A few days ago there was a report in the Austin Chronicle about a woman who had died in a nursing home due to an embolism caused by enforced inertia. She had been in restraints for at least 48 hours. At first, when I read this I thought, “Ah ha, if it had been me I would have done whatever they wanted to escape the restraints.” Then I read on, the nursing staff reported that they had her in restraints because she kept pulling out her feeding tube. “Hmm,” I thought, “I would have done the same thing!” The good news is that the home is now forbidden to use feeding tubes, and, I hope, unnecessary restraints.
I have an ongoing horror at what ordinary people can do to each other under the guise of authority. I suggest that this is possible when individuals become part of a crowd and lose their uniqueness and essence to become repetitive cogs in an impersonal system.
The Chronicle narrative threw me back forty years to the UK in the early 1970s and a newspaper report in which the reporter told a story of a woman who had been in a mental asylum for fifty years. She had been committed because she was having a baby out of wedlock. In the report the authorities were attempting to put her back into society; but, after fifty years in an institution, she couldn’t cope. At the time I was so appalled by this story of a person who was denied her individuality and life by the “kindness” of a state institution that I wrote the following narrative prose / poem. I post it in the hope that it has relevance today.
Nineteen years-old, youthful, free,
A crystal drop in the midst of her family,
She lived, happy and content,
Among her many siblings.
Daily she tramped to work on a factory floor,
One in a milling multitude.
No-one knew her as she was,
No, not even her mother,
Who, working with her rough hands,
Hardly stopped to see her womanhood.
So, her individuality remained lost in the crowd.
Until, one day, he came. Just a simple man,
But, he saw her young breasts pressing against her linen,
Saw her long thin legs moving free under her skirts,
And, seeing these, he stepped closer to find her.
Eclipsing her world and transforming the many to two,
And love, coming fast, swept them both away,
Whirling them in a frenzy of emotion,
To loose, even themselves, in each other.
Two people closely united to create a third.
And, by that third she lost her happiness and freedom.
She wandered, homeless, rejected,
Wishing to be befriended by death,
She was only assisted by the State.
So, cruelly delivered of her child,
She was certified insane to be locked away.
Years passed by stealing her ardor and her youth,
They left a shell to be found fifty years later.
Not a romantic sleeping beauty,
She is now old, hardly alive,
Wishing to finish her sentence,
And, like a zombie, die depraved of life.
For her body is exhausted,
And inactivity has dulled her mind to emptiness.
Copyright © Jane Stansfeld, June 2013