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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 40:


When I planned my ruse of the afternoon I knew perfectly well that I should soon find myself in a strait-jacket. The thought rather took my fancy, for I was resolved to know the inner workings of the violent ward; and as my purpose in life was eventually to bring about reform, I bore the more willingly, sometimes even cheerfully, much of the abuse to which I was subjected. But the fact that my transgressions of rules were frequently deliberate in no way excuses those in authority. For in no other respect did my acts -- unquestionably those of an insane man -- differ from those of other patients, -- except, perhaps, that I was able to avoid their repetition and thus escape much of the punishment which falls to the lot of those who know not what they do. If what I am about to relate arouses sympathy, I trust that it will be bestowed upon the irresponsible patients in whose behalf I speak -- not wasted on one who no longer needs it.


The piece of glass with which I had that morning written the motto already quoted I had appropriated for a purpose. Knowing that I should soon be put in the uncomfortable, but not necessarily intolerable, embrace of a strait-jacket, my thought was that I might during the night, in some way or other, use this piece of glass to advantage -- perhaps cut my way to a limited freedom. To make sure that I should retain possession of it, I placed it in my mouth and held it snugly against my cheek. Its presence there did not interfere with my speech; nor did it invite visual detection. But had I known as much about camisoles and their adjustment as I learned later, I should have resorted to no such futile expedient.


A camisole, or, as I prefer to stigmatize it, a strait-jacket, is really a tight-fitting coat of heavy canvas, reaching from neck to waist, constructed, however, on no ordinary pattern. There is not a button on it. The sleeves are closed at the ends, and the jacket, having no opening in front, is adjusted and tightly laced behind. To the end of each blind sleeve is attached a strong cord. The cord on the right sleeve is carried to the left of the body, and the cord on the left sleeve is carried to the right of the body. Both are then drawn tightly behind, thus bringing the arms of the victim into a folded position across his chest. These cords are then securely tied.


After many nights of torture, this jacket, at my urgent and repeated request, was finally adjusted in such manner that had it been so adjusted at first, I need not have suffered any torture at all. This I knew at the time, for I had not failed to discuss the matter with a patient who on several occasions had been restrained in this same jacket. It is the abuse rather than the use of such instruments of restraint against which I inveigh. Yet it is hardly worth while to distinguish between "use" and "abuse," for it is a fact that where the use of mechanical restraint is permitted, abuse is bound to follow. The very fact that there are institutions -- many of them at this time -- where no such restraint is ever resorted to, leads me to dwell at length on the experiences of this night; for I would, if I could, strike the final blow which shall drive these instruments of torture from all hospitals for the insane.


Had not the element of personal spite entered into the assistant physician's treatment of me on this occasion, I should now be pleased to give him the benefit of every doubt. But there are no doubts; and for the enlightenment of all men of his type -- and the public -- I shall point out his errors. The man's personality was apparently dual. His "Jekyll" personality was the one most in evidence, but it was the "Hyde" personality that seemed to control his actions when a crisis arose. It was "Doctor Jekyll" who approached my room that night, accompanied by the attendants. The moment he entered my room he became "Mr. Hyde." He was, indeed, no longer a doctor, or the semblance of one. His first move was to take the strait-jacket in his own hands and order me to stand. Knowing that those in authority really believed that I had that day attempted to kill myself, I found no fault with their wish to put me in restraint; but I did object to having this done by Jekyll-Hyde. Though a strait-jacket should always be adjusted by the physician in charge, I knew that as a matter of fact the disagreeable duty was invariably delegated to the attendants. Consequently Jekyll-Hyde's eagerness to assume an obligation he usually shirked inspired me with the feeling that his motives were spiteful. For that reason I preferred to entrust myself to the uncertain mercies of a regular attendant; and I said so, but in vain. "If you will keep your mouth shut I'll be able to do this job quicker," said Jekyll-Hyde.


"I'll shut my mouth as soon as you get out of this room and not before," said I. Nor did I. My abusive language was, of course, interlarded with the inevitable epithets. Yet these should not have annoyed the doctor at all, and would not, had he judged them fairly. The more I talked the more vindictive he became. He said nothing, but, unhappily for me, he expressed his pent-up feelings in something more effectual than words. After he had laced the jacket, and drawn my arms across my chest so snugly that I could not move them a fraction of an inch, I asked him to loosen the strait-jacket enough to enable me at least to take a full breath. I also requested him to give me a chance to disentangle my fingers which had been caught in an unnatural and uncomfortable position.

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