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Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind
"I entered a dimly lighted doorway. A faint nausea came over me as the stench of human filth and moldy walls rolled toward me. My escort saw that I was getting sick. 'You soon get used to the smell,' he explained.
"We walked into the dining room. The long rows of crude wooden tables and benches reminded me of bleak prison scenes. The tables had no covering. Particles of food from previous meals were strewn about on the floor. The walls were covered with a thick coat of grime and dirt.
"My escort led me into the next room. 'Here's where they sleep,' he said, pointing to the beds which filled every inch of available space. There was barely enough room to squeeze through between the beds. As we walked down the isle a young chap looked up. Strapped to the bed with leather cuffs around his hands and feet, he had managed to free his left arm and was tearing the hair stuffing out of his mattress and eating it. No one seemed to mind. An old man strapped to a bed nearby had torn off his clothing and was lying in filth.
" 'This is the good side of the ward,' my escort remarked. 'Now I'll show you the other side.' He opened the door to another room. I stood frozen at what I saw. Here were two hundred and fifty men -- all of them completely naked -- standing about the walls of the most dismal room I have ever seen. There was no furniture of any kind. Patients squatted on the damp floor or perched on the window seats. Some of them huddled together in corners like wild animals. Others wandered about the room picking up bits of filth and playing with it. Near my feet was a little old man trying to shine my shoes. He had stepped in some of the human excrement and it was oozing out between his toes.
"A patient was eating some food from a tray which had been placed on the floor beside a urinal into which a patient had recently defecated. A sign above one of the urinals read:
'For diarrhea patients only!'"
(Based on report 2021)
"Buildings must be well equipped and provide enough space for good psychiatric care. But no mental hospital is adequate unless its physical facilities include provision for some of the niceties of life for both patients and employees."
-- HAROLD BARTON,
"Come into the office, Bill. I want you to empty your pockets again."
Bill reluctantly entered the nurse's office, but he didn't begin to empty his pockets of their bulging load. "Why can't I keep these things. Miss Logan? I need them all."
"Surely you don't need all that junk. Bill. And anyway, I can't have you going around looking like a loaded moving van." Miss Logan smiled at Bill. He did all the scrubbing and dirty work on the ward, and it was only because of Bill's work that she was able to keep the ward looking neat and clean. But why, oh why, did he insist on collecting so many things in his pockets! "Come on, empty out."
Bill sighed and began to remove the usual collection. A small piece of soap, a hand towel, some carefully folded toilet paper, four stub pencils, some paper, three envelopes, string, a bag of tobacco, cigarette papers, two paper-bound books, a comic magazine, yesterday's paper, a tooth brush, some shoe-polish, half a package of life-savers, four gum drops, three rags, a letter from his wife, a postcard from his son, twelve white buttons, eleven darker buttons, a box-top marked off into a checker-board, a folding drinking cup -- on and on it went.
Miss Logan shook her head. "Bill, why do you keep all that stuff in your pockets?" she asked.
Bill's answer was indirect. "Do you know why Blind Charlie is the envy of the ward?"
"No, Why?" Why anyone should envy that poor, blind patient was hard to understand.
"You know that plywood box he keeps under his chair?"
"Yes, I've noticed it."
"Well, it's padlocked. And Charlie carries the key around his neck. And he keeps anything he wants in there. So he always has soap when he wants to wash, and paper when he goes to the toilet, and a cup when he wants a drink. I guess that box is about the finest thing on this ward."
"Yes, I guess it is pretty fine, Bill."
Miss Logan recalled some words she had stressed in her class for student nurses, only yesterday: Psychotic patients need to take an interest in objects and things outside themselves; encourage them to take responsibility as much as possible.
In spite of such principles, only Blind Charlie, alone among these eighty-five patients, had a place to keep his belongings, a chance to own anything.
"Bill, you put that stuff on the shelf next to the linens." Miss Logan directed. "Hereafter, that will be your shelf. You can keep anything you want there."
"All right. That will be fine! But I'll be a terrible nuisance, always wanting something from inside the office, Miss Logan."
"It's the best we can do for now, Bill. Someday, maybe, we can have lockers or cupboards built so everyone can have a place of his own."
"Gee! That really would be something! Imagine, actually having a place of your own to keep your things!"