Tedda, I can’t stop thinking about you. I read your article in yesterday’s paper about being released, in 1974, from the Michener Centre hospital. You had been unjustly imprisoned for nearly 20 years. I worked at that hospital while you were there. I am sorry, I don’t remember you. There were so many patients back then. Were you one of the silent ones, I often saw, your forehead pressed tightly against a tiny window, planning your escape?”
You write that, without warning, you were taken from the quiet farm you were brought up on and sent to live at the hospital. You couldn’t even ask why. Words, that sounded clear inside your head, became garbled when they came out of your mouth You were sent to a hospital for mental defectives because you were born with cerebral palsy. You were 15 years old.
We were both young women, in our twenties, when I started working at the hospital. I was fresh out of university, inadequately armed with my family ingrained stiff upper lip, politeness, and compassion. You had already been a patient for 14 years. I find myself walking those accursed grounds again, this time in my mind, tracing your probable journey. It was common to most patients.
Before you had time to unpack your bags, Dr. LeVann, the head of the hospital, sent you to have your appendix out . You were long overdue for sterilization. I worked at the teenagers’ cottage, Linden House. I remember a pretty 17-year-old patient who often told me of her plans to get married and have children. She didn’t know that she had been sterilized at 14. I hid my tears when she showed me her appendix scar.
Your parents came to see you once a week, on visiting day, for a few weeks. Each time, you thought they were going to take you home. After a few months they never came back. You waited for them every visiting day, for months, praying they would change their minds. They never did.
Because you couldn’t talk, you are placed on a women’s ward instead of with other teenagers. Your blue jeans and t-shirts are traded in for the baggy, tan-coloured, canvass dress that all women patients are forced to wear. Your lacy canopy bed, from your bedroom at home, is gone forever. It takes you a long time to remember which of the metal beds is yours in your new bedroom. There are so many beds lined up side-by-side. You are not allowed to put posters on the wall above your bed. There is no lock on the bathroom door.
The “quiet” rooms you spoke of, in your article, were actually isolation rooms used to intimidate and punish patients. Dr. LeVann ordered staff to send patients to a specific quiet room on one of the children’s wards. The deformed offspring housed on this ward were, he claimed, what a mental defective was doomed to bear.
Time slips back to the day of my job interview. I must have seen you on that day because I took a guided tour of every ward and cottage. We first entered a huge common room on the women’s ward. The walls and floors were bare. There was no...