The idea was to reduce the overflowing population in mental hospitals. They needed something to treat intractable patients. When the lobotomy came along in the mid-'30s, it was seen as a magic bullet.
"I want to pursue the subject in retirement, but I'm not really sure how. Something along the line of NPR? It's a story that needs to be told.
"When you come to a position, you have to find your niche. I decided I would be the one the students would come to. My policy has always been that when I am here, my door is open. Students are always my primary purpose.
"In 2001, I said I would shave my facial hair for some sort of donation. That was the semester of 9/11. We made a considerable amount and sent it to New York City. That started a tradition.
"Every semester, I tell students a dollar amount I want to raise for this specific charity. They have to tell me what they want me to do once that money is raised. I've kissed a pig, dressed as a clown, an Easter bunny, Miss Psi Chi. I took a pie in the face. I'll do anything within reason. I have a couple of favorite charities. One is Thanks! Plain and Simple, for Rosie the Riveters. The other is animal shelters.
"Part of the decision to retire is my health. I can't do the job the way I think I should. It's some sort of chronic immune system fatigue thing. I have battled it since the mid-'90s.
"And education is changing. I'm not an Internet teacher, and that's the trend. And students are changing. It's harder to keep their attention.
"It was never my intent to stay here 30 years, but after a while, you don't want to start over somewhere else. I still hope to teach. I'm teaching a class in the fall. I want to write. I want to work with animal shelters.
"Sometimes I will say things like, 'I am retiring in 39 days.' Part of you says, 'What am I going to do?' Work organizes your life. Another part of me says, 'No, it's time.' And you get that closure inside.
"There are going to be days when I'm going to miss this. But there are probably going to be a lot more days that I don't. When you get to that point, it's time to go.
"My duty is done. I will walk out with my head held high."
Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.