Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dice Man - Chapter Twenty

In November I received a telephone call from Dr. Mann informing me that Eric Cannon had been acting up while I'd been away a week at a convention in Houston, that it had bees necessary to increased his medication (tranquilizers) and would I please make a special trip over as soon as possible and see him. Eric might have to be transferred to another institution. In my temporary office on the Island I read through Head Nurse Herbie Flamm's report on Eric Cannon.
It had a kind of novelistic power that Henry James sought for fifty years without finding: It is necessary to report that Patient Eric Cannon is a troublemaker. There haven't been many patients in my lifetime that I would have to label that, but this is one. Cannon is a consciously evil troublemaker. He is disturbing the other patients. Although I have always kept this one of the quietest [sic] wards on the island, since he has been here it is noisy and a mess. Patients who haven't said a word in years now can't shut up. Patients that have stood always in the same corner now play pitch and catch with chairs. Many of the patients are now singing and laughing. This disturbs the patients who want peace and quiet to get better. Someone keeps destroying the television set. I think Mr. Cannon is schizophrenic. Sometimes he wanders around the ward nice and quiet like he was in a dreamworld and other times he sneaks around like a snake, hissing at me and the patients like he was the boss of the ward and not me.
Unfortunately he has followers. Many patients are now refusing sedation. Some do not go to the machine shop for factory therapy. Two patients confined to wheelchairs have pretended to walk. Patients are showing disrespect for the hospital food. When one man was ill to his stomach, another patient began eating the vomit, claiming it tasted much
better that way. We do not have enough maximum security rooms on the ward. Also patients who are refusing or not swallowing their sedation will not stop singing and laughing when we politely ask. Disrespect is everywhere. I have sometimes had the feeling on the ward that I do not exist. I mean to say no one pays attention any more. My attendants are often tempted to treat the patients with physical force but I remind them of the Hypocratic Oath. Patients will not stay in their beds at night. Talking with each other is going on. Meetings I think. They whisper. I do not know if there is a rule against this, but I recommend that a rule is made. Whispering is worse than singing.
We have sent several of his followers to ward W [the violent ward] but patient Cannon is tricky. He never does anything himself. I think he is spreading illegal d rugs on the ward but none have been found. He never does anything and everything is happening.
I have this to report. It is serious. On September 10, at 2.30 P.M. in the Main Room right in front of the destroyed and lifeless television set, a large group of patients began hugging each other. They had a circle with their arms around each other and they were humming or moaning and kept getting closer and humming and swaying or pulsating like a giant jellyfish or human heart and they were all men. They did this and attendant R. Smith attempted to break them up but their circle was very strong. I attempted to break their circle also as gently as I could but as I was so endeavoring the circle suddenly opened and two men physically clamped me with their arms and hands and I was drawn against my total will into the horrible circle. It was disgusting beyond my ability to say.
The patients showed no respect but continued their illegal hugging until four attendants from ward T plus R. Smith rescued me by breaking up the circle as gently as they could, unfortunately accidentally breaking my arm (the lower tibia minor, I believe).
This event is typical of the poor conditions which have developed on our ward since patient Cannon came. He was in the circle but since there were eight, Dr. Vener said we couldn't send them all to ward W. Hugging is also not technically against the rules which again shows the need for more thinking.
The boy never talks to me. But I hear. Among the patients I have friends. They say he is against mental hospitals. You should know that. They say he is the ringleader of all the trouble. That he is trying to make all the patients happy and not pay attention to us. They say he says that patients ought to take aver the hospital. That he says even if he leaves them he will come back. These patients, my friends, say this.
Because of the facts what I have written I must respectfully recommend to you;
(1) That all sedation be given by needle to prevent patients from falsely swallowing their tranquilizers and remaining active and noisy during the day.
(2) That all illegal drugs should be strictly forbidden.
(3) That strict rules be developed and enforced regarding singing, laughing, whispering, and hugging.
(4) That a special iron mesh cage be developed to protest the television set and that its cord go directly from the set which is ten feet off the floor to the ceiling to protect the wire from those who would deny the television set to those
who want to watch it. This is freedom of speech. The iron mesh must form about inch wide squares, thick enough to prevent flying objects from entering and smashing the screen but letting people still see the TV screen although with a waffle-griddle effect. The TV must go on.
(5) Most important. That patient Eric Cannon be transferred respectfully someplace else.
Head Nurse Flamm sent this report to myself, Dr. Varier, Dr. Mann, Chief Supervisor Hennings, State Mental Hospital Director Alfred Coles, Mayor John Lindsay and Governor Nelson Rockefeller. - I had seen Eric only three times since my Jesus session with him and he had been extremely tense each time and done very little talking, but when he walked into my office that afternoon he came as quietly as a lamb into a grassy meadow.
He moved to the window and stared out. He was wearing blue jeans, a rather soiled T-shirt, sneakers and a gray hospital shirt, unbuttoned. His hair was quiet long, but his skin was paler than it had been in September. After about a minute -he turned and lay down on the short couch to the left of the desk.
`Mr. Flamm,' I said, `reports that he believes that you are stirring up the patients to - improper behavior.'
To my surprise he answered right away.
'Yeah, improper. Bad. Lousy. That's me,' he said, staring at he green ceiling. `It took me a long time to realize what the bastards are up to, to realize that the good-game is their most effective method of keeping their fucking system going.
When I did, it made me rage against the way I'd been fooled. All my kindness and forgiveness and meekness just let the system step on everybody all the more comfortably. Love is groovy if it's for good guys but to love the fuzz, love
the army; love Nixon, love the church, whoa man, that is one lost trip.'
While he was speaking I took out my pipe and began filling it with marijuana. When he finally paused I said: `Dr. Mann indicates that if Flamm continues to complain you'll have to be transferred to Ward W.'
`Oh, boohoohoo,' he said, not looking at me. `It's all the same. It's a system, you see. A machine. You work hard to keep the machine going, you're a good guy; you goof off or try to stop the machine and you're a commie or a loony.
The machine may be blowing blacks under like weeds, or scattering ten-ton bombs over Vietnam like firecrackers or overthrowing reform governments in Latin America every other month, but the old machine must be kept working. Oh man, when I saw this I vomited for a week. Locked myself in my room for six months.'
He paused and we both listened to the birds singing away among the maple trees outside the building. I lit the pipe and took a deep toke. I exhaled, the smoke drifting idly in his direction.
`And all that time I began slowly to feel that something important was going to happen to me, that I was chosen for some special mission. I had only to fast and to wait. When I bopped my father in the face and was sent here I knew even more certainly that something was going to happen. Knew it.' He stopped talking and sniffed twice. I took another drag on my pipe.
`Has anything happened yet?' I asked.
He watched me take another lungful and then settled back onto the couch. He reached into kiss hair and brought out a home made joint.
`Got a match?' he said.
'If you're going to smoke, share mine,' I said.

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