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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 42:


"Yes I have, and it's not your fault or the other doctor's that I am not now dead. Had I gone mad, in my frenzy I might have swallowed that glass."


"Where is it?" asked the doctor, incredulously.


As my strait-jacket rendered me armless I presented the glass to Jekyll-Hyde on the tip of a tongue which he had often heard but never before seen.




MINE was no suicidal intent. Yet, in my hysterical condition it is wonderful that I did not swallow that glass even by accident; and had I happened to become irresponsibly insane -- as well I might -- it is more than probable that I should have done so by design. The assistant physician who ignored my midnight request may have been influenced by ethical reasons -- perhaps by a wish not to interfere with Doctor Jekyll's case. If so, ethics of that sort -- or the so-called etiquette of the profession -- had best be done away with in asylums. And, though I am sure that this physician harbored no feeling of ill-will toward me, he is, nevertheless, deserving of censure because of his almost criminal neglect of a patient who, he well knew, had previously been possessed of suicidal impulses. Indeed, he did not surely know whether my apparent attempt at suicide that evening had been real or simply a ruse. But the general belief was that I had meant to kill myself. The least this doctor could have done was to take the trouble to investigate, judge my condition, and deprive me of the piece of glass I claimed to have -- or convince himself that I did not have it.


Such errors of judgment are, I believe, common. They are due sometimes to sheer laziness, but probably more often to the fact that so many insane patients cry "Wolf!" But annoyance is no excuse for negligence. If doctors are not willing to do their whole duty and protect all patients at all hours they should either resign or be summarily discharged. It is to be regretted that so many members of the medical profession seek and accept positions in hospitals for the insane, not because of any genuine interest in the work to be done, but simply as a sort of makeshift which will enable them to support themselves until they can engage in the general practice of medicine, or of a certain congenial branch of it. It is these veritable leeches who generally treat patients with the least consideration. They become medical policemen who make their rounds in a perfunctory way and resort to the club or its equivalent upon slight provocation. Though there are without doubt many competent physicians, fine men, who really have taken up their work among the insane without any intention of making it their life-work, these men have immediately appreciated the opportunity for the life of noble unselfishness which lies before them, and, grasping that opportunity, have wrought excellent results -- considering the inadequate equipment with which, in most instances, they have been compelled to work. What surprises me is that so many thoroughly efficient physicians have been willing to work year in and year out for salaries which are not so large, by one half, as the income most of them could surely enjoy in general practice. No class of men in the world are more deserving of generous treatment than the competent and considerate men now working among the insane. As for the incompetent, may their incompetence be so conspicuous as to effect their prompt discharge!


After fifteen interminable hours the strait-jacket was removed. Whereas just prior to its putting on I had been in a vigorous enough condition to offer stout resistance when assaulted, now, on coming out of it, I was helpless. When my arms were released from their restricted position the pain was intense. Each and every joint had been racked. I had no control over the fingers of either hand, and could not have dressed myself had I been promised my freedom for doing so. And this, bear in mind, was the effect of a camisole, which form of restraint hospital officials, when called upon to testify, so often describe as being harmless and not very uncomfortable.


For more than the following week I suffered as already described, though of course with gradually decreasing intensity as my racked body became accustomed to the unnatural positions it was forced to take. This first experience occurred on the night of October 18th, 1902. I was subjected to the like unfair and unnecessary ordeal each and every night on the following dates: October 19th, 20th, 21st, 22d, 23d, 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, and 31st, as well as the nights of November 1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th, -- twenty-one nights in all, and parts of each of the corresponding twenty-one days. On more than one occasion, indeed, the attendant placed me in the strait-jacket during the day for refusing to obey some slight wish. This, too, without an explicit order from the doctor in charge, though perhaps he acted under a general order. (5)

(5) In some States the law requires that a record of the use of mechanical restraint and seclusion be kept by hospital officials, and that such record shall be open to public inspection. This law is a move in the right direction. Restraint hates Publicity.

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