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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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"Now that I have you three brutes where I want you I'll tell you a few things you don't know," said I. "You probably think I've just tried to kill myself. It was simply a ruse to make you give me some attention. When I make threats and tell you that my one object in life is to live long enough to regain my freedom and lay bare the abuses which abound in hospitals for the insane you simply laugh at me, don't you? But the fact is, that's my ambition, and if you knew anything at all you'd know that abuse won't drive me to suicide. You can continue to abuse me and deprive me of my rights, and keep me in exile from relatives and friends, but the time will come when I'll make you sweat for all this. I'll put you in prison where you belong. Or if I fail to do that, I can at least bring about your discharge from this institution. What's more, I will."


The doctor and attendants now took my threats with characteristic nonchalance. Such threats, often enough heard in such places, make little or no impression, for they are seldom made good. Most of those subjected to abuse and neglect never regain their freedom; or, if they do, have not an accurate enough memory, or a stout enough heart, to support any inclination they may have to proceed to action. When I made these threats I really wished to put these men in prison. To-day I have no such desire, for were they not victims of the same vicious system of treatment to which I was subjected? In every institution conducted on the principles of "Restraint" the very atmosphere is brutalizing. Place a bludgeon in the hand of any man, with instructions to use it when necessary, and the gentler and more humane methods of persuasion are naturally forgotten or deliberately abandoned.


Throughout my period of elation, especially the first months of it when I was doing the work of several normal men, I required an increased amount of fuel to generate the abnormal energy my activity demanded. I had the characteristic voracious appetite, and I now insisted that the attendant give me the supper which he was about to serve when he discovered me in the simulated throes of death. At first he refused, but finally relented and brought me a cup of tea and some buttered bread. Because of the severe choking administered earlier in the day it was with difficulty that I swallowed any food. I had to eat slowly. The attendant, however, ordered me to hurry and threatened otherwise to take what little supper I had. I told him that I thought he would not -- that I was entitled to my supper and intended to eat it with as much comfort as possible. This nettled him, and by a sudden and unexpected move he managed to take from me all but a crust of bread. Even that he tried to snatch. I resisted and the third fight of the day was soon on, -- and that within five minutes of the time the doctor had left the ward. At the time I was seated on the bed. The attendant, true to his vicious instincts, grasped my throat and choked me with the full power of a hand accustomed to that unmanly work. His partner, in the meantime, had rendered me helpless by holding me flat on my back while the attacking party choked me into breathless submission. The first fight of the day was caused by a corn-cob; this of the evening by a crust of bread. Insignificant things -- but eloquent evidence. In each instance an insane man, conscious of his rights, was assaulted by two sane but untrained and unfeeling men whose brutal methods were countenanced by a sane physician.


Were I to close the record of events of that October day with an account of the assault just described, few, if any, would imagine that I had failed to mention all the abuse to which I was that day subjected. The fact is that not the half has been told. As the handling of me within the twenty-four hours typifies the worst, but, nevertheless, the not unusual treatment of all patients in a like condition, I feel constrained to describe minutely the torture which was my portion that night. I would prefer not to deal at such length with so distressing a subject, but to yield to that preference would not be the way of truth. There are abuses to be corrected and they must be laid bare by one with personal and painful knowledge of them. Non-combatants may with propriety discuss the buzzing of a mosquito, but the ominous sound of the bullet can best be described by a man who has been on the firing-line.


After that supper-fight I was left alone in my room for about an hour. Then the assistant physician, the two attendants, and a third attendant entered. One of the attendants carried a canvas contrivance known as a camisole. A camisole is a type of strait-jacket; and a very convenient type it is for those who resort to such methods of restraint, (4) for it enables them to deny the use of strait-jackets at all. A strait-jacket, indeed, is not a camisole, just as electrocution is not hanging.

(4) There are several methods of restraint in use, chief among them: "mechanical restraint" and so-called "chemical restraint." The former consists in the use of instruments of restraint, namely, strait-jackets or camisoles, "muffs," straps, "mittens," "restraint" or "strong" sheets, etc., -- all of them instruments of neglect and torture. "Chemical restraint" (sometimes, but improperly, dignified by the term "medical restraint") consists in the unwise use of temporarily paralyzing drugs, -- hyoscine being the popular "dose." By the use of such drugs a troublesome patient may be rendered unconscious and kept so for hours at a time. Indeed, very troublesome patients (especially when attendants are scarce) are not infrequently kept in a stupefied condition for days, or even for weeks, -- but only in institutions where the welfare of the patients is lightly regarded. Investigators should remember that the less conspicuous "chemical restraint" is oftentimes used as a substitute for the more spectacular and easily detected "mechanical restraint," -- and, to the untrained observer, shows only on the drug bill. By its use any unprincipled management may fool the public. Therefore the mere absence of mechanical instruments of restraint cannot be taken as proof that an institution is conducted on Non-Restraint principles.

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