Margie said she had called Mother and Dad about my incarceration who were naturally extremely shocked, but said they could not leave that day but would arrive on the third day after my commitment. I knew that was going to be a very difficult encounter, so there was no use talking about anything until I had gotten through that.
Mother and Dad arrived at the psych ward sometime in the afternoon of the third day. Dr. Davis, the in-hospital Intern, had just taken over my case, and would have seen them. They came rushing into my room, and I had the awful realization, seeing the looks on their faces, that I was not going to be able to talk to them. They both looked extremely agitated and angry as though at last they were going to get an explanation out of me. I knew they would be highly reactive to any reason I could give them, and nothing whatsoever would be accomplished. They were as bad or worse than anybody else I had felt forced to quit talking to because they were way too angry under the circumstances.
I was becoming exhausted from not having slept and from the strain I had been experiencing in the psych ward, and for weeks before that. I could feel the fatigue that had once frightened me so badly years before flickering around the edges of my being, threatening to envelop me like an ominous black shadow. I had to save my strength to fight the doctors. Something was wrong with me. Electric shock could kill me!
I simply could not respond to my parents. I turned my face away toward the wall. Mother became instantly enraged and practically leaped across the room as though to grab me and force me to talk. I could feel her thinking, "You are not going to be allowed to disrespect me like this!"
Daddy stopped her and made her go back to the other side of the room with him. Then he got her to go outside with him. They did not return.
Later, Dr. Davis, who was still confused about what was considered wrong with me, said that my parents said I would not talk to them. Was there any reason for that?
I told him that they were demanding explanations which I did not have the strength to give them that they would not have been able to accept, in any case. I could picture a family squabble going on in the psych ward, all of us screaming and shouting at the top of our lungs as heated accusations were flung back and forth between each other. I said, "Mother tried to force me to talk, but Daddy stopped her." He nodded and did not pursue the matter any further.
The next day Margie came by to ask me why I had not talked to Mother and Dad. I said, "You know how they are. They were neither calm or rational. Mother was going to force me to talk to her. Isn't that inappropriate behavior for a family member in a psych ward? They have to stop acting like maniacs somewhere. Why not start now?"
"Daddy thinks you are really sick," said Margie, on the verge of tears, although it would have been very hard for her to cry, as she was extremely tough from surviving some very scary bouts of asthma. "Mother said he cried all night and said it was all his fault!"
"It is time he started taking some responsibility," I said, "But I could not take a chance on either one of them being calm and sensible for five minutes."
"I am just wondering when you will refuse to talk to me," Margie said.
"As long as you don't waste my energy arguing with me I will talk to you," I said.
I did not want to tell Margie that I was afraid of the fatigue that I thought could at any point start overwhelming me. I did not want to tell her I thought things were going to get worse because I simply did not know, but I had a very good idea they would.
I brought up electric shock to Dr. Davis on the morning of my fourth day. He looked uncomfortable but said that I should probably prepare myself for a series of treatments. I immediately suspected that he had been instructed to get Mother and Dad's written permission for my shock treatment while they were there. Of course they would have signed anything at that point. I expected they would have been scared into it from me not talking to them, if nothing else. Not talking to them had been a risk. I could alienate them. They would no longer be my allies, especially Mother who never forgave or forget what she considered a slight. But I did not think I had any other choice, they were so over emotional.
Did the doctors imagine my parents were sane? No, I am sure psychiatrists were very accustomed to the whole family of a patient showing signs of insanity, too, but I was the one who had been incarcerated, so as my legal parents they were required to sign for my treatment.
I said, "But I won't agree to have it. There is something wrong with me. I don't think I should have electric shock treatment. I am afraid it might kill me."
Dr. Davis looked even more uncomfortable but waited for further explanation. I tried to explain about feeling that my fatigue years before signaled the onset of a disease like leukemia. I thought I was going to die, but when school started and I was able to sit down most of the day I started to get better. I said I thought this fatigue stemmed from a strange virus I got a year or so before which nobody else in town had. I thought I developed it because I was the most stressed kid in town."
"Did your parents know about this?"
"No, I decided I would wait until I collapsed. I didn't want to face the fact I might have a fatal disease. Besides, they might have thought I was just trying to get out of work, since the only symptom I was experiencing at that point was fatigue. But it was a fatigue so bad it scared me. I could hardly drag myself out of bed in the morning. A night's rest didn't seem to do me any good."
Dr. Davis looked faintly dubious but he said that he would call Dr. Branch and ask that he let me explain to him my fears about having electric shock therapy. He must have been somewhat concerned because he came back almost immediately and said that I was to see Dr. Branch that afternoon, which was the 4th day. He would give me 20 minutes, since he was an extremely busy man.
In the meantime Dr. Davis wanted me to join a therapist who was on the ward at this very time to conduct a round table with some of the patients. Maybe I could sit in on that and express some of my misgivings about shock treatment.
I soon found a way to bring it up, saying that I thought it might be detrimental to my health, and I was upset because I had been told I could not refuse shock treatment. A heavy set woman probably in her early fifties spoke up, "Oh you don't have to be afraid of electric shock. I have had 200 electric shock treatments!"
I was so taken back by this strong endorsement of shock treatment, that I could not help but explain out loud at the very number. "Two hundred electric shock treatments!!"
I had already witnessed the extreme mental confusion of several patients when they returned from treatments. They looked pretty out of it to me, but I had been assured they would feel better after a while. In a few weeks they would regain their memories.
As near as I could tell the theory was although they did not quite know what electric shock did, it took the patient out of their present reality so that an obsessive line of thinking could be interrupted. After the patient recovered they were often relieved of a heavy burden of worry and anxiety that had led to hospitalization. Why wouldn't that be good for me?
The point was I did not want to stop thinking about the problems that had beset me and my family for years, because otherwise how would we be able to make progress in solving them? I was just getting a good start.
My dad was now being confronted for the first time by people of authority, after a lot of thinking and effort on my part to get him to this point somehow. He was having to face what years of stress had done to me, mostly caused by him. What was wrong with that? I had done what I set out to do, found a way to force him to some accountability.
Dr. Davis did not even know about the molesting yet, but I planned to tell him as soon as I got the chance. That is what I thought I could do in a psych ward. I could take advantage of the protection afforded me in there by walls and locked doors and could tell secrets and reveal being the victim of sexual crimes I had not dared to talk about before. Daddy had always screamed and shouted when anybody got too close to a subject he did not want talked about. He had seen his dad do the same thing for years.
My hot tempered Grandfather Wilson terrorized the whole family into saying absolutely nothing to him about his womanizing. Men who caused big problems in their families acted like this. But electric shock treatment was going to be a big distraction for me and possibly very dangerous.
I went to my appointment with Dr. Branch that afternoon and talked as fast as I could for 20 minutes presenting my case against having electric shock. Dr. Branch did not say anything. He asked a question or two and dismissed me.
The morning of the fifth day Dr. Davis came in to talk to me around 9:o'clock. He said that Dr. Branch had still not gotten back to him yet. I knew that meant that I should continue to prepare for a series of shock treatments. The longer Dr. Branch went without communicating to Dr. Davis that he would not order shock treatment the more chance I thought there was that he was going to prescribe it for me.
Why? How much more articulate could I be when given the chance to say why I objected to it. But I was pretty sure that Dr. Branch looked at it as though I questioned, a mere girl of 20, the whole idea of shock treatment. This of course was before drug therapy was developed. At that time, electric shock was the generally prescribed treatment and is still used. Everybody on that ward was getting shock treatment or were being transferred to the state mental hospital and would receive shock treatment there. I thought it was just assumed, even from the fact I had been committed, that I was deemed mentally ill enough to require shock treatment.
The cheekiness of objecting to shock treatment was going to irritate Dr. Branch, of course. But this was enforced treatment which went against my grain, especially after all the effort I had been making to assert myself with my own thinking. I did not think I needed electric shock treatment. I thought it might be very dangerous for me. So why did I have to have it? I could have asked that all day. I did not think I fit the criteria of being mentally ill. I was not helpless. What more could I do to deal with problems I had been faced with since birth into a very troubled family. How much better could I cope?
I went into the day room and was sitting there around 11:30 a.m. That is when I started thinking about how to stop Dr. Branch from prescribing shock treatment for me some other way. I simply could not wait until he had given the order and attendants came to get me. It would be too late to stop them.
