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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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Page 37:


So again I found myself in the violent ward -- but this time not because of any desire to investigate it. Art and literature being now more engrossing than my plans for reform, I became, in truth, an unwilling occupant of a room in a ward devoid of even a suggestion of the aesthetic. The room itself was clean, and under other circumstances might have been cheerful. It was twelve feet long, seven feet wide, and twelve high. A cluster of incandescent lights, enclosed in a semi-spherical glass globe, depended from the ceiling. The walls were bare and plainly wainscotted, and one large window, barred without, gave light. At one side of the door was an opening a foot square with a door of its own which could be opened only from without, and through which food could be passed to a supposedly dangerous patient. Aside from an iron cot bed, screwed to the floor, the room had no furniture.


The attendant, before locking me in, searched me and took from me several lead pencils; but the stub of one escaped his vigilance. Naturally, to be taken from a handsomely furnished apartment and thrust into such a bare and unattractive room as this, caused my already heated blood to approach the boiling point. Consequently, my first thought was to send a note to the physician who regularly had charge of my case, requesting him to visit me as soon as he should arrive -- and I have every reason to believe that the note was delivered. Whether or not this was so, a report of the morning's fight and my transfer must have reached him by some one of the several witnesses. While waiting for an answer, I busied myself writing, and as I had no better supply of stationery I wrote on the walls. Beginning as high at I could reach I wrote in columns, each about three feet wide. Soon the pencil became dull. But dull pencils are easily sharpened on the whetstone of wit. Stifling acquired traits, I permitted myself to revert momentarily to a primitive expedient. I gnawed the wood quite from the pencil, leaving only the graphite core. With a bit of graphite a hand guided by the unerring insolence of elation may artistically damn all men and things. That I am inclined to believe I did; and I question whether Raphael or Michael Angelo -- upon whom I then looked as mere predecessors -- ever put more feeling per square foot into their mural masterpieces.


Every little while, as if to punctuate my composition, and in a vain endeavor to get attention, I kicked the door vigorously. Knowing the history of my case, the assistant physician when he learned of my transfer should have made a special visit. But this he neglected to do. Not until eleven o'clock, on his regular round of inspection, did he come near me. As a result I was left for three hours to thrash around that room and work myself into a state of desperate rage. I made up my mind to compel attention. A month earlier, shattered glass had enabled me to accomplish a certain sane purpose. Again this day it served me. The opalescent globe at the ceiling seemed to be the most vulnerable point for attack. How to reach and smash it was the next question -- and soon answered. Taking off my shoes I threw one with great force at my glass target and succeeded in striking it a destructive blow.


When attendants' ears become as nicely attuned to the suppliant cries of neglected patients as they now are to the summoning sound of breaking glass, many of the abuses of which I complain will cease forever to be heard of. The attendants charged upon my room. Their entrance was momentarily delayed by the door which stuck fast. I was standing near it, and when it gave way its edge struck me on the forehead with force enough to have fractured my skull had it struck a weaker part. The attendants were unable to see me, and for this hurt no blame attached to them, except in so far as it was the indirect result of their continued neglect of me.


Once in the room the two attendants threw me on the bed and choked me so severely that I could feel my eyes starting from their sockets. When attendants choke patients they do so in a bungling manner -- even those who have conducted the brutal operation often enough to have mastered the technique of it. As it was, a clumsy fellow filled his fist with most of the muscles in my neck and then proceeded to manipulate my throat much as one would squeeze a sponge. The attendants then put the room in order; removed the glass -- that is, all except one small and apparently innocent, but as the event proved well-nigh fatal, piece, -- took my shoes and again locked me in my room -- not forgetting, however, to curse me well for making them work for their living.


When the assistant physician finally appeared I met him with a blast of invective which, in view of the events which quickly followed, must have blown out whatever spark of kindly feeling toward me he may have ever entertained. I demanded that he permit me to send word to my conservator asking him to come at once and look after my interests, for I was being unfairly treated. I also demanded that he request the superintendent to visit me at once, as I intended to have nothing more to do with assistant physicians or attendants who were neglecting and abusing me. He yielded to neither demand.

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