The human mind is capable of amazing things. Even in times of great stress and after great damage, the brain has been shown to be able to repair itself in remarkable ways.
19-year-old George was having a rough time. Every single day was a struggle. And it wasn’t because he wasn’t making enough money or having troubles with his love life. No, George’s problems were much more severe and much more difficult to solve…
George suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which back in 1988 was an unheard of mental illness. Victims of the disorder suffer from an inexplicable compulsion to repeat activities over and over again. It was this repetition that was ruining George’s life.
At the time, OCD wasn’t exactly commonplace. People suffered from it of course and those who did sought help from professionals to help curb the compulsions, but unfortunately, conventional psychotherapy is useless in such cases. OCD is most effectively treated by a combination of antidepressant drugs and behavioral therapy, but neither was working for George…
Despite help from his therapists, George’s condition continued to rob him of his security and his time. He washed his hands hundreds of times a day and took frequent showers, all because he believed that he was unclean. This behavior only got worse as time went on.
Things Get Worse
Despite being a straight A-student, eventually, George’s obsessive compulsive behavior forced him to drop out of school. He couldn’t live a normal life, he couldn’t even hold a job. The disorder was taking control of his life and it was having a serious effect on his mental well-being…
George’s dropout from college and the loss of his job had caused a deep depression to grow in him. His doctor treated him for more than a year before he that depression started to manifest itself as suicidal tendencies. She told him that perhaps he should look to others, to confide in them before he did something rash.
”George was very depressed and told his mother that his life was so wretched that he would rather die,” said Dr. Solyom. Unfortunately, according to Dr. Solyom, Parents of obsessive- compulsives, particularly mothers, often have cruel streaks. A fact which George was about to discover…
George’s mother didn’t know what to make of what her son said. As far as she was concerned, he was just a lazy weirdo. She was sick of his whining, she told him, “So look George, if your life is so wretched, just go and shoot yourself.” It was an awful thing to say.
George thought about what she said. Maybe his mother was right. Maybe her cruelty was just more proof that George would be better off dead. With nowhere left to turn, George went to the basement, stuck a .22-caliber rifle in his mouth, and pulled the trigger…
Rush him In
Luckily for him, George’s mother’s cruelty ended with the less-than-subtle prodding towards suicide. She heard the shot and immediately called 911. George was rushed to a nearby hospital and immediately taken into surgery. If they didn’t hurry, he wouldn’t make it…
Surgeons were able to remove the bullet, which had lodged itself in the left frontal lobe of George’s brain. Unfortunately, there were a number of bullet fragments that they couldn’t get out without causing further damage. Despite the gunshot, George managed to pull through…
George awoke to doctors explaining that the .22-caliber slug had destroyed much of his left frontal lobe, including the section of his brain responsible for his crippling obsessive-compulsive behavior. It effectively eliminated his phobia of germs and his obsessions without causing any other brain damage.
Psychiatrist Thomas Ballantine, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, weighed on on George’s case afterwards. “The idea that a man could blow out part of his frontal lobe and have his pathological symptoms cured is quite remarkable, but it is not beyond belief.” When he was well enough, George was sent to Canada for further study…
Dr. Leslie Solyom, a psychiatrist at Shaughnessy Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia was his doctor at the hospital. “When he was transferred to our hospital three weeks later, he had hardly any compulsions left.” she explained. But George wasn’t out of the woods just yet.
The doctors were still worried that the gunshot had caused some yet-unseen brain damage. George underwent a battery of tests, including some to measure his IQ, which had been tested prior to his depression. What they found was quite fascinating…
”What made the case so very interesting,” explained Dr. Solyom, “Was that we had measured IQ and done a lot of other tests before the suicide attempt…Afterward, we compared results and he had not lost anything. We used very sensitive tests to measure brain damage and could find none.”
Yes, George had retained the same I.Q. he had before becoming ill. After his stay at Solyom’s hospital, he felt confident enough to re-enter college. In no time at all, he completed his degree and moved on with his life, but there are many others who are not so lucky…
Others Like Him
Many who suffer from OCD suffer different compulsions that just washing their hands or taking repeated showers, though that is not to minimize their suffering. These victims sometimes feel the need to maintain their clothes in perfect order in drawers and closets, performing rituals before leaving the house, or arranging tools in a perfect order before beginning work.
In order to fix this, a rather unique therapy is used, which gradually exposes the patient to whatever frightens him or her. They are also simultaneously encouraged not to show the compulsive behavior. This works for many people, but it wouldn’t have worked for poor George…
In the years following his suicide attempt, George maintained some minor quirks, but not nearly the amount that previously robbed him of his life. Some of these include having to close a window twice to make sure it is really closed, and washing plates particularly thoroughly to make sure they are clean.
Though those traits are nothing that would interfere with his life, he is hardly a happy man. Today, George lives alone and visits his family only occasionally. According to Dr. Solyom, “He’s still a lonely person, but we don’t have any way to treat that.”