Thursday, 30 April 2009

Dietary Discipline & Harassment Therapy: A Reader's Account (Part 4) - Of Nappies, Leg Braces and Psychological Bondage

I have to admit to having spent far too long overthe last couple of days investigating the selection of real ales on sale in various London branches of that marvellous pub chain, Wetherspoon's (they have had a 'beer festival 'running since the beginning of April with 50 different ales on sale of which I've been attempting to sample as many as possible). That I am back at the desk finishing off a little work on volume 2 and fiddling around with the text of volume 3 – I've also managed to enlist the much welcomed aid of an e-mail correspondent chum in proofreading volume 2 so all is rushing ahead nicely now. As you can imagine am a little to push the time to write anything much myself today so I thought I would just post the concluding part of the account of sent in by a correspondent regarding her time in a mental hospital. As you probably remember from last time; this takes the form of a series of questions posed by e-maile, by yours truly, along with the anonymous correspondent's responses and so has something of the tone of an interview. With the exception of the use of nappies (diapers) the parallels with the happenings portrayed in INSTITUTIONALISED volume 1 and the treatment meted out to our hapless young volunteers under the guise of an experimental psychology study is remarkable. Along with the accounts that one comes across out there on the Web of life in those wonderful church run institutions, Ireland's industrial schools, with their strict cane or strap wielding nuns, and equally strict dowdy uniforms (is just so much mileage there for the writing of fiction, with a little imagination) and those highly dubious and of the unethical psychology studies carried out in past times; it all goes to show that truth really is stranger than fiction. Click here for part 3 ... here for part 2... and here for part 1... And here to read the original letter that started the ball rolling. Now, as they say, read on:

“In the average small hospital ward (and I imagine the ward you were confined to would have been quite compact) there are usually only one or two (if that) toilet cubicles. A weird subject I know but one with many disciplinary connotations, particularly under the circumstances you describe, as once in a cubicle the patient could be out of sight for example and might choose to regurgitate an unpleasant meal. And bearing in mind the regimentation of the dietary procedures you describe one can't help wondering whether such toilet visits were regimented in any way (I make mention in volumes 1 and two of my book of bedpan use, both for convenience and for ' medical ' reasons - to allow for easy monitoring of waste output, shall we say (humiliating for the patient, I know, but perhaps necessary).”
Toilet Re-training
“The hospital must have been built in the late 1800's and while it did have running water and electricity (would these mod-cons have had to be added after it was built I wonder) nobody had thought to include toilets - unless the staff had access to toilets somewhere within their private domains. But I certainly never saw a toilet. We used pots that were kept under our beds and we were expected to use them when we got up and when we went to bed. The dormitories were kept locked during the day, but we would be taken, in small groups, to use our pots once during the day, usually after the (nominally) midday meal. I know for a fact that great attention was paid to our output - there were charts of volume, weight, colour and consistency and any irregularity would be treated with laxatives, enemas, dietary changes and punishment.
It only took an increase in liquid intake and the withholding of potty privileges once or twice and a girl was bound to be found standing in a puddle of her own making in the dayroom or she would wake up with a wet bed.
Such events, whether deliberately induced, entirely accidental, or just written up on paper, were the usual precursor to the loss of potty privileges (called toilet privileges) altogether. That meant having to wear nappies - at least during the day and maybe at night too. If you were one of the retarded girls they might be regular nappies, but those of us who were deemed to 'know better', or be aware of our 'actions', were often made to wear punishment nappies... (the pictures, I think, evoke quite nicely the sort of thing that would be considered suitable garb for such a patient once ensconced in the experimental psychology department, deep within the secure wing of the institution I depict - Garth).
Girdled and Back in Nappies
The basic punishment nappy was comprised of large thick nappy pads made from old sheets quilted together - and might have canvas or hessian liners that were incredibly abrasive and itchy. They would [on ocasion] be fastened on already soaking wet. After all, the nurses were [often] heard to say, “why bother drying them when a little shit like you is just going to pee in them”. And then to stop them sagging we had to wear a panty-girdle like garment - but made from stronger elastic than any panty girdle I have ever seen and with laces up the back. Big thick brown rubber bloomers finished off the arrangement - unless you had to wear another lighter 'panty girdle' over the rubber pants. Believe me, you could do little more than waddle by the time they were done with you. And it wasn't long before the urine, and whatever else that overflowed from the nappy. would pool in the bloomer legs. There were times that I was put into punishment nappies - and only ever escaped when the rash became so bad that I had to be allowed out - though there was no guarantee that you wouldn't go right back in them as soon as the rash improved.
It was on one of the occasions when I was consigned to punishment nappies that I was taken down to the brace shop to have a crotch plate made. The design is a little hard to explain. Firstly my body brace was modified and the waist was reduced even further - making me look more like a wasp than a girl. Then a narrow and most uncomfortable strap was attached to the back of my body brace and passed between my legs and tightly buckled to the front of my body brace. Then a wide rigid plate was made, rubber covered steel I think, and that was similarly attached, by multiple straps, to the back and front of my body brace. By the time all the straps were pulled as tight as the nurses could manage (the narrow understrap could still be tightened after the crotch plate was attached because the crotch plate did not cover the buckle) I was barely able to walk, for the crotch place was about 5 inches wide at its narrowest, and unless I moved very gingerly it would leave me with wheals where it rubbed against my thighs - even through the rubber bloomers, 'panty-girdle', and layers of nappy. Believe me - the panty girdles were very unpleasant, the way they held the sodden nappies in constant contact with your crotch, but the crotch plate was many times worse. Not that I escaped that - I still had to wear a panty girdle, both under and over the rubber bloomers. If you were unlucky enough to be moved to the 'dirty dormitory' then your nappies were usually only changed at bedtime each day. Your dirty nappy and liner were removed and replaced with a 'clean', but still urine soaked, nappy and liner. The dirty nappy was [sometimes] not placed in the nappy bucket until the next morning.
We deviants had our own dormitory, and normally we would never be moved to another - they didn't want any chance of our corrupting the other girls - but the 'dirty dormitory' was an exception - we could be transferred there, and often were.
But punishment nappies were not usually the first disciplinary measure, of that type, a new girl would encounter. They would usually work up to it. My own first experience was when I came back from the bathroom, shivering from a long cold bath. On this occasion I was not wearing a jacket - though often we would wear our jackets in the bath - and as I stood next to 'my' bed the nurse pulled down the cover, and the rubber sheet below it, to reveal the bed made up with urine soaked, sheets and pillowcases - obviously sopping wet, not just damp. It was a very unpleasant experience indeed, though it became even more unpleasant when I was instructed to remove my nightgown and take the gown from beneath the pillow and put it on. Besides being wet and very cold, it too, was saturated in urine. Getting into it was no easy task because the material would keep sticking to itself and the nurse had to help me, much to her annoyance. When told to get into the bed I soon found that the indentation I made rapidly filled with cold urine. It was only an introduction, but that night, and the following nights pent in that bed were very unpleasant”.
Life Behind the Barred Window
