Caring for the Forgotten, Ignored, and Demonized

Life on the Not-so-Violent Ward. These people are human beings, just like the rest of us.

This is not a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” story. There are no Nurse Ractheds in this true story. This is a brief biographical sketch of my mother’s career. 

For twenty-two years, until her retirement, my mother worked as a mental health technician in a state mental hospital. When she first started work there, she was a “floater,” working on different wards. After she’d put in a few months my mother was assigned to the violent ward. By the time my mother went to work at the hospital, they had stopped doing the kinds of “treatments” depicted in the movie re. It was all group therapy by then.

My mother (in the middle) and her co-workers on break in the hospital. In the early days they were required to wear uniforms. Later they could wear “civvies.”

The hospital is still in operation, though in a much more restricted way than it did then. It has handsome, sturdy brick buildings and stands on beautiful, park-like grounds. The grounds aren’t as they used to be either. The greenhouses are closed. The little ravine with its rhododendron bushes, rill, and walking path is gone now.

My mother liked her work and she liked the people, including the patients, she worked with. It may have been called the violent ward, but the most violent thing that ever happened to her was getting her watchband broken while attempting to restrain an unruly patient. One of my mom’s co-workers did get beaten up one time, but as I recall, the woman didn’t even have to go to the hospital.

I visited my mom and the hospital a couple of times. The interior wasn’t nearly as nice as the exterior. It was pretty bleak, but it was quiet. There was no moaning, no screaming, nor cursing. The patients were actually better behaved than some so-called normal people today.

The patients liked my mother, too. There was a piano on the ward, so she took piano music to work with her and played for the patients.

In the early years, there was a farm across the road from the hospital where trusted patients were allowed to work. They would bring the produce they’d helped to grow and, like proud children, would show their veggies off to my mother, “Look, Mrs. Pedecis!”

Eventually, the farm was closed. State officials had decided that having the patients work on the farm was forced labor. My mother thought that was a pity, and I do, too. Working on the farm gave patients a sense of accomplishment and pride. A sense of normality. It also got them out of the bleak wards into the fresh air and sunshine. That may be the reason the greenhouses closed, too.

Other things also changed toward the end of my mother’s career. Some things go more lax, others go more rigid. Responsibilities that the mental health techs had been handling for decades were turned over to LPNs and RNs, making the techs feel like menial laborers. My mother could have worked for several more years, but these changes made her decide that it was time to retire.

There were one or two break-outs at the hospital. Nothing got broken. People would just walk away while out on an authorized, supervised group outing on the grounds. There were also a few attempts at break-ins and theft. “Oh, boy! Bread!” The ward was in a half-basement.

4 thoughts on “Caring for the Forgotten, Ignored, and Demonized”

  1. Did your mom take the photo of the racoons? So cute. It’s good to dispel some false ideas about working with the mentally ill, as you’ve done. As your mother did during her career.

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    1. She did. They’re adorable little bandits. Thanks, Judy. That’s what I thought, too. There are so many misconceptions. I think nothing worse than a broken watch band happened to my mom because the patients knew she liked them and treated them like anyone else.

      Liked by 1 person

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