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Taunton State Hospital (Taunton, MA) | the way of the future

The Way of the Future | Abandoned America
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There were a wide variety of treatments
just in the span of Taunton State Hospital's existance -
means by which it was hoped that the mentally ill
would be miraculously cured and able to rejoin society.
It's a pity that so few of them worked.

There was hydrotherapy, where one was restrained in a bathtub
so only one's head was sticking out, after which the tub would be
filled with intensely hot or cold water, as it was felt that psychosis
was the result of the brain being too hot or too cold. One might be left
in such a state for days if staff felt it fitting, with no break to leave for the bathroom,
no time to stretch about, no time to sleep.
There was insulin shock treatment, wherein an epileptic fit and following coma were induced
through administering massive doses of insulin. The ever-present risk was that the patient
might go into shock, be paralyzed, or never return to consciousness.
There was the lobotomy, wherein a rod was inserted through the
top of the eye socket, severing the nerve pathways in the prefrontal cortex,
or simply scrambling the front of the brain. The infamous Dr. Walter Freeman
would travel around the country in an RV (dubbed The Lobotomobile) performing hundreds of
these procedures a year using an ice pick and no anesthetic.

From the 1960s on, Thorazine and its daughter drug Haldol came into vogue.
These drugs caused confusion and a painful restlessness that led patients to
shuffle around like zombies, too numb to think or speak in any manner
that resembled the way a human would function. One of the most horrifying of their
myriad of permanent side effects is Tardive Dyskinesia, which is a series of
grotesque involuntary muscle spasms and tics that render one
incapable of ever passing for "normal".
There are many, many others - from Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy to dozens of different restraints
to the informal 'shoe leather treatment' which involved being kicked by attendants. There was
the 'therapeautic milieu', which was nothing more than being contained for your whole life
in a small ward overflowing with people growing crazier each day
as the weight of confinement eroded the sanity of those who had it to begin with.

Fear not, we have made such progress since then! Today we allow a few
to wither in underfunded, barely supervised programs, while the greater majority
are left to their own - to homelessness, to poor or nonexistent medical care,
to the callousness of bureaucracy, to prisons, to the hundreds of drugs thrown at them
that are hardly tested and cause a plethora of side effects from
mild (weight gain, sexual dysfunction) to severe (permanent liver/brain damage).
It's time to wake up and smell the past, my friends. It's time to
look at our present with open eyes and to realize
that the way of the future is at hand, and it looks a lot like
very many of the places we have already been.
Pray that you and your loved ones stay well.

Image of Taunton State Hospital and text by Matthew Christopher

If you enjoy my writing, check out my books "Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream" (which features a chapter on Taunton) and "Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences".

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