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I Worked in a Snake Pit!

English: Austin State Hospital entrance Españo...
Rebuilt 1773 Public Hospital for Persons of In...

Mental asylums have been around for a long time.   Now we call them mental hospitals, addiction treatment centers, stress management centers etc.  I experienced the real thing when I was in college and worked as a psychiatric aide one summer at the local state mental hospital.  We were hired to cover for the regular psychiatric aides when they were on vacation.  We were not allowed to work alone so every ward I worked on required that there be two aides instead of just one.  These were the locked wards with problem inmates.  Some were combative; others were escapees, and there were ones that had committed murders.  To justify having two aides, the problems of the inmates (now called patients) had to be severe. Of course at that time, there were none of the modern psychotropic medications.  I received no training and because I was covering for aides who were taking their vacations, I  might not work on the same ward from one day to the next and I also worked swing shifts, the day and evening shifts, but not the night shift.  The state hospital was set up like a small town and I had to check the roster each week at the main building so I knew ahead of time where in the complex I had to report each day so I would not waste time and wind up late for work.   Some of The buildings looked like they had been there since the civil war in the previous century.  They were sometimes as much as three stories tall and of course had no air conditioning.  I was required to wear a  white uniform dress, white stockings, and white nurses shoes.  I remember my main duty was to be sure that we had all the inmates we were supposed to have and I quickly learned to match the name on the roster with each face on the ward that I was working on each day.  There were a large number of patients to keep track of and it was important that I quickly learn what idiosyncrasies each one had because if I didn’t I might get hurt and that did happen to me that summer. Fortunately I only got slapped hard by a patient with a grounds pass whom I didn’t know while I had lunch room duty by myself with a couple of wards besides my own. The only thing that I had that they didn’t have were the keys to the doors.  Conditions were so crowded that cots would be put up in the halls and the day rooms each night for the patients not accommodated in the bedrooms.  Since there were only two aides and lots of patients, a lot of the work was done by “trusty” patients.  For example, there was the clothing lady.  Also inmates helped other inmates bathe, get dressed, and clean up after toileting accidents.

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