Fiction Friday presents A Mad House

I am a mad house.

I have been around since the late 1800s. I came out of the tail end of the poor house era. The people I housed then are much the same as the people who live here now.

I get the children who have mental and physical issues too big to deal with in a regular home setting.

What is a family supposed to do when their disabled children age out of the school environment and grow to big to be safely physically managed? It seems cruel to call it management, but in many cases if the children had kept their small childlike bodies with their small child like minds it would have been an achievable goal to keep them at home.

That is simply not the way it happens when a brain damaged human grows to be a big healthy strapping man. It is just as difficult to have an adult sized person who cannot walk or communicate. In this double income unemployed era it just isn’t possible to provide the care these folks need in a home setting.

The families commit their children to my care as grudgingly as the same parents commit their elderly parents to the nursing homes.

Did you know nursing homes are the last vestiges of poor houses left as county run places? I am sure the nursing home will tell you this when he has his turn.

I do more than long term care for physically and mentally retarded people.

I have an intake wing for people who have become unstable, mostly in the late fall and winter months when depression wraps its icy fingers around the sun starved population.

Police send people through intake to be evaluated when they meet some check off requirement that indicates they may become harmful to themselves or others but most of the time these folks end up doing a weekend in jail. Hard cases of anti social folks fill the prisons and jails, too. There isn’t any coordinated way of deciding who goes where.

I can tell you that my lock down wing is as secure as any prison you would ever want to visit. Some people are never going to leave.

In the earliest days the place had its humanity that would flicker from time to time depending on the management and employees and for those locked up here those brief times were forever.

There was a time when many people believed a fellow could be shocked out of his delirium or funck.

They used insulin shock.

Later, the good old electric shock therapy. Every one knows what that was about. They still do EST but mostly to the rich folks who are addicted to attention mostly, they get treatments every eight weeks.

In the earlier days there were forms of torture. I think they were put in place to discourage people from coming here.

There were tubs downstairs filled with ice water, big claw footed things. The ice water was kept cold and the patient receiving the treatment would be submerged, sometimes wrapped in sheets like swaddling clothes and left to the cold. I suppose it was supposed to be an attitude adjustment.

No one can hold a person’s mind in their hand and judging it is crude. How do they know what is working?

They don’t really. It is mostly about control and management.

Sure things seem better now. The ice baths are gone. People are mostly medically controlled. Not chained by restraints but locked down as sure as the world by regular doses of medicine.

They will tell you the success is in being able to release these people back into the world. Or back into the prisons who are in reality the front lines of mental treatment these days.

So, after a while most of the people who would have been kept here were restrained by something small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. The new world of chemical restraints allowed a sweep of what the outside world referred to as deinstitutionalization.

Now a days people are taken in, looked over, evaluated physically and mentally. A social worker may drop by but only the more seriously mentally ill stay and that is a short stay between two and eight weeks while the meds kick in. If they don’t take their meds it isn’t long before they return. The revolving door patients.

With the reduction in patients and staff a lot of this mad house has been shut down. Walled off. So much goes un used. Dark. Unvisited.

Did you know that something like a ghost or mark is left behind in places experiencing high emotions? I have rooms that echo sadness. A deep sadness of the souls of the people who lingered here. It is like the feeling people claim about being able to cut the tension with a knife. That is why some people who come to work here on whatever level, cleaning crew, art project directors, teachers, social workers, doctors, dentists and shrinks come in here experience a real crisis of faith. More than one new or aspiring doctor has come here only to change his mind and go into something with a brighter future. Working here is like working in a cancer ward, except in a cancer ward the fear is real.

They still do a lot of talk therapy, group therapy and such behind these walls. Many patients are discovered to have addictions and are quickly pointed toward a rehab unit that works with their heart and soul and body. Rehab, especially in America is a trend that has gained acceptability. Everyone likes a good come back story. The things they bring in here cannot be fixed by simple withdrawal and rehabilitation.

It is still a stigma to be put in these places, in a mad house.

Some families actually commit their loved ones for what they perceive as misbehavior. More than one woman has been put here by her beloved husband in a great effort on his part to punish her and gain control. Women do it to their men folk, too. And if you want my opinion, when the woman goes back to the man who sent her here she deserves some kind of treatment.
__Mad House

By Sally

Sally Franklin Christie Blogger and Author of If I Should Die and Milk Carton People.