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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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For this period of three weeks -- from October 18th until November 8th, 1902, when I left this institution and was transferred to a state hospital for the insane -- I was continuously either under lock and key (in the padded cell or some other room) or under the eye of an attendant. Over half the time I was in the snug but cruel embrace of a strait-jacket -- about three hundred hours in all. While being subjected to this terrific abuse I was held in an exile as complete as that of a Siberian convict. I was cut off from all direct and all honest indirect communication with my legally appointed conservator, and also with all relatives and friends. I was even cut off from satisfactory communication with the superintendent, who was a real friend and one who would not have permitted me to suffer so had he known the truth. To be sure, he knew that I was being subjected to restraint, but he supposed it was such as he himself would have administered under like circumstances, restraint which, though unpleasant, need not have amounted to torture. Being in exile and deprived more completely of my rights than a justly condemned murderer who had all but forfeited his life, I saw the superintendent but twice, and then for so short a time that I was unable to give him any convincing idea of my plight. These interviews occurred on two Sundays that fell within my period of exile, for it was on Sunday that the superintendent usually made his weekly round of inspection. What chance had I of successfully advocating my cause while my pulpit was a padded cell, and the congregation -- with the exception of the superintendent -- the very attach├ęs who had been abusing me? At such times my pent-up indignation poured itself forth in such a disconnected way that my protests were robbed of their right ring of truth. For all that, I was not then, or at any time, incoherent in speech. I was simply voluble and digressive -- a natural incident of elation. Such notes as I managed to write on scraps of paper were invariably confiscated by the assistant physician. At all events, it was not until some months later that the superintendent was informed of my treatment, when, at my request, no less a person than the Governor of the State discussed the subject with him. How I brought about that discussion while still virtually a prisoner will be narrated in due time. And not until several days after I had left this institution and had been placed in another, when for the first time in six weeks I saw my conservator, did he learn of the treatment to which I had been subjected. From his office in New Haven he had on several occasions called up the assistant physician and inquired about my condition. Though the doctor did tell him that I was highly excited and difficult to control he did not even hint that I was being subjected to any unusual restraint. Dr. Jekyll deceived every one, and -- as things have turned out -- deceived himself; for, had he realized then that I should one day be able to do what I am now doing, his brutal instincts would surely have been checked by his cowardly ones.


How helpless, how at the mercy of his keepers, a man who enters an asylum may be, is further illustrated by the conduct of this same doctor. Once, during the third week of my experience in a strait-jacket, I refused to take certain medicine which the attendant offered me. For some time I had been regularly taking this innocuous concoction without protest; but I now decided that as the attendant refused most of my requests I should no longer comply with all of his. He did not argue the point with me. He simply reported my refusal to Doctor Jekyll. A few minutes later Doctor Jekyll -- or rather Mr. Hyde -- accompanied by three attendants, entered the padded cell. I was robed for the night -- in a strait-jacket. Mr. Hyde held in his hand a rubber tube. An attendant stood near with the medicine. For over two years, threats had been made that the "tube" would be resorted to if I refused medicine or food. I had begun to look upon it as a myth; but its presence in the hands of an oppressor now convinced me of its reality. I saw that the doctor and his bravos meant business; and, as I had already endured torture enough, I determined to make every concession this time and escape what seemed to be in store for me.


"What are you going to do with that?" I asked, fixing my eye on the tube.


"The attendant says you refuse to take your medicine. We are going to make you take it."


"I'll take your old medicine," was my reply.


"You have had your chance," said Mr. Hyde.


"All right," I said. "Put that medicine into me any way you think best. But the time will come when you'll wish you hadn't. When that time does come it won't be easy to prove that you had the right to force a patient to take medicine he had offered to take. I know something about the ethics of your profession. You have no right to do anything to a patient except what's good for him. You know that. All you are trying to do is to punish me, and I give you fair warning I'm going to camp on your trail till you are not only discharged from this institution, but expelled from the State Medical Society as well. You are a disgrace to your profession, and that society will attend to your case fast enough when certain members of it, who are friends of mine, hear about this. Furthermore, I shall report your conduct to the Governor of the State. He can take some action even if this is not a state institution. Now, damn you, do your worst!"

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