Library Collections: Document: Full Text

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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You explain to him that faithfulness on this detail will, in time, get him the privilege of going "to staff" to ask for a "parole" or privilege card. This privilege card will permit him to roam the grounds and go to the recreation hall or the store. Also, it will "earn" him a pack of cigarettes or a bar of candy about every other day. You add that the goal is neither the privilege card nor the cigarettes, but escape from the perpetual din of this ward, and the establishment of a record of good conduct. Then his family can request a trial visit for him -- a visit home, where he can actually REST amid his loved ones.


You know that if this boy will follow the procedure you have outlined, you will have snatched a soul back from hell in the nick of time. For if this boy remains on this ward, amid this senile decay, you know from past experience that you will see him deteriorate from day to day before your very eyes. You have witnessed it scores of times before.


A day or two later you miss Tony. You hope and pray that he has done as you suggested, and you keep your fingers crossed. Ten days to two weeks later, as you are leaving the ward to return to quarters, a familiar voice hails you:


"Hi! Jim! Wait a minute. I want you to meet my folks!" You meet a father and mother with strangely moist eyes. Their English, by its peculiar inflection, betrays their European origin. The baby sister, who has hold of Tony's arm, is clearly typical of young America, from the flower in her hair to the pumps through which peek her enameled toes. On Tony's other side stands his brother, Giuseppe, erect and very proud of the World War II service button in the left lapel of his coat. They chorus in unison, "you goin' to take care of my Tony?"


Heck, you can't do anything for him. You can only explain the procedure he must go through. "Has he told you what I suggested to him?" "Yes," they all agree. "Well, then, it's up to you people to get behind him and encourage him to carry out that program as fast as he can."


The mother wants to know how long it will take. You confess that you don't know. "Tony is only one of twenty-two hundred patients. We are short on doctors. We are short on nurses. We are short on attendants. We are short on everything. It seems almost impossible to get around to all the individual cases needing special attention." But you assure them, "If he will stick to it, and you will come up to visit him every time you get a chance, he may be home before you know it. In the meantime -- well, he'll get good food and plenty of fresh air." And you promise that you will keep your eye on Tony and see that he toes the mark.


One day, a little while later, as you go into the store, somebody grabs your arm and there's Tony with that infectious grin on his face that you couldn't wipe off with a mop, whispering into your ear as though he is afraid to trust God himself with his good news, so low that you have to strain every nerve to hear: "Jim. I'm going home Sunday. My Dad and Mother are coming to take me home."


To which you reply, "Hey, fellow, good enough! But watch your step when you get out and see that you don't get into any mischief. In fact, after you have been home a while, see if you can't get a job lined up. If you can, come back with your Dad and Mother and report that fact, and maybe they will extend your visit. Who knows, maybe you'll never have to come back." With that, you stroll over to the soda fountain and have a coke with Tony to celebrate his good luck.


You walk away, elated. But your elation is short lived; you think of the hundreds of other Tonys in this place for whom you can't possibly "steal" enough time for the individual attention you know they need.


But you go back to the ward resolved to do the best you can in an impossible situation.


(Based on report 1142)




"During the period of July 1, 1944, through June 30, 1945, the employment situation has remained critical, and has shown little or no improvement over the previous year. With 660 established positions, we have had an average of 467 employees and an average of 193 vacancies for the year. Through the twelve months' period we employed 324 persons and 340 persons resigned. Sixteen persons were dismissed during the year for the following reasons:


8 -- excessive alcoholism
5 -- services unsatisfactory
3 -- emotionally unstable"


-- From the annual report of a large mid-western hospital.


"Eight Dismissed: Excessive Alcoholism."


"Hey, Joe! Did you hear that Nelson is back?"


"No! You can't mean it! Surely they wouldn't hire him again!"


But that's just what they had done. Joe found out for sure when he went to take over his ward for the day shift. Even as he came near the door, he could tell that the night man hadn't changed many beds during the long twelve-hour shift. The odor was unbearable.


Inside, half the patients were up and half of them still in bed. A dozen or more were walking up and down the ward completely naked. Water and feces were all over the hall. And Big John, with a wet towel, was lording it over a cowering group of fellow-patients in the dormitory.

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