Meet one really lucky guy who beat astronomical odds.
Back in the 80s, 19 year old George, from Vancouver, British Columbia, was fed up with his lifelong obsessive compulsive disorder, which was ruining his life. He had such a phobia of germs that he became obsessive about cleanliness. His whole life revolved around avoiding the pesky microbes.
He dropped out of school and took a basic job, which he soon quit, as he was unable to stop washing his hands every few minutes, and hopping in the shower every hour or so. He couldn’t help his behaviour and it was making his life a nightmare.
He began seeing psychiatrist Dr Leslie Solyom at Shaughnessy Hospital. After a year of treatment George didn’t feel he’d made any progress. His depression was so bad that he decided the time had come to end it all.
“Why don’t you just shoot yourself?” asked his mother unsympathetically, after hearing endless complaints. Maybe her own brain was taking the day off. She might have known he might take her unmotherly “advice” literally.
He went downstairs to the basement and shot himself in the mouth with a .22 revolver.
The bullet lodged in the left front lobe of his brain. Surgeons managed to remove it but a few small deeply ingrained fragments remained.
Three weeks later he was transferred to the Shaughnessy Hospital where Dr Solyom was able to see his patient again. He found that George’s unhealthy compulsions had become a thing of the past. The only remaining compulsions were George’s tendency to check windows twice when closing them, and paying extra attention to sparkling clean dishes when doing the washing up.
The amazing thing is that no other part of his brain was damaged – but the part causing his OCD was shattered to oblivion! His IQ was unaffected.
George returned to college and got a new part time job while continuing his studies. He went on to become a straight-A student. This all emerged in an interview with him in February 1988, five years after his suicide attempt.
In some instances as a last resort, neurosurgeons will operate to remove the left front lobe of the brain – the technique which in his instance George discovered purely by lucky chance. This must be one of the best examples of serendipity ever recorded.
According to the late Dr Thomas Ballantine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the operation is performed between 10-30 times a year in the US, with mixed results. The brain is such a complex organ that there are no guarantees of success.
Dr Ballantine went on to say: “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.”
Dr Michael Jenike from Harvard University says that up to 3% of the US population suffers from some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The usual treatment is a combination of antidepressant drugs and behavioural therapy.
I certainly don’t suggest anyone else should take such a radical step as George did to solve whatever medical condition they may have. In fact: do not try under any circumstances! This was truly the one chance in ten million that enabled him to go on to live a successful life.
For those interested, here’s a short You Tube video about the incident: