Oakley Hospital in the early 1970s was an awesome (in the correct sense of the word or maybe awful) place. I mean that it inspired awe of a not very positive kind. It was dark, gloomy and its very walls seemed to echo with the patients’ terror. In particular the closed wards of M3 and F3 were gruesome, I thought, when I worked there in the 1970s.
It was my first real job out of university, and paid the grand sum of $80 per week. I was a trainee nurse and part of my job was to attend post-ect patients. My friend who also worked here had to escort ‘known homosexuals’ to the aversion clinic for their doses of pain meant to eliminate their ‘anti social tendencies’ and ‘cure’ them. Small wonder he left, being of the same ‘anti social’ persuasion. Some of our lot were incarcerated for drug dependency and one died on the very steps before he was admitted.
So. In the T. C Boyle episode I seem to be in (and with reference to a previous post about The storm at the door ) I delved into the story of Stanley McCormick and his long life of ‘insanity” – Riven Rock. There has also been in my life recently an identity muddled person who seems at last to have drifted off.
Stanley was the son of the inventor of the reaper harvester and thus very rich. His mother had already lost an aged husband, a daughter to ‘insanity’ and two children to illness, so it seems she clung rather too much to Stanley, creating a young man with severe Oedipus phobias about sex, and filled with self-disgust about the very act of sex and all it entails. The solution to his increasingly deranged antics, precipitated by marriage, was to shut him away from women for 24 years.
The book follows the parallel stories of three people: Stanley, his wife and that of O’Kane, a strikingly handsome womaniser who is Stanley’s chief nurse. We encounter ‘sheet windings’, ‘talking therapies’ and other efforts at cure. None succeed in the end.
Like other T. C Boyle books it is based on the lives of real people. Stanley’s wife Katherine becomes a leader in the suffragette movement and a strong proponent of women’s right to control their fertility.
One of those books that makes you glad things have improved, sad about how awful these illnesses were for so many and appalled that people can treat each other in this way.Mind you now I’m reading Tortilla Curtain and that causes other worries of awfulness.
Image: Original uploader was Ingolfson at en.wikipedia
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