An element of abstention, of restraint, must enter into all finer joys.
Vida D. Scudder
Like nearly all my stories from that better part of a year I spent on 6-D East (1977-78) I struggle with what time, emotion and subsequent experience must inevitably do, to mess with my perspective and recollection.
Of course this is true for all of my stories, but the time was significant for young, developing me so I feel especially obliged to call attention to the struggle here. For integrity’s sake. My adult (hopefully) aware self demands it.
Thus, I will begin the conclusion of this story of that poor raging man, with simple statements of fact. I will save the speculation and judgements for the end. At which point I will offer some totally speculative/creative thoughts.
The artist in me demands that.
I don’t remember the exact timing or sequence, but the following things happened…
The man was started on a schedule of ECT treatments. He stopped struggling and was no longer in four-point restraints. I then saw him regularly being taken to lunch after treatments like everyone else on ECT. I was never assigned to him, so I never read his chart or heard talk of his progress or anything like that. I was busy with other patients in the other wing, away from the locked rooms and didn’t have reason to go to and see him.
His wife visited the ward and I saw her.
From the talk in the break room, it was clear that the man’s wife was furious that he had been put on ECT and was demanding that it be discontinued. It was also clear that the man was requesting the ECT and saying that it was helping him.
I have no memory of whether the man’s ECT schedule was allowed to be completed or not.
At some point, both the man and his wife left the ward and never returned. I don’t remember if they left together or separately.
Now for the totally unclear memory, judgement and speculation…
I seem to remember the nurses being completely up in arms about this woman, the poor man’s wife. Especially Gladys.
Because of how she looked and behaved, talk of her “obvious” affect on him was immediate. I never heard them say it, but I imagine they even called her “witch” since her appearance easily supported that charge. Especially in 1977, midwestern, semi-rural America.
And yes, I saw her.
She had a look that now might be considered kind of “Goth”. Thick black eyeliner and lipstick, with pasty white base makeup and deep black hair with an odd hairpiece that looked like it might just come alive and jump on you if you got too close. She wore all black clothes and a shawl… with a taste of modern occult-like accessories thrown in. She seemed a bit older than her husband who was at least fifty but perhaps not much older than that.
Scary-looking at the very least. The embodiment of evil, is what most everyone on the ward was probably thinking.
The ward had to continue it’s normal operation. We had many other patients needing our care, but talk in the break room was dominated by the drama of this poor, poor man and his evil, demonic wife who’d driven him to such a violent rage. Since I no longer had any contact with him, my young, developing self (complete with 1977 midwestern American ignorance) took it all in without further actual experience. I imagine that even the memory of what I did witness of the couple, could have been so corrupted by all that talk, that much of what I wrote in the other segments of this story may be called into question.
For example, I read again the tone of what I wrote describing my participation in ECT treatments on the ward and wonder if I’m being fair, or even accurate. A brief search online shows much information on the developments since those bad-old-days when ECT was demonstrably overused, misused and even abused. The development of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and other techniques to harness the benefits of convulsive therapies while minimizing memory loss… while these still might be completely unacceptable options for some, I don’t believe they deserve the blanket dismissal and even demonization still pervasive in popular culture.
To be honest, all of my memories could be called into question in this way so…
So there you have it.
A most wishy-washy conclusion to a story I obviously refuse to see as clearly as one should do, to even begin to label it “truth”. Yet the form it now holds will have to do for now. I have been, and will continue to edit these stories as I read them again and again. Constantly revising, like a painter constantly reworking an image.
The self-restraint that must accompany true freedom.
But that’s another thought… perhaps in another story.
This journey continues as these stories go on and on…