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A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography

Creator: Clifford Whittingham Beers (author)
Date: 1910
Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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The attendant who was with me most of the time that I remained at the sanatorium was a young man of about my own age. He had never before worked in an institution of that character, though he had acted as a nurse and companion in cases where the patient could be treated at home. Him I regarded as a detective, or, rather, as two detectives, one of whom watched me by day, and the other -- a perfect double-by night. He was an enemy, and his professed sympathy -- which I now know was genuine -- only made me hate him the more. As he was ignorant of the methods of treatment in vogue in hospitals for the insane it was several weeks before this exceptional attendant dared put in jeopardy his position by presuming to shield me against unwise orders of the doctors. But when at last he awoke to the situation he repeatedly interposed in my behalf. More than once the doctor who was both owner and superintendent, threatened to discharge him for alleged officiousness. But better judgment usually held the doctor's wrath in check, for he realized that not one attendant in a hundred was so competent. It was indeed contrary to custom (for in this matter attendants are unlike trained nurses in general hospitals) that this attendant should take a lively personal interest in me. Surely it was not the paltry and insulting four and a half dollars a week that induced him to work under such doctors, and in an institution which he detested. Such orders as he modified were without exception unfair, and for exercising his superior judgment he deserves no criticism. He was unconsciously an advocate of Non-Restraint, working in an institution where Restraint was tolerated and pretty freely used. Naturally there was friction, for Restraint is as a cinder in the eye of one who appreciates the advantages of humane treatment.


Not only did my attendant frequently exhibit more wisdom than the superintendent, but he also obeyed the dictates of a better conscience than that of his nominal superior, the distant physician, as the following incident will prove. On three occasions this assistant physician treated me with a signal lack of consideration, and in at least one instance he was vicious. When this latter incident occurred I was, both physically and mentally, helpless. My feet were swollen and still in plaster bandages. I was all but mute, uttering only an occasional expletive when forced to do things against my will.


One morning Doctor No-name (he represents a type) entered my room.


"Good-morning! How are you feeling?" he asked.


No answer.


"Aren't you feeling well?"


No answer.


"Why don't you talk?" said he with irritation.


Still no answer, except perhaps a contemptuous look such as is so often the essence of eloquence. Suddenly, and without the slightest warning, as a petulant child locked in a room for disobedience might treat a pillow, he seized my arm and jerked me from the bed. It was wonderful that the bones of my ankles and feet, not yet thoroughly knitted, were not again broken. And this was the performance of the very man who had locked my hands in the "muff," that I might not injure myself!


I uttered not a word, -- not even the usual automatic expletive.


"Why don't you talk?" he again asked.


Though rather slow in replying (it has now been over seven years), I will take pleasure in doing so by sending that doctor a copy of this book -- my answer -- if he will but send me his address. This physician left the sanatorium about two years after I did. That such a man could continue in so responsible a position, for so long, indicates the little care generally exercised by owners of sanatoriums in the selection of their assistants.


It is not a pleasant duty to brand any physician for cruelty and incompetence, for the worst that ever lived has undoubtedly done many good deeds. But here is the type of man that has wrought havoc among the helpless insane -- a type which unfortunately is still too often found (only not found soon enough) in our private and public institutions. It therefore seems but fair that the men whose destiny put them in touch with one who has lived to publish his story should at least bear the brunt of illustration.




MY escape from death when I dropped from the window is hardly more remarkable than the perfect present condition of my feet and ankles, which were that day so seriously injured. The fact that I am not now a cripple I ascribe to two causes. First: to God -- or Providence, or Fate, or luck, if you choose. And second: such earthly praise as may be properly bestowed belongs to the physician who, with consummate skill, set my broken bones.


It was at the sanatorium that my ankles were finally restored to a semblance of their former utility. They were there subjected to a course of heroic treatment; but as to-day they permit me to walk, run, and dance, as those do who have never been crippled, my hours of torture endured under my first attempts to walk are almost pleasant to recall. About five months from the date of my fall I was allowed, or rather compelled, to place my feet on the floor and attempt to walk. They were still swollen, absolutely without action, and acutely sensitive to the slightest pressure. From the time my feet were injured, until I again began to talk -- two years later -- I asked not one question as to the probability of my ever regaining the use of them. The fact was, I never expected to walk naturally again. The doctor's desire to have me walk I believed to be inspired by the detectives, of whom, indeed, I supposed the doctor himself to be one. Had there been any confession to make I am sure it would have been yielded under the stress of this ultimate torture. The million needle points which, just prior to my mental collapse, seemed to goad my brain, now entered their unwelcome attention on the soles of my feet. Had the floor been studded with minute stilettoes my sufferings could hardly have been more intense. For several weeks assistance was necessary with each attempt to walk, and each attempt was an ordeal. Every drop of blood in my body seemed to find an irresistible attraction at the points of pain. Sweat stood in beads on either foot, wrung from my blood by agony. Believing that it would be only a question of time when I should be tried, condemned, and executed for some one of my countless felonies, I looked upon the attempt to prevent my continuing a cripple for the brief remainder of my days as prompted by anything but benevolence.

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