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Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

Creator: Frank L. Wright, Jr. (author)
Date: 1947
Publisher: National Mental Health Foundation, Inc.
Source: Available at selected libraries
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 2  Figure 3  Figure 4  Figure 5  Figure 6  Figure 7  Figure 8  Figure 9  Figure 10  Figure 11  Figure 12  Figure 13  Figure 14  Figure 15  Figure 16  Figure 17

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When Fred wandered rather hesitantly into the office of North supervisor, the nurse behind the desk (in his three months at the hospital, Fred rarely saw a nurse except behind a desk) looked at him as if she'd just eaten a green persimmon.


"I suppose you're the new attendant."


Fred hated to be the cause of such a pained expression, but he answered, "Yes, ma'am."


"Sign your name on this sheet and take the number 69 set of keys off the board. Now, keys are the most important thing for you to take care of. You're responsible for set 69 whenever your name is signed here. When you leave the building hang your keys up on the board and sign your name in the column where it says 'out.' Is that clear?"


"Yes," Fred answered, thinking that his psychology professor would be surprised to know that he was spending the summer taking care of a set of keys.


"We expect our attendants to pay strict attention to the rules. If you don't, you'll be out of a job. You'll find the rules posted on Ward 86, where you are to work. The attendant on the ward will tell you everything else."


Fred felt that the interview was over, but he decided to ask at least one little question. It seemed fairly important to him. "And how do I get to Ward 86?"


The nurse heaved a sigh of exasperation, shook her head hopelessly, and gritted her teeth. "Take your number one key, go to the third floor, and keep going back in the building until you come to a door with an 86 on it."


She didn't look up again, so Fred started out on the search for Ward 86.


The first door on the third floor was marked 80. He entered and walked down the long corridor. There were a few old men sitting in the chairs along the corridor, and they watched him pass. Fred's steps echoed back and forth in the corridor, and he was reminded of those scenes in the movies where the prisoner marches through the passage to the gallows.


The door marked 82 let him into a ward where everybody wore ill-fitting bathrobes and nearly everybody had some kind of bandage on his head or arm or leg. Pretty little student nurses were scurrying here and there with basins and bedpans, thermometers and charts. Booming, buzzing confusion, thought Fred.


Door 84 swung in on a terrific hub-bub: chattering, singing, polishing blocks going up and down, all sorts of costumes, all sorts of postures. The place is like a madhouse, thought Fred. He stopped short and looked quickly from left to right. Madhouse? Madhouse? Fred went warily on down the corridor, watching carefully out of the corners of his eyes. He rather wanted to run the other way, but he opened the door that was numbered 86.


Fortunately he saw the white coat of the attendant as soon as he entered the ward. He went over and introduced himself as the new attendant.


"Well, so they're sending me some help at last! Make yourself at home."


Fred wasn't sure he wanted to feel at home here, but he asked the attendant where the rules were posted.


"Oh, I don't know," the attendant answered. "You just do what I say and we'll get along all right. You never worked in a bughouse before?"


Fred wasn't sure it was a question, but he answered, "No, this is my first time."


"Well, if you ever want to take a nap, use that chair over there -- I use this one," instructed the attendant. "And don't pay any attention to what the patients say. They're all plumb nutty and don't know what they're talking about. What's gonna be your day off?"


Day off? He had been on the ward two minutes, and the attendant wanted to know when he would have a day off. Frankly, Fred thought, I wish I had taken the whole summer off.


"I don't know yet," he answered.


The attendant looked as if he thought Fred had overlooked the only really important thing about the work. "Well, you can sort that laundry if you want to," he told Fred. "I'm going on my hours-off now."


The clock on top of Main Building chimed eleven o'clock as Fred realized that he was a full-fledged, attendant in complete charge of eighty-one psychotic patients on Ward 86. He was sure that if he could have set time back an hour, he would never have climbed the steps to the nursing office.


(Based on reports 278 and 404)


When Jim came to the hospital to work, he arrived about noon. He was immediately given a former patient to act as his guide and was taken to the cafeteria for his dinner. Then he was given a physical examination. The doctor seemed to enjoy giving the physical. "It's nice to give an exam to a normal person for a change," he said.


From the doctor's office, the former patient took Jim over to the attic (fourth floor) of a building which housed patients on the lower floors. Jim was shown a large room with eight beds in it and was told that he would live there. He learned that an uncertain taxi was the only way of going the four miles to the nearest town ($1.50 each way), and that there were no social or recreational activities for employees on the grounds -- except some pool tables, which were always busy. The former patient left Jim with the warning that he was to report at seven the next morning.

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