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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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Yet the most remarkable thing was not that Nora had made up her mind. It was that Nora had decided to stop working. For as long as anybody could remember, Nora had spent every waking hour of every day padding around the women's infirmary in her old canvas slippers, scrubbing, changing beds, giving showers, cleaning and grooming from morning to night, untiring and untired; a kind of Rock of Gibraltar. Many waves of rage, hate, fear and loneliness had broken and spent themselves on Nora's ample bosom. There was room there for all, and patients soon learned that Nora was a safe port in any storm.


But for all of that, Nora was still "just a crazy patient" to the nurses and attendants whose work she did. True, she had been a "good" patient for the last seven years. But now, it appeared, she was becoming troublesome again.


"But, Nora, what on earth will you do with yourself?" asked Miss Ames.


"Ah thinks Ah'll jus' sleep for a few weeks."


"Now Nora, you can't just stay in bed. We don't allow laziness here."


"Yes, mum." Memories of seven years plowed slowly across the furrows of Nora's mind. Seven years, every day -- two days off in that time -- up at five in the morning, work until nine at night -- scrub, clean, do dirty work -- work, work, work -- no laziness here,


"Well, we can't let you stop work without any reason. You'll have to see the doctor."


See the doctor. Nora nodded her head slowly. She had seen a doctor every day for the last seven years. But she had never spoken to one. Could Miss Ames mean she would have to talk with the doctor?


"I'll send you down to see Dr. Bascome in the morning. Now get along to work."


Nora spent an unusually restless night. She knew that every time she turned her big body in her cot it shook the other nine beds which were placed end to end in her dormitory. But, for once, she was insensitive to others' hardships. Her own problems were all she could think about now. And the one thing she was sure about was that she had made up her mind to stop working.


That was still all she was sure about when she shuffled into Dr. Bascome's office the next morning. "Mrs. Nora Sillicoff," announced the bright young girl who ushered her in.


"Sit down, Mrs. Sillikoff," another young voice said.


Nora sat down.


The strangeness of hearing her last name made her want to see the man who said it. For the first time in years she, was conscious of her faded cotton dress, her short haircut, her canvas slippers. She slowly raised her eyes from the floor. Such a young boy smiling there! Her head began to nod. "Mohnin'," she said.


"Miss Ames tells me you want to stop working."


Nora nodded again.


"Maybe you'd like to have a vacation -- and a privilege card."


Nora looked incredulous. "You mean -- then Ah could sit? Outdoors? On the grass?"


Dr. Bascome's smile was pleasant. "Certainly -- if that's what you want. Now, tell me: why do you want to stop working?"


Nora's eyes slid down to her feet again; the furrows deepened on her brow. She wanted to answer this nice young man. She gathered all her thoughts and launched into the longest speech of her seven years in the hospital.


"Well," she said, "it ain't that the hours are long and the work is hard. It ain't that Ah don't get paid. Nor 'tain't that Ah have to beg for ever'thing Ah need." She paused and wrinkled her brow more deeply. "No, 'tain't that Ah get no time off. It ain't even them hussies I work for. It ain't -- "


Suddenly her eyes focussed on the canvas slippers she had been staring at. She looked up at Dr. Bascome with certainty in her eyes. "It's just that Ah've been workin' for seven years now, an' Ah ain't ever got to wear a pair of shoes."


Dr. Bascome smiled understandingly and began signing papers. "All right, Mrs. Sillicoff. You'll get your vacation. You'll get to sit in the grass, and you'll get a pair of shoes. Now come along and let me open the door for you. You have ground privileges from now on." For several minutes the doctor stood in the open doorway and watched Nora move down the sidewalk, kick off her old canvas slippers, and step off into the grass in her bare feet. Assurance of salvation seemed to well up in her as she flexed her toes in the grass.


"Seven years," murmured Dr. Bascome. "Seven years -- for a pair of shoes and some grass."


(Based on reports 693, 702 and 705)


Responsibility is Ours


"Unless reforms are to be mere lip-service, improved treatment of the mentally ill has to grow organically out of a new attitude society must take toward that cardinal problem. It is not the brutality and neglect which have occurred in the care of psychiatric patients, deplorable and detrimental as they may be; it is the feeling of isolation and solitude in which the mentally sick have lived for ages which constitutes the fundament of their plight."


Source unknown.


Inadequacy, Ugliness, Crowding. Incompetence, Perversion, Frustration. Neglect, Idleness, Callousness. Abuse, Mistreatment, Oppression. These have been the principal characters in the drama of the preceding chapters. They have always dominated the center of the stage.

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