Friday, September 30, 2011
In 1979 I was working my first job in the in field of Psychiatry at a place that was both a Harvard Teaching and Massachusetts State Mental Hospital. Massachusetts Mental Heath Center known simply as Mass Mental was a few blocks away from both my apartment and Mass Art., the school where I had just spent the last few years.
Repeated viewings of films such as "The Snake Pit" and "Shock Corridor" did not prepare me for the reality of such a place.
Rodents and cockroaches, crumbling walls and shortages of things like towels were an everyday experience. Violent attacks and worse were common.
To continue the film metaphors, the melodramatic tableau of Christmas Mass at Mass Mental was a cross between Luis Buñuel and Fellini.
I led my charges to the little used and ill maintained chapel in the bowels of the building.
At the decaying pulpit was a slovenly priest, his red bleary eyes barely open, the stench of alcohol plain across the room. The mumbling Mass was hardly discernible above the babbling Bedlam of the parishioners. Into this cinematic vision strode a little man parting the crowd like the Red Sea. Though he was small of stature his visual impact was impressive .The haunted other worldly look combined with his hospital robe, long dirty blond hair and beard, gave the impression of a renaissance painting of the Son o' God, - interpreted by a Surrealist.
Sudden manic laughter drew my attention to a corner.
A wild eyed man taunted his attendant.
"Swallow that!", demanded the exasperated Mental Health Worker.
There on the end of a waggling tongue that would make a heavy metal guitarist proud was a communion host.
I have racked up about 30 years now in the strange world of Psychiatry, and oh, the many things these weary eyes have seen.