A World of Speculation

I used to watch the Dr. Kildare television show back in the ’60s when heartthrob Richard Chamberlain used all the latest technology to save (or not) the winsome patients who came his way.

This 1940s radio episode has the same basic plot, but hindsight has the amazing power to turn melodrama to horror.

It seems that an old friend of Dr. Kildare’s, a talented pianist, has become increasingly erratic. She can’t play in public, although her father wanted her to be a concert pianist (think Shine without the upbeat ending). But she’s also exhibiting signs of paranoid schizophrenia — thinking her hands are locked into playing a certain piece, and that her husband is trying to kill her when he’s not.

Young Dr. Kildare diagnoses her problem as obsessive-compulsive disorder with paranoid delusions and prescribes a prefrontal lobotomy.

And so this young doctor, who apparently isn’t necessarily a specialist in anything, much less in brain surgery (or every episode would be about a lobotomy) does the surgery. The sound of the power saw only goes for about a half second, which was merciful.

Three days later her husband goes for a visit, and she’s just fine. A couple of weeks later, she throws a big party and sits down to play a little Chopin for everybody and announces that her hands are free.

What a long way from Dr. Kildare to Nurse Ratched.