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Billy Bibitt and Nurse Ratched

Billy Bibitt and Nurse Ratched (Photo credit: Portland Center Stage)

Playing dress-up with my new hippie  friends was lots of fun and all that, but on the inside I was unraveling. Peace and love, along with rock and roll, just wasn’t cutting it for me.  It all seemed like a counterfeit for something else, something more authentic.  I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  I needed help, but I was a child trying to live a grown-up life.  My problem-solving skills didn’t quite live up to expectations.

I had made an attempt to get someone’s (anyone’s) attention a couple times before, and this time, right in the middle of a loud party with lots of people around, I snuck off into my bedroom and took an entire bottle of tranquilizers.  I went to bed, thinking someone looking in would just figure I went to bed early, but no, something about that scene didn’t look quite right to one of my friends, and after shaking me enough to scramble my brains and getting no response, I was scooped up and taken to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

I remember a police officer sitting down beside me.  “I went through a divorce,” he said.  “It’s tough.  But you’ll get through it, I promise.”  I stared at him through glazed eyes, wondering why he would care about some 18-year-old hippie freak chick like me.  I didn’t even like police officers and if he knew what I called them in private he wouldn’t have been offering much in the way of consolation.  Later, my new friends, realizing I was more then they bargained for, called my father to pick me up.  I remember him being particularly irritated.  The next thing I knew, I was being admitted to Norwalk State Mental Hospital in Norwalk, California.

My therapist told me that I over-analyze everything. I explained to him that he only thinks this because of his unhappy relationship with his mother.”
― Michel Templet

I was one of the youngest patients, and they weren’t sure what to do with me, so they decided they would admit me to their drug rehab unit, which was coed and full of other teenagers.  “Cool,” I thought.  But before the transfer, I had to go through the usual process of being evaluated and getting a chest x-ray.  I say “usual,” but it was one of the strangest experiences of my life.  One of the very first things they do to a person entering the Norwalk State Mental Hospital is to make sure the patient will be compliant.  Just to guarantee this, every patient is administered Thorzine, whether they need it or not.

I sat in the day room, drooling and barely able to hold my head up.  I kept thinking I had dropped a cigarette and would jump up and look around the floor for it.  One of the older male patients shuffled over in his bathrobe to help.  I told him I dropped a cigarette and he said, “oh, no you didn’t, that’s the Thorzine.”  The next day about thirty of us had to wait in line for a chest x-ray.  I had to crawl along on the floor, just to keep my place in line.  Somewhere in there I knew I was being overdosed, especially since I noticed that the “real” mental patients didn’t seem drugged at all.

Even after getting on the unit, the staff continued to make me take the Thorzine, threatening to hold me down and shoot me up with the stuff if I didn’t swallow it like a nice young lady.  It was better in drug rehab, of course, with lots of fellow hippies and other colorful folk, like “Wizard,” who had fried his brains with LSD.  Nothing he said made sense and we all loved him for it, watching over him like a baby chick.  The unit psychologist was our version of Nurse Ratched.  Every day at around 4:00 PM we would be forced to sit in a circle while he picked out his next victim.  Psychodrama was his favorite form of therapy.  He loved the empty chair routine.  We didn’t.  One evening it was my turn.  “Well, Linda, you don’t talk much.  I suppose you think you don’t need to be here.  What do you think would happen to you on the “outs?”

“I think I would be fine,” I answered meekly.

“YOU ARE LIVING IN A FANTASY WORLD, he shouted.   “YOU WILL NEVER MAKE IT ON THE OUTS!”

I felt so insulted.  The guy didn’t even know me.  We had never even had a “session.”  I was blowing this joint…

But not before our field trip to the beach on Friday!  We all piled into the bus and headed down to the Newport Beach, California.  Wizard was in an exceptionally great mood, even for him.  Once out of the bus, we all dropped some blotter acid that someone had scored “on the outs,” where I was never going to make it.  We split up into several groups with a direct care staff with each group.  I felt like I was on a carousel ride and the painted pony I was on was about to jump off and fly away.

We all trooped back for our ride home at around 4:30 PM.  As I climbed into the bus, I saw that Wizard was sitting on one of the bench seats with his wrists tied to the metal bar above the seat in front of him.   Apparently, Wizard’s mind was too blown to handle the acid trip.  Amazingly, the rest of us feigned sobriety enough to pass inspection and rode back to the funny farm with our wrists unfettered.

The next week I signed myself out of the Norwalk State Mental Hospital.  They tried to talk me out of it.  I guess they thought they were really helping me.  Funny.  I had to sign out “AMA,” or, Against Medical Advice.  I could so make it on the outs.  Or at least, that’s what I thought at the time.