Manic Memory

May 10, 2017
By IN3307h36 BRONZE, Murphysboro, Illinois
IN3307h36 BRONZE, Murphysboro, Illinois
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

It was 1963 when I began working at Topeka State Hospital, a mental health hospital in Topeka KN, at the age of 22. I had just finished Nursing School at Rasmussen College with my BSN and was ready to start my career in the medical field. I had always been interested in the Mental Health facilities, and I had a passion to help the mentally insane. That passion stemmed from my mother, who had Schizophrenia: a long-term mental disorder that involves the breakdown between thought, emotion, and behavior. Often times: leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions/feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation. My mother and I lived alone for most of my life after my father passed away during WWII. I was only 3 at the time, but I can vividly remember watching my mother go insane as the time went on. I guess that the death of my father brought on the Schizophrenia way too soon. My mother died my senior year of high school, leaving me alone in the world. I had no family to turn to. I was 18 so I could legally live on my own. Instead of falling flat on my face, I decided to make something of myself and succeed in life. I had always thought that a person with a mental disability would be better off living and being cared for in a mental hospital. But I had never been more wrong in my life. 
I had only worked a few shifts before I had my first terrifying encounter with a patient at the Hospital. It was a beautiful mid-May afternoon with the sun shining, and the wind blowing at just the right speed. That morning it had been nice enough for the windows to be opened, so a few nurses and I opened the windows in the common area. The sound of the birds singing in the distance, the patients visiting with each other and all the nurses doing their job with such love in their hearts was so heartwarming. I felt in that moment, that I was where I wanted to be and I was doing what God had intended for me to be doing. That is until I heard the one sound that will always and forever be engraved in my mind.
I was helping roll a patient that was in a wheelchair down to the common area to get some fresh air. His name was Mr. Collins, he had been in an accident with his garage door that fell on the back of his head, causing a severe brain injury that past year. He was admitted just a few weeks before I started the job. Once I got him comfortable I made a round around the room checking to see if any patient needed my assistance with anything. It was all so calm; I never would have believed that everything would flip in an instant. 
The sound of a blood curdling scream came from a patient's room down the hall. A shrill woman's voice screaming; "HELP ME! HE IS HURTING ME! I CAN'T GET AWAY! NO! NO! NO!" This sent another nurse and I running down the hall to find out what was wrong. When we got to the end of the hall, the screaming got louder and more urgent for help, we then turned the corner and rushed into room C105. Inside the room was a patient with the name of Sarah Sykes. She had been a patient at Topeka State Hospital for apparently 5 years. Her Doctor, Dr. Churling, was trying to administer medication for her Schizophrenic episode of hearing voices, telling her that someone was going to kill her and everyone else in the hospital. She was flailing her arms all around and getting quite violent. My adrenaline kicked in right as I stepped foot into the room. I ran behind her as she was screaming in such a high pitch that it felt like my ear drums were going to burst. I then grabbed her arms and restrained them to her backside and began speaking as calmly as possible into her ear.
This moment flashed me back to when I was about 17 years old and my mother was having an episode of mass hysteria in a Schizophrenic episode of her own. She was hearing voices saying that they would kill me right in front of her, just like they killed my father. As she began to scream and getting violent towards me, I would have to restrain her and speak in a calm tone; just like I was doing for Sarah. That always seemed to bring her back to reality. As I whispered into Sarah’s ear I remember my exact words. They were; "Shhh...Sarah, everything is okay. No one is here to hurt you. I'm here. I'll make sure you are safe. I won't let anyone hurt you. It's okay... Shhh...You’re alright." I kept repeating this to her until she stopped screaming and the doctor could administer the medication.
After the medication was injected by needle, Sarah stopped screaming, went into a state of calmness. We laid her down in her bed and strapped her in so that she could not move. As everyone was leaving the room, I told Dr. Churling that I would stay with her for a few minutes to make sure that everything was alright. After everyone was out of the room, I pulled a chair up next to Sarah’s bed. I sat there for about 5 minutes before I began to rub her head, letting her know that I was still there and she was safe. Just as I had done so many times for my own mother. And for some odd reason, I could see my mother in her. The way she was terrified of the voices, how she laid there with her eyes closed, and the hurt shown on her face. Just as I began to get up to leave the room, her eyes sprang open and she turned her head to me. The expression on her face had terror written all over it. She then said something that will always and forever be stuck in my memory. She said, "You must leave this place. Get out of here before it consumes your beautiful soul and changes you forever." Looking back, I wish I had listened and fled that awful place. But the truth is, I brushed the comment off as just a crazy woman saying things. As time went on, I began to realize that I should have listened to her.
Sarah passed away just 2 weeks later by jumping out of a window from the common area on the C floor, also known as the 3rd floor of the building. I guess she just couldn’t take it anymore. I was one of the nurses assigned to clean up her room and get it ready for the next patient to move in. As I was taking off her bed sheets, I removed the only pillow on the bed from its case, only to find that a note had fallen to the floor. I picked it up and it was a note that had my name on it. It said:
Dear Nurse Lorraine,
I am sorry that I am leaving on such short notice. I just can't take any more of this abuse. You are the only nurse that I feel that I can trust, so I am telling you a huge secret. I was originally a news reporter sent in this asylum to do an exposure story. I soon realized that I could not take this kind of living for long, so I wrote to my editor, I told him of all the horrors that were happening here. He soon called the owner of the facility, Sister Vicki Blake, telling her that our paper was going to shut her asylum down. Well, her and her team of doctors soon tied up all those loose ends. They made everyone believe that I was crazy, by making up my illness and administering a daily medication to make me seem out of my mind. It has worn off a bit from this morning, so I am writing this to you. I just don’t see any other way out of here, other than to just end it all. I am sorry, and I hope that you can find happiness in your life that I once threw away.
Elizabeth (Sarah) Sykes
About 2 years passed and things only got worse the longer I was there. So many terrible things would happen to so many patients on a daily basis that I eventually forgot why I had begun working at the Hospital at all. I had no emotion anymore. No love for the people, no empathy for their feelings, no backbone to stand up for the right and wrong. I felt as though I was a shadow, lurking in the lives of the insane, a demon sent by the devil to watch over and control their lives. I watched as the building got so overcrowded that there were beds with patients filing each side of the halls. The walls had grown dingy, the floors covered with leaves and dirt from the outside world, the lights in the halls burnt out, going weeks without being changed. Patients continuously screaming for help, food, a bath, or even just some physical contact with another human being. I remember seeing some patients that had been restrained to their beds for so long that their skin was beginning to grow over the restraints. I couldn’t even imagine seeing Sarah live in this condition. I carried the note she had wrote with me wherever I went. Thinking of her every day. I wish she would have told me instead of only seeing death as the answer. I could have gotten her out, had I just known. By the end of the 3rd year, I realized that I had to get out of that terrible place, for both Sarah’s and I sake. To find that happiness, so that’s what I’ve done.

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.


MacMillan Books

Aspiring Writer? Take Our Online Course!