30 November, 2011

Good Gift Hunting

Santa is clearly on his way, and the dust - or the ribbon perhaps - is beginning to fly. Holy charge card, shoppers! Everything is flying - including the pepper spray at one Black Friday event. There is something fundamentally wrong with this story.

We need to change the script, but it will be increasingly difficult over the next few weeks to find those quiet moments where one has opportunity to reflect on the meaning of Christmas and the spirit of giving. One element of that meaning for me is the love which often goes into finding the perfect gift. Some of our compatriots, however, evidently get their warm glow from pepper spray rather than from their hearts. Sigh. It's not what I wish for you. Fill your heart with love and find a way to share it - even if the gift is simply telling someone about it.

My family studiously avoids shopping on Black Friday, but let's face it - sometimes it is easy to shop for me, sometimes it isn't. Black Friday, however, is no solution. To help, I have occasionally shared hints, and it was in that spirit that I wrote one of my daughters last year to offer a suggestion.

For years I had searched for a particular surgical tool that was used in performing transorbital lobotomies. Frontal lobotomies had been around for a while but were complicated and expensive treatments for mental illness.

A physician named Freeman invented a procedure that was brief and inexpensive because the frontal lobes were accessed by going over the eyeball and up through the relatively thin bone of the top of the eye socket (the orbit). It came to be known as the "Ice Pick" lobotomy because the initial tool was, in fact, an ice pick and because the instruments he then had crafted still resembled one. Freeman performed nearly 2500 of these lobotomies in 23 states from the 1930s to the 1950s.

No. I'm not planning on opening a clinic. It just that in my teaching I spend some time on this topic to emphasize the horror of psychosurgery, and it's always nice to have visual aids - to bring the point home, so to speak. It's why I have a phrenology skull and a zoëtrope among other items in my historical collection.

I looked everywhere for antique and vintage surgical tools. No luck. Not even close. I tried Hollywood prop shops, thinking that since I had seen them in movies, I might find one there. No luck. The daughter I wrote with my suggestion is a physician, and I thought she might have access to sources that I did not. Evidently she had no luck either after replicating each of my efforts.

Then my daughter did what I did not. She posted this on Etsy's Alchemy space where buyers could post requests for custom items.

Metalsmith Project - Replica Leucotome or Orbitoclast

I am looking for someone to make a replica of either a leucotome or an orbitoclast, the antique medical instrument used by Dr. Walter Freeman in transorbital lobotomies.

My father is a professor of psychology who teaches the history of psychology and psychiatry. His dearest wish for Christmas is to have one of these surgical instruments to show his students. I have utterly failed at locating an original/antique, so I'm now hoping to present him with a true-size replica.

Imagine my surprise when last Christmas morning I opened a gift from my daughter that contained just such a leucotome. She told me the gentleman who made it had made a number of metal instruments over the years and was familiar with this item, having seen it in a nearby museum. The version with which I was presented is the last Freeman model - a sturdier instrument used by him after an earlier version broke off in someone's skull.

Anyway - back to Christmas giving. It's such a wonderful feeling to give or to receive that perfect gift - although giving is my preference. For me, it comes from the thought and effort behind the gift, not the gift itself. The gift just symbolizes it. Love does that; it's a genuine wonder. When it happens, you are simply filled with the joy and the spirit that is so remarkable at this time of year.

I hope your Christmas overflows with joy and love this year. Mine will - and not solely because some one gave me the perfect present. After all, it's in the giving where we find the greatest gift. Such delicious irony.