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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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Wearily, Gus got up off the floor where he had been sitting. He scowled at the other hundred and eighty-five men in the big day-room, and estimated that the toilet shouldn't be too crowded just now. He crossed the room, stepped over the man lying in the doorway, and entered the hazy, smoke-filled toilet. One of the five stools in the ten-foot-square room was unoccupied. Gee, he thought, for once I didn't have to wait.


He looked around the room -- at the fellow-patients sitting, lying and standing about; at the puddles on the floor; at the pipe leaking in the corner; at the plugged-up, overflowing urinal. As he watched, the wizened old man they called "the weasel" darted into the room, scooped up a wad of discharged chewing tobacco out of the filled urinal, squeezed it, and popped it into his mouth. When Gus thought no one was watching, he slipped a cigarette from the package in his pocket and sat mouthing it.


Just then the white-coated attendant came in. Gus could never see a white coat and stay quiet; a white coat inevitably called forth a violent harangue. He leaped to his feet shouting and gesticulating.


"There's a hundred and eighty-five patients on this ward. Eight? We're supposed to use this toilet three times a day. Right? There's five stools in this toilet. Right? That means each stool gets used a hundred and seventeen times. Right? At five minutes each time, them stools is busy ten hours a day. Right? Now, why in the hell ain't there a union?" And in a different voice entirely, "Give me a light. Mister."


The attendant held up a match. "You're a demon with the figures, Gus. But don't let me catch you outside the toilet with that cigarette."


Gus drew breath for another harangue, but the white-coat had disappeared. Gus pulled on his cigarette; the only taste he got was of the sodden, stale, stinking room. He climbed up on the sill of the only window in the room, put his lips to the dirty screen, took a deep breath, exhaled. Then he turned to the room and drew deeply on his cigarette. Eyes closed, lips pursed, head thrown back, he let the blue smoke drift slowly from his mouth. "Bliss -- it's wonderful, he said, shaking his head ecstatically. His benign glance lowered to the fellow-creature at his feet. "Even in this God-forsaken place," he added.


(Based on reports 677 and 721)


Fire protection was the one thing that was stressed when a new attendant came to work in Building J. And well it might be, for the building was known to be a fire-trap, and it was rumored that it had been condemned four years ago. Be that as it may, the building still housed seven hundred of the state's mental patients, and attendants were told to take special precautions to prevent fires.


Mrs. Tolan read the rules and regulations carefully when she started to work in Building J. The fire hazard struck her especially, since she was to work Ward 6, on the third floor. There were two hundred and fifty-three patients on that ward, and the only exits were locked stairways at either end of the building, and a special fire escape -- also reached through a locked door. She was duly impressed with the fact that she alone carried keys to open any of these three exits -- patients could not get out except with her help.


The first morning on Ward 6 passed quickly for Mrs. Tolan, and it was soon time for her to go to lunch. But it didn't seem right to just go off and leave two hundred and fifty-three patients locked on the ward. She called the supervisor's office.


"Do you lock the doors on Ward 6 when you go to lunch?" Mrs. Tolan asked.


"Certainly! Never leave the ward without locking all the doors."


"But -- then the patients can't get out."


"That is exactly the idea, Mrs. Tolan. The patients aren't supposed to get out."


"Oh, I know. But I meant in case of fire."


"Oh, that! Well, don't worry about that. There are three hours a day and an hour each night when 'six' is left unattended. No one relieves you; just go on off duty when the time comes."


"All right, but it seems funny."


"Don't worry about it. If fire breaks out on the ward when you're not on duty, you won't be held responsible for it." Mrs. Tolan replaced the receiver on the hook.


"Well, that's nice," she thought. "I suppose that should put my mind at ease."


(Based on report 113)


Mental hospitals were not unknown to Mr. Graves. He had read several articles and books about them, and he had seen several of them from the outside. When he visited one on the inside, he decided there was real value in the old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover." After his visit, he wrote the following description:


"I had read about conditions in the days when the mentally ill were regarded as persons possessed of devils, thrown into dungeons, shackled hand and foot with iron bands, left to rot in their own filth. It was almost impossible to believe that such conditions had ever existed. Now I know that such conditions exist HERE -- NOW. Our present treatment of the mentally ill is nothing short of barbaric. Let me tell you about my visit to one of America's 'modern' mental hospitals.

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