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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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XXI THE self-control which had enabled me to suspend speech for a whole day now stood me in good stead. It enabled me to avert much suffering that would have been my portion had I been like the majority of my ward-mates. Time and again I surrendered when an attendant was about to chastise me. But at least a score of patients in this ward were not so well equipped, and these were viciously assaulted again and again by the very men who had so thoroughly initiated me into the mysteries of their black art.


I set myself up as the observer and the reporter of abuses. My observations convinced me of an anomaly; namely, that the only patients in a hospital for the insane who are not likely to be subjected to abuse are the very ones least in need of care and treatment. The violent, noisy, and troublesome patient is abused because he is violent, noisy, and troublesome. The patient too weak physically or mentally to attend to his own wants is frequently abused because of that very helplessness which makes it necessary for the attendants to wait upon him. And so of the forty men in the violent ward during my fourteen weeks of confinement there, at least twenty were at one time or another viciously beaten by some one of the three attendants, frequently by two at once.


Like fires and railroad disasters, assaults seem to come in groups. Sometimes days will pass without a single outbreak. Then will come a veritable carnival of abuse -- due invariably to the attendants' state of mind, not to an unwonted aggressiveness on the part of the patients. The beatings which, by reason of my superior discretion, I escaped scarcely diminished the sum of punishment. I can recall as especially noteworthy ten instances of atrocious abuse. Five patients were chronic victims, beaten frequently as I was on that night when two attendants broke into my room. Three of them, peculiarly irresponsible, suffered with especial regularity, scarcely a day passing without bringing to them its quota of punishment. One of these, almost an idiot, and quite too inarticulate to tell a convincing story even under the most favorable conditions, became so cowed that, whenever an attendant passed, he would circle his oppressor as a whipped cur circles a cruel master. I saw him do so time and again. If his avoidance became too marked the attendant would then and there chastise him for the implied but unconscious insult.


There was a young man, occupying a cell next to mine in the Bull Pen, who was so far out of his mind as to be absolutely irresponsible. His offense was that he could not comprehend and obey. Compared to his abuse, all that I suffered in the Bull Pen was as nothing. Day after day I could hear the blows and kicks as they fell upon his body, and his incoherent cries for mercy were as painful to hear as they are impossible to forget. That he survived and to-day is dragging out an existence in an asylum, is surprising. It is true, I believe, that his form of insanity is considered incurable; but that is an additional consideration in favor of kind treatment.


What wonder that this man who was "violent," or who was made violent, would not permit the attendants to dress him! But he had a half-witted friend, a ward-mate, who could coax him into his clothes during the time when his oppressors found him most intractable. Even an insane man can distinguish between friend and foe.


Of all the patients known to me, one incoherent and irresponsible man of sixty years I saw assaulted with the greatest frequency. This patient was restless and forever talking or shouting, as any man might if oppressed by his delusions. He was profoundly convinced that a certain person had stolen his stomach -- an idea inspired perhaps by the remarkable corpulency of the person he accused. His loss he would wofully voice even while eating. Of course, argument to the contrary had no effect; and his monotonous recital of his imaginary troubles made him unpopular with the attendants. They showed him no mercy. Each day -- including the hours of the night, when the night-watch took a hand -- he was belabored with fists, broom-handles, and frequently with the heavy bunch of keys which attendants usually carry on a long chain. He was kicked and choked, and his suffering was aggravated by his almost continuous confinement in the Bull Pen. An exception to the general rule (for such continued abuse often causes death) this man lived a long time -- five years.


Another victim, forty-five years of age, was one who had formerly been a successful man of affairs. His was a forceful personality, and the traits of his sane days influenced his conduct when he became insane. He was in the expansive phase of paresis, a phase distinguished by an exaggerated sense of well-being -- for delusions of grandeur are a symptom of this form as well as of several other forms of insanity. Paresis, as everyone knows, is incurable. Its victim is doomed -- death usually following within three years of the onset of the disease. In this instance, instead of trying to make the patient's last months on earth comfortable, the attendants subjected him to a course of treatment severe enough to have sent even a sound man to an early grave. I endured privations and severe abuse for one month at the State Hospital. This man suffered in all ways worse treatment for many months -- until finally he was transferred to a ward where he received kinder treatment. He still lives, -- another example of man's endurance.

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