Wednesday, November 28, 2007

They Couldn't Handle The Truth

[Reminder: Some of my posts, including this one, are memoirs of my abusive childhood. In this post I'm relating events that happened in the spring of 1956, when I was 6 "going on 7", immediately after appearing to try to kill myself by jumping head-first off a jungle gym. The links to the right can be used to follow backward through the memoirs, or to restrict viewing to other kinds of posts.]

I woke up groggy in some sort of hospital room. When a nurse came into view I asked her where I was. She told me. I think it was the Fort Devens infirmary again. The important thing to me was, it wasn't any heaven. It hadn't worked. I screamed and cried and tried to bang my head against the wall, and the nurse gave me a shot.

My next memory is of a room of my own faced with two doctors. Again, I asked where I was. This time the answer was a shock. I was in a military hospital in Maryland. I was told I was flown to it.

The two doctors wouldn't answer any more questions. From then on they were going to ask the questions. "Why did you want to kill yourself?"

I told them I didn't really want to kill myself, I just wanted to go to Hawaii. That didn't please them. They said it didn't make sense. I said, too bad, it's true. I was getting an attitude. I was in no mood to show respect to a couple of know-it-all haoles, even if they were doctors.

[Above: A studio photo of me taken just before my call to Alta triggered the chain of events that got me to Maryland. I think there was some attitude there to start with. Subsequent events enhanced the attitude. Not the 1st picture I put here. The 1st was from age 5. Attitude there, too.]

Their answer to my attitude was to give me another shot. But this one wasn't a tranquilizer like the one in Fort Devens. It was sodium pentathol. They were going to make me tell the truth by means of science!

The drug broke down my resistance, and made me compliant. So when they asked again, "Why did you want to kill yourself?" I told them the truth. "I wanted to go to Hawaii."

They were ready to pull their hair out at that point. Then one of them got the bright idea to ask, "OK, why did you want to go to Hawaii?"

"My parents tried to kill me. My Mother tried to kill me. My Mother does bad things to me." I started to go into details. They cut me off, and left the room. That's when i noticed that the room had a window and my parents were sitting in a room on the other side of it. The doctors consulted with my parents for a minute. Then they came back in.

"You know what you said isn't true. What's the real reason you wanted to go to Hawaii?"

Being told that I lied didn't make sense to me. I hadn't. The only way I could interpret what they said to me was that they didn't want to hear that truth.

I was still under the influence of the sodium pentathol. I had to be compliant. But that didn't reall mean that I had to tell them the truth. It meant that I had to tell them what I thought they wanted me to tell them. When I thought that what they wanted was the truth, I told them the truth. But now I saw they didn't want the truth. So I strained to imagine what it is they wanted.

I came up with music. I told them I wanted to go to Hawaii for the music.

This led to a weird discussion, mostly between the two doctors, about how they could deal with my "compulsion". The gist of the debate, as I understood it, was that they could either get rid of all my compulsions, with a major lobotomy, or they could do a minor excision and just get rid of my Hawaiian memories. it was clear to me that it was best if I could get them to do the minor thing, versus the major.

So when one of the doctors asked me what it was about music that made me want to go to Hawaii I said, "It's just that I remember the Hawaiian music, and it reminds me of Hawaii, and I want to go there."

He said, "Well, what if you couldn't remember the Hawaiian music. Do you think you'd want to go there then?"

"Oh no, sir. Then it wouldn't matter to me."

I fell asleep after that, for I don't know how long. When I awoke again, I couldn't move my head. The doctors were there again, plus nurses. After they talked to me for a minute, there was a sound of power equipment, like a saw or a drill, and I realized I was being operated on.

I had a vague feeling that my head was being touched. They said, we're going to move an electrode around and we just need you to tell us what you're seeing or remembering or feeling.

I was prompted for my feelings and thoughts every few seconds. I kept experiencing snatches of music, but they didn't have anything to do with Hawaii. Finally though I heard a Hawaiian drum chant. I told them. They said good, that's what we'll burn.

There was no indication that anything was happening. I don't remember a frying or zapping sound. They just said, "There, it's done."

Over 30 years later I talked about what happened to a psychiatrist. He said the story was impossible because those techniques weren't in use in 1956. The sodium pentathol was possible, but the method of brain probing to stimulate and pinpoint memories was not available then.

Well, I think my psychiatrist was full of shit. What he didn't take into account was that this was a military hospital. In fact it may not have been an actual working hospital but a military medical research facility. The military doesn't make all of its research public. These, in particular, would have been kept secret, on national security grounds. (I was very likely at the Walter Reed Medical Research Institute in Silver Spring.) He did not take into account the likelihood that my Father had knowledge of the availability of such procedures through his position in army intelligence.

The method wasn't all that precise either. It got rid of most but not all of the Hawaiian musical memories. It missed some. But it also erased some other non-Hawaiian memories. Remember that I could whistle like a bird? I couldn't whistle at all again after the surgery, for 35 years.

It was criminal. All they had to do was get me away from my parents. Would it have hurt them to spare me the surgery and send me to a Hawaiian orphanage? But at least it wasn't a fill frontal lobotomy.

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