LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A young mentally ill man egged into a suicide attempt by his mother apparently cured his phobia of germs and obsession for handwashing by shooting himself in the head, doctors said.
The .22-caliber slug destroyed the section of the brain responsible for his disabling obsessive-compulsive behavior without causing any other brain damage to the man, a straight-A student, his doctor said.
The afflicted man tried to kill himself five years ago, when he was 19, said psychiatrist Leslie Solyom of Shaughnessy Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Victims of the disorder typically have an inexplicable compulsion to repeat activities over and over.
The man, identified only as George in a report in Physician’s Weekly and the British Journal of Psychiatry, washed his hands hundreds of times a day and took frequent showers, Solyom said. The behavior forced him to drop out of school and quit his job.
Solyom treated George for more than a year before he attempted suicide.
″George was also very depressed and told his mother that his life was so wretched that he would rather die,″ Solyom said. ″Parents of obsessive- compulsives, particularly mothers, often have cruel streaks,″ he said.
″She said, ‘So look George, if your life is so wretched, just go and shoot yourself.’ So George went to the basement, stuck a .22-caliber rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.″
The bullet lodged in the left front lobe of the brain. Surgeons removed it, but could not get out all the fragments.
″When he was transferred to our hospital three weeks later, he had hardly any compulsions left,″ Solyom said.
After brain surgery to remove the bullet he showed no signs of his former obsession, the doctor said. He returned to school, got a new job and is now in his second year of college, having retained the same IQ as he had before the illness struck, Solyom said.
Monday’s edition of Physician’s Weekly wryly described the failed suicide attempt as ″successful radical surgery.″
The story was also reported in today’s editions of the Los Angeles Times.
″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,″ said psychiatrist Thomas Ballantine of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
″What made the case so very interesting was that we had measured IQ and done a lot of other tests before the suicide attempt,″ Solyom said. ″Afterward, we compared results and he had not lost anything. We used very sensitive tests to measure brain damage and could find none.″
New research indicates that as much as 3 percent of the U.S. population displays some obsessive-compulsive behavior, according to psychiatrist Michael Jenike of Harvard University.
Conventional psychotherapy is useless in such victims, Jenike said. The disorder is most effectively treated with a combination of antidepressant drugs and behavioral therapy.
As a last resort, neurosurgeons will occasionally remove part of the left front lobe of the brain, where the obsessive behavior is thought to originate. The operation is probably performed between 10 and 30 times per year in the United States, Ballantine said, with mixed results.