This week’s reading really sparked an intrigue for me to think deeper and more critically of why mental health institutions then and even in minor remnants today chose to attempt to continue “curing” their patients through the method that if most civilians acted such ways, would be considered attempted murder, if the perpetrator was lucky.
This was also prompted by a post I had seen (see left) on social media which from an anonymous author reads: “A child with autism is not ignoring you. They are waiting for you to enter their world.” Which I feel has implications in this text, as well. Not only with Chief Bromden’s pretending of being deaf and dumb to try and go unnoticed despite being 6’7 but also with how most of the patients were treated by the wicked Nurse Ratched. They were put into two metaphorical baskets; chronics who were un-curable and acutes whom they believed could still be cured.
The neurodivergent in general are sometimes just waiting to connect with others in a specific way to be because their view on the world could vary greatly from the neurotypical. The idea this can all of a sudden change by means of electroconvulsive (ETC) therapy is not all so bad, after some research into the therapy. I had been under the impression, like many, that this procedure even today was done under little or no anesthesia and the patient was in excruciating pain and that it had little positive benefits. This isn’t true by today’s standards based on information provided by the Mayo Clinic. In fact, quite the opposite is true today, however, with more research, this hasn’t always been the case. Back in the days when this book is set, ECT was still a therapy that was out-dated in terms of how it was being used at the time. Those days, the treatments were much more like that in which I described.
The second method of curing the patients that tickled my curiosity was the now-debunked concept of lobotomy, or literally removing parts of the brain, specifically the prefrontal lobe, that are seen as causes of the mental illness, as seen with McMurphy. He was paralyzed and essential in a “vegetable state,” and was suffocated by Chief Bromden in order to end the protagonist’s misery in the conclusion of his back-and-forth denial of Nurse Ratched’s reign in the institution whom also represented the conformity and societal stereotype that Bromden called the Combine. The curiosity of mine peaks most from it being only used to treat mental illness, and no other conditions, and then I found out the horrific way in which the procedure was performed through npr.org. An ice pick looking object is inserted into the patient’s brain via the forehead though pulled-back skin after sawing two holes inside of their skill, an extremely inhumane way of conducting such a surgery even considering the technological and medical limitations of the past.
This, combined with the imagery of patients being bound with wrist cuffs with connectors on their heads to receive unnecessarily high levels of electric shocks was disturbing for me, and then I realized this was all a very brute show of strength by the staff considering even in the time this book is placed, they had already been aware that ECT and lobotomies were not as effective as they had originally thought when the treatments were introduced into the scientific world. It was Nurse Ratched and her aide’s way of maintaining their version of order and squashing the attempted and on occasion brilliantly successful rebellion of McMurphy and his fellow patients. A cruel, torturous power against those who needed special attention is a frightening idea, and luckily enough we have made progress in that area and continue that trend today.