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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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"It makes no difference whether you have or not," said the attendant, "he's going."


"Will you ask the doctor whether Mr. Blank can or cannot walk about the grounds with my special attendant when I go?"


"No, I won't. Furthermore, it's none of your business."


"If you resort to physical force and attempt to take Mr. Blank with the other patients, you'll wish you hadn't," said I, and I walked away.


At this threat the attendant scornfully laughed. To him it meant nothing. He believed I could fight only with my tongue, and I confess that I myself was in doubt as to my power of fighting otherwise.


Returning to my room where Mr. Blank was in waiting, I supported his drooping courage and again assured him that he should be spared the dreaded ordeal. I ordered him to go to a certain room at the farther end of the hall and there await developments -- so that, should there be a fight, the line of battle might be a long one. He obeyed. In a minute or two the attendant was headed for that room. I followed closely at his heels, still threatening to attack him if he dared so much as lay a finger on my friend. Though I was not then aware of it, I was followed by another patient, a man, who, though insane, had his lucid intervals and always a loyal heart. He seemed to realize that trouble was impending and that very likely I should need help. Once in the room the war of words was renewed, my sensitive and unnerved friend standing by and looking anxiously on.


"I warn you once more," said I, to the attendant, "if you touch Mr. Blank I'll punch you so hard you'll wish you hadn't." The attendant's answer was an immediate attempt to eject Mr. Blank from the room by force. Nothing could be more automatic than my action at that time; -- indeed, to this day I do not remember performing the act itself. What I remember is the determination to perform it and the subsequent evidence of its having been performed. I remember every part of the encounter except the one instant devoted to the execution of my predetermined coup de main. At all events I had already made up my mind to do a certain thing if the attendant did a certain thing. He did the one and I did the other. Almost before he had touched Mr. Blank's person my right fist struck him with great force in, on, or about the left eye. It was then that I became the object of the attendant's attention -- but not his undivided attention -- for, as he was choking me, my unsuspected ally stepped up and paid the attendant a sincere compliment by likewise choking him. In the scuffle I was forced to the floor. The attendant had a hand upon my throat. My ward-mate had both hands upon the attendant's throat. Thus was formed a chain with a weak, if not a missing, link in the middle. Picture if you will an insane man being choked by a supposedly sane man, and he in turn being choked by a temporarily sane insane friend of the assaulted one, and you will have Nemesis more nearly in a nutshell than any mere rhetorician has yet been able to put her.


That I was well choked is proved by the fact that my throat bore the crescent-shaped mark of my assailant's thumb nail. And I am inclined to believe that my rescuer, who was a very powerful man, made a decided impression on the attendant's throat. Had not the superintendent opportunely appeared at that moment the attendant might soon have lapsed into unconsciousness, for I am sure my ally would never have released him until he should have released me. The moment the attendant with his one good eye caught sight of the superintendent the scrimmage ended. This was but natural, for it is an offense against the code of honor generally obtaining among attendants that one should so far forget himself as to abuse patients in the presence of sane and competent witnesses.


The choking which I had just received only served to limber my vocal cords. I told the doctor all about the preliminary verbal skirmish and the needlessness of the fight. The superintendent had graduated at Yale over fifty years prior to my own graduation, and because of our common interests and his consummate tact we got along well together. But his friendly interest did not keep him from speaking his mind upon occasions, as his words at this time proved. "You don't know how it grieves me to see you -- a Yale man -- act so like a rowdy," said he.


"If fighting for the rights of a much older man, unable to protect his own interests, is the act of a rowdy, I'm quite willing to be thought one," was my reply.


Need I add that the attendant did not take Mr. Blank for a walk that morning? Nor, so far as I know, was the latter ever forced again to take his exercise against his will. I have devoted much space to the foregoing incident because it represents fairly a majority of the assaults now committed in our asylums. Had the attendant possessed and exercised tact, there would have been no needless assault committed that day. In my opinion the number of fights or assaults caused by insane patients running amuck is smaller, relatively, than the number of fights that would naturally occur among a given number of schoolboys, full of animal spirits. Nine out of ten of the hundreds of assaults which occur annually in our hospitals and asylums are the fault of the attendants rather than of their charges. It is therefore evident that the solution of the problem of eliminating brutality centers in the attendants, the majority of whom to-day are deplorably incompetent. In fact the only attendants who are not likely at times to commit outrages are those who at heart are believers in "Non-Restraint;" -- and that more of them do not use that humane method of treatment is the fault of the doctors in charge.

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