I had to keep control of the situation at all costs. How could I do it? It occurred to me that I could go on strike, I could not take a deeper breath until he agreed to let me leave this hospital without electric shock therapy. I no sooner thought this than I could feel my body lock up with the simple effort of not taking a deeper breath. It was going to hurt, but a voice manifested within me, which seemed to be like a guide's that activated as soon as there was a life or death crisis. The voice said that there was always a slim chance that electric shock would kill me instantly. Or if it did not kill me could do considerable damage to me. The voice went on to say that if I kept my dying in my own hands I might be able to come back with less damage, that I could do it, I had been exerting my will for months. Now was not the time to relinquish control to them.
So just like that, my body movement froze and I started dying. I do not think this could ever have happened if I had not had that earlier frightening bout with severe fatigue years before. Severe fatigue was what was affecting me now making this solution seem like the only option I had left to stop the treatments. I was being guided to do this to save my own life. But most people survived shock, another part of me reasoned. The guide voice said, but for you this is punishment for trying to speak out in a long series of similar punishments that have silenced you for years. You do not see electric shock as something that will help you get well. You see it as a means of torture to subdue an uppity young female who is trying to assert herself in a man's world. That is why it is so dangerous for you. You have taken enough punishment for trying to speak out. You cannot take a lot more. You have reached the breaking point.
I realized that we can die when we decide it might be time. If I had to die I was going to be in charge, not them. I was not going to be dragged kicking and screaming to my death. I was going to choose death when I had no other choice left.
By this time my fixed position and some saliva that was now running down my chin had attracted the attention of attendants. They called for assistance and half dragged me to my room. They laid me on the bed with my eyes still open and fixed, half conscious. I could see and hear everything, I was just locked into one position and could not speak.
I thought of how upset Dr. Davis would be to see me like this after the intense talk we had had a couple of nights ago. I was never conscious of him in the room, even though he was called. I could only see the wall of my bedroom the way my body was positioned. So I would not have known he was there if he observed me silently from my off side.
I knew that Dr. Davis could not get me out of this fixed position and now dying and neither could Dr. Branch. It was too late. I was going to have to spend a long afternoon of dying to convince them they had to give up the idea of shock treatment.
Dying was painful, but I was so convinced that in the end it would save me I was able to endure it. I didn't know how long I was going to have to die, but I would just have to endure it as long as I could. I could not stop what I was doing either. This was what dying was all about.
I had reached the breaking point. I was dying because I could no longer live with all this happening to me. There had been all kinds of warnings. Don't get fatigued past this point. You must rest. You must not get too stressed.
I thought my nervous system had been damaged from years of crisis. I had barely been able to stave off a crisis when I was twelve. Another week or two of work and stress would probably have caused my collapse. So now my strength had been exhausted again. I had come to end of my strength to fight a conscious battle and had frozen up. I would just have to wait and see if I could survive this. And going to this extreme was bound to cause some permanent damage. Once a nurse came and lifted up my eyelid and said to someone else,"She has been like this all afternoon."
Gradually over the afternoon my sight began to fade. Darkness was coming on. I was not able to see any more. Approximately four hours after I began to freeze up, another change in my physical condition occurred. Some loud involuntary sounds emitted from deep in my throat that brought nurses and attendants running.
They hovered over me asking me if I was having a nightmare. No, it was not me who had voluntarily made those noises. I realized when they all left it had been my body in the last few moments of breathing. After the sounds stopped, my breathing stopped. I had never taken a deeper breath all afternoon. I could not.
I could tell none of the people who had responded to the noises had ever seen a mental patient in this kind of crisis because they did not take my vital signs, and left with no idea that I had ceased to breathe. They thought I was having a normal nightmare!
From what I could gather later Dr. Branch had told Dr. Davis I was having a catatonic seizure and just to leave me alone. Which was why no doubt my vital signs were not taken. Dr. Branch never appeared on the ward to my knowledge after I seized up.
I could feel my heart straining from lack of oxygen. It felt like it was soon going to break.
And then I simply could not do this anymore. As my strength to keep on living had failed, my strength to keep on dying failed. I was able to take up the idea of living again. I was no longer unable to do anything but die. I could start living again because I had done all I could do. If they gave me electric shock now they would know beyond a shadow of a doubt it could kill me.
I sat up and when the nurse came in, she said, "Oh, you are awake now." And a little later on she bought me some dinner and I ate some of it.
I asked if Dr. Davis had gone home. The nurse told me that yes, she believed he had, but she said, "He sat by your bedside for two hours. He will be back in the morning. But I am going to call and tell him that you are up and eating. He wanted to know if there was any change in your condition."