Grier King, Staff Writer
In this life there are many options. Two of the most basic are between being just and not. Many consider war unjust, like a legal institution of methodically rampant murder and chaos, a logarithmic spiral of hatred, concentrated at first at a single point, then spreading to reach the masses. However, there are many who consider war a moral and patriotic obligation, necessary to secure freedom and one’s God-given rights.
Many revolutionaries began their work with just intentions, their idealistic visions of society eventually giving way to torturous administrations and extreme inequality. Faust said it best when he decided that killing the elderly couple he had been trying to help (albeit with ulterior, self-interested motives) was the best solution when they graciously declined his offers, “Marred at its height is our success, by merely willful stubbornness, so that in angry, deep disgust, one tires of being just.”
The Camarillo State Mental Hospital began in the same manner of vision as the work of such aforementioned revolutionaries. Well-meaning doctors, nurses and psychologists entered the primitively researched realm of mental health care with good hearts, yet insufficient knowledge. In many cases, when dealing with the mentally ill, insufficient knowledge can lead quickly to frustration, then to desperation. At one time, the Camarillo State Hospital was the largest and most populated mental hospital in the world. When the hospital opened in 1936, it was home (or purgatory, depending on who you ask) to 410 patients. In 1957, the patient population had grown to a staggering 7,000 plus individuals.
Leave aside the numbers now. William Lukes, M.D. was an on-call surgeon at the hospital, beginning in the late 1950s until his death in 1996, although his family says that he would have worked there until it closed in 1997. His son recalled for me, in a somber tone, “He didn’t talk about two things in his life…the war…or the hospital.” Yet, when he did mention it, “He said it was all…objective, real mechanical. No emotion or anything.” The hospital was always on the cutting-edge of treatment and techniques for cure, practicing only the best methods on their patients. Of course, these days, we stand aghast when we hear what was done…
Lobotomies were a common practice, in which a tool resembling an ice pick was driven into the frontal lobes with a hammer underneath the top eye-lid, severing chords and not curing an individual of an illness, but instead altering their personality altogether so that the symptoms of mental illness were no longer noticeable. There was also hydroshock therapy, during which a patient would be submerged in a tub full of water, connected to wires emitting electric currents. Then came insulin shock therapy, when a patient would be injected with large amounts of insulin, intended to induce a coma, that is, after hours of convulsing and other sufferings. Alas, there were also chemical druggings (intended to render a patient incoherent), even restraints and isolation rooms.
The Camarillo State Hospital became infamous after a number of patients mysteriously died over a few short years, doctors citing the patients’ illness or some other fault. The court, however, cited staff negligence. The greatest insight to the quality of the staff came when a patient was discovered dead just hours after admitting himself in order to rid his life from his dependency on drugs and alcohol. The man walked in with an already toxic mixture of alcohol and other substances in his body, only to be subjected to injections of several different heavy tranquilizers. He was found with his hands in leather handcuffs, tied down to a wheelchair, marks of strangulation apparent on his neck. When a staff member was questioned in court about the case, he pleaded the fifth. He was afraid that the knowledge he held would incriminate him.
In retrospect, an objective observer can look at a situation and see the just decision as blatantly apparent—the obvious choice—the only choice. However, to those involved in any mysterious period of time, where unjust things were done and humans revert to the traits society and culture has tried to weed out of us, when desperation truly means that anything may happen, it is perfectly understandable how one may “tire..of being just.”
To be continued….