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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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It was squarely in front of the dining-room window that I fell, and those at dinner were more startled than I. It took them a second or two to realize what had happened. Then my younger brother rushed out, and with other assistance carried me into the house. Naturally that dinner was permanently interrupted. A mattress was placed on the floor of the dining-room and I on that, suffering intensely. I said little, but what I said was significant. "I thought I had epilepsy!" was my first remark; and several times I said, "I wish it was over!" For I believed that my death was only a question of hours. To the doctors, who soon arrived, I said, "My back is broken!" -- raising myself slightly, however, as I said so.


An ambulance soon arrived, in which I was placed. Because of the nature of my injuries it was necessary that the ambulance proceed slowly. The trip of a mile and a half seemed interminable, but in due time I arrived at Grace Hospital and was placed in a room which soon became a chamber of torture. It was on the second floor; and the first object to engage my attention and stir my imagination was a man who appeared outside my window and placed in position several heavy iron bars. These were, of course, for my protection, but at that time no such idea occurred to me. My mind was in a delusional state, ready and eager to adopt any external stimulus as a pretext for its wild inventions, and that barred window started a terrible train of delusions which persisted for seven hundred and ninety-eight days. During that period my mind imprisoned both mind and body in a dungeon than which none was ever more secure.


Knowing that those who attempt suicide are usually placed under arrest, I believed myself under legal restraint. I imagined that at any moment I might be taken to court to face some charge lodged against me by the local police. Every act of those about me seemed to be a part of what, in police parlance, is commonly called, the "Third Degree." The hot poultices placed upon my feet and ankles threw me into a profuse perspiration, and my very active association of mad ideas convinced me that I was being "sweated" -- another police term which I had often seen in the newspapers. I inferred that this third-degree sweating process was being inflicted in order to extort some kind of a confession, though what my captors wished me to confess I could not for my life imagine. As I was really in a state of delirium, with high fever, I had an insatiable thirst. The only liquids given me were hot saline solutions. Though there was good reason for administering these, I believed they were designed for no other purpose than to increase my sufferings, as a part of the same inquisitorial process. But had a confession been due I could hardly have made it, for that part of my brain which controls the power of speech was seriously affected, and was soon to be further disabled by my ungovernable thoughts. Only an occasional word did I utter.


Certain hallucinations of hearing, or "false voices," added to my torture. Within my range of hearing, but beyond the reach of my understanding, there was a hellish vocal hum. Now and then I would recognize the subdued voice of a former friend; now and then I would hear the voices of some who I believed were not friends. All these referred to me and uttered what I could not clearly distinguish, but knew must be imprecations. Ghostly rappings on the walls and ceiling of my room punctuated unintelligible mumblings of invisible persecutors. Those were long nights.


I remember distinctly my delusion of the following day -- Sunday. I seemed to be no longer in the hospital. In some mysterious way I had been spirited aboard a huge ocean steamship. I first discovered this when the ship was in mid-ocean. The day was clear, the sea apparently calm, but for all that, the ship was slowly sinking. And it was I, of course, who had brought on what must turn out fatally for all, unless the coast of Europe could be reached before the water in the hold should extinguish the fires. How had this peril overtaken us? Simply enough: During the night I had in some way -- a way still unknown to me -- opened a port-hole below the water-line; and those in charge of the vessel seemed powerless to close it. Every now and then I could hear parts of the vessel give way under the strain. I could hear the air hiss and whistle spitefully under the resistless impact of the invading waters; I could hear the crashing of timbers as partitions were wrecked; and as the water rushed in at one place I could see, at another, scores of helpless passengers swept overboard into the sea -- my unintended victims. I believed that I too might at any moment be swept away. That I was not thrown into the sea by vengeful fellow-passengers was, I thought, due to their desire to keep me alive until, if possible, land should be reached, when a more painful death could be inflicted upon me.


While aboard my phantom-ship I managed in some way to establish an electric railway system; and the trolley cars which passed the hospital were soon running along the deck of my ocean-liner, carrying passengers from the places of peril in the ship's hold to what seemed places of comparative safety at the bow. Every time I heard a car pass the hospital one of mine went clanging along the ship's deck.

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