“Under the circumstances you describe and giving your average rebellious teenager (and particularly taking into account the time scale you seem to imply) the temptation must have been to simply walk out. I imagine, therefore, all this would have taken place in a secure, locked ward. In which case I would be fascinated to learn of the security precautions?"
"Yes, I was always kept in a locked ward and would have had to pass through a large number of locked doors to get out. The windows in the dayroom were beyond the line that demarked where we could go so I could not see very much out of them, but on a couple of occasions I was able to sneak a look. On at least one of those occasions I could see patients being taken for a walk outside - but I was never afforded that privilege. We were high up - the 3rd floor I'd guess and the windows were barred, so there was not much chance of getting out that way.
The only times I ever left my ward, where I ate, slept, performed my ablutions, and recreated, was to visit my therapist, the therapy room, or the brace shop - and on all such occasions I was securely fastened into a wheelchair that had a top similar to a pram that could be pulled up, and in my case, pulled down, so that I could see nothing of my surroundings as I was moved between locations.
But I could usually still hear what was going on and it was clear that the nurses from my ward were not able to open many of the doors themselves - they were dependent upon getting assistance from others who would only do so if they recognized 'my' nurse. In fact when there was a new nurse on my ward she would have to leave the ward with one of the old-time nurses in order to be introduced to and later recognized by these 'gatekeeper' nurses.
So stealing keys would not have taken me very far. Besides, escape attempts were punished. One girl was already in a full bodycast for attempting to leave the ward when I arrived and she spent another 2 or 3 months in it before she was released. After that she wore heavy leg callipers (click to view pic on Eric Kroll's site) and only moved around with great difficulty. I don't know if the callipers were necessary because she had lost muscle strength or whether they were just an additional punishment or precaution against any future escape attempt. If it was punishment, she wouldn't have been the only girl punished in that way - there were several girls wearing leg braces and other orthopaedic devices that were made for them in the brace shop as punishment for some infraction or other.
I suppose I could have tried asking if I could go out for a walk, but I knew the answer would be no. And the nurses on the ward did not encourage questions (my oft gagged state bore silent witness to that) and we soon learnt that asking questions would lead to punishment. Equally my therapist did not welcome questions, and even in my sessions I was usually gagged. She would say that she had no interest in my opinions, or my lies, only in the measurable results of my treatment. She said that nodding yes or no when she asked a question was quite sufficient. Of course as you might imagine, not being able to ask questions, or even try to clarify what she meant by a statement or question, and not be able to give a more complex answer than yes or no was incredibly frustrating, and I would often leave those sessions screaming to myself from frustration and the feeling that I had been manipulated into nodding yes or no to something I didn't really agree to. For instance I might have to answer yes or no to a general question and then she would assume that I had said yes or no to a much more specific question - one that I would have answered differently had the more specific question been asked.
Kneeling at the Wall Bars
The only book we deviants were allowed to read was the bible and I had little interest in it or religion. The closest I came to 'education' was writing assignments where I had to copy out tracts from the bible - often the same tract every day for a month. I wasn't very keen on the extended prayers we had to say before bed - which was just one reason I sometimes found myself strapped to the climbing bars the next day. I have no idea why the dayroom would have climbing bars in it - maybe in the original hospital design (I'm sure it was designed as a mental hospital) it was a gymnasium - or perhaps the architect thought climbing bars in the dayroom would be a good idea - but whatever the reason they were there - but no longer used for their original purpose. Now they were a useful place to 'plant' troublesome patients. I often found myself being 'planted' there for the day. I would have to kneel facing them while I was securely strapped to them - with nothing to look at besides the wall behind them, and then my lower legs would be folded up behind me and strapped there so that I was left kneeling on my knees all day.
For the girls on regular diets, being restrained somewhere for the day meant that you would miss a meal or two - meals that were sorely missed judging by their reactions. But for anybody on a 'special' diet, their meals would be saved for them and they would have to eat any missed meals the next day. After a two-day fast, or longer, the 'extra' food might take a couple of days to consume.
"The possibility of the nurses manipulating the results of the tests is a particularly interest aspect; along with denial being virtually taken as symptom and backed up by results guaranteed to prove the point and assuming that the length of stay is dependent on a cure (of a condition not present in the first place) it must have been quite difficult to get out once admitted in one can't wonder whether one or two inmates (for want of a better term) may simply been admitted as a matter of convenience (or even amusement perhaps) to some one or other."

"Well, for me it proved impossible until the program was ended - and even then it was difficult. As for people being admitted as a matter of convenience, you might almost consider me one. Of course there is almost always an excuse - or at least a veneer of an excuse - but when you scratch it you often find there is nothing really there. There is no doubt that people were committed for the most trivial reasons - you only have to read the newspapers from the years when the hospitals were being closed to find long lists of people that had been committed for 'being at risk' (aka too pretty) or difficult (didn't get on with new stepmother). The lists went on and on. And it's probably only because the hospitals have closed down that people are no longer being committed for trivial reasons and as a matter of convenience. Of course there are other avenues available nowadays. There are plenty of 'schools' and 'programs' available for 'troubled' teens in far-flung corners of the world, where the authorities cannot intervene. And some of them sound little better than my program. Well, ok, they do sound a bit better than that. "

No comments: