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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 48:


My speech was made through a screen transom over the door. In print it has a highly sane and connected appearance; but my course of action was rightly construed as symptomatic of elation; and the doctor acted wisely in refusing to be reassured. For a few minutes he continued his persuasive methods. That he should even imagine that I would basely recede from my high and mighty position, only irritated me the more.


"You can stand outside that door all day if you choose," I said. "I won't open it until the three men I have named appear. I have prepared for a siege; and I have enough food in this room to keep me going for a day anyway."


My ultimatum was in fact couched in more vituperative terms and naturally nettled the doctor. Besides, he was, no doubt, apprehensive for my room-mate, fearing perhaps that I might make his life the price of a refusal to summon the State authorities at my bidding. Realizing at last that no argument would move me, he set about forcing an entrance. First he tried to remove the transom by striking it with a stout stick. I gave blow for blow and the transom remained in place. To this day it shows the marks of the conflict. A carpenter was then sent for, but before he could go about his work one of the attendants managed to open the door enough to thrust in his arm and shove aside my barricade. I did not realize what was being done until it was too late to interfere. The door once open, in rushed the doctor and four attendants. Without ceremony I was thrown upon the bed, with two or three of the attacking force on top of me. Again I was choked, this time by the assistant physician. Though I am of the opinion that such action on his part was totally uncalled for, especially so because of its demoralizing effect upon the attendants present, I wish to credit him with a degree of skill which enabled him to accomplish his purpose without any serious bruising of my throat. The operation was a matter of only a moment. But before it was over I had the good fortune to deal the doctor a stinging blow on the jaw, for which (as he was about my own age and the odds were five to one) I have never felt called upon to apologize.


Once I was subdued each of the four attendants attached himself to a leg or an arm and, under the direction of the doctor, I was carried bodily through two corridors, down two flights of stairs, and to the "violent ward." My dramatic exit startled my fellow patients, for so much action in so short a time is seldom seen in a quiet ward. And few patients placed in the "violent ward" are introduced with so impressive an array of camp-followers as I had that day.


All this to me was a huge joke, with a good purpose behind it. Though excited I was good-natured and, en route to my new quarters, I said to the doctor: "Whether you believe it or not, it's a fact that I'm going to reform these institutions before I'm done. I raised this rumpus to make you transfer me to the violent ward. What I want you to do now is to show me the worst you've got."


"You needn't worry," said the doctor. "You'll get it."


He spoke the truth. I did "get it."




IN this country on December 31st, 1903, there were two hundred and twenty-six public and one hundred and two private hospitals for the insane. The majority of these, except the smallest of the private institutions, must have at least two "violent wards" -- one for the men, one for the women. Some of the larger hospitals have several such wards. Therefore, it may safely be assumed that there are, all told, about seven hundred wards of this character in which not fewer than fifteen thousand patients are confined. Of these thousands, many live, as it were, near the very crater of a volcano of trouble; and many of the other patients live on the uncertain slopes of this same volcano -- within a zone of constant menace.


Throughout the country, so-called "violent wards" differ considerably. Of the worst of them, I say "so-called" out of deference to the doctors who work among the insane. For you will never hear one of them say "violent ward." That term offends their sensibilities. They refer to such wards as "excited wards," "strong wards," "back wards," or "disturbed wards." I wish that I might honestly adopt their "perfumed phrases," but I cannot. A "violent ward" is not a place where insane patients violently attack their keepers or fellow-patients, except in the rarest of instances, and then, as a rule, only after they have been goaded into a revengeful madness by unremitting cruelty. In a word, a "violent ward" is too often a ward wherein violence is done to helpless patients by ignorant, untrained, and unsympathetic attendants. However, in justice to a considerable and increasing number of institutions where patients are uniformly treated with consideration, I wish to state that in these well managed hospitals no ward is deserving of the name "violent ward." But this admission only strengthens my contention that it is the character of the attendants in charge of the troublesome cases, and not the disposition of the patients themselves, which makes a ward a "violent ward."

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