A Child on the Shock Ward

Ted Chabasinski, JD
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I was six years old, and so, finally, all the symptoms of my supposed mental illness, playing in the back yard making mud pies, running away from the big children when they threatened me, picking flowers from our neighbor’s garden, fighting with my little sister, and especially, being born to a crazy mother, came to a head. And now I was officially a schizophrenic, proving that the disease was inherited.

And Miss Callaghan declared that I was to be taken to Bellevue Hospital, to be made an experimental animal for Doctor Lauretta Bender. She was one of the leading child psychiatrists of her time, and she needed foster children to try out electric shock treatment on us. How interesting to see what might happen!

And the child welfare agency that was supposed to protect me was happy to provide the children.

I remember nothing of how I got there, and very little of what I actually experienced during that time. But, very unusually for a shock victim, I have a few memories, memories of events that occurred over and over.

Now, writing as an adult many years later, I can only imagine all the terror I must have felt when I was torn from my foster parents then. But maybe it is merciful that I can’t remember.

At Bellevue,I slept in what seemed to me, small as I was, as a gigantic hallway; cold, echoing at night with strange and frightening noises, with a ceiling as high as the sky. There were windows even up to the ceiling, but they had not been cleaned for many years, and the hallway was always dark, even during the day, even when the sun was shining outside. My bed, furnished with a hard filthy mattress that smelled very bad and an olive drab blanket, was all alone in the hallway.

I didn’t know why I was kept alone in the hallway. I wanted to be with the other boys on the ward. I remember vaguely being told that the ward didn’t have enough room, but why didn’t they put some other boy out there so I would have someone to talk to?

And there was no one to hear me cry, which might have been just as well, because they said my crying was a symptom of my illness, and maybe if I kept crying I would be there for the rest of my life.

And there was no one there at night to hear me scream when the man came to rape me.

Sometimes Doctor Bender would appear during the day, coming through the elevator door in the middle of the hallway, surrounded by her protectors, many aides who seemed to worship her, or maybe they were just afraid of her, as I was. Sometimes she would pass very close to me, looking at me, but not acknowledging me, as if I didn’t exist.

And it was cold, so cold. It was a New York City winter, and I only had one blanket, though sometimes the kinder attendants would put another one on my bed. But it always seemed to disappear. I would wake up shivering, but couldn’t find any position that would keep me warm.

And I thought about home, about my parents and my little sister, and the nice teachers I had in school, and I wondered if I would ever see them again. Sometimes right after the shock treatments, it was very hard to remember home at all, and all I knew was the world I knew right then, of shock treatments and loneliness and cold.

I wanted it to be over and I wanted to die.

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream…

Most mornings, all of the boys were marched to the other side of the hallway, to the girls’ ward. There we were supposed to sing and show how happy and normal we were, but I almost never did. The attendants would try to pressure me to sing, telling me how not singing was a sign of my illness, and I should sing if I wanted to get better.

On the mornings when I was going to get the shock treatment, I didn’t get any breakfast, so I knew what was going to happen. On those mornings, while the other children sang obediently, I would cry without stopping.

Soon, three attendants would show up and start to drag me down the hallway, to a room close to the boys’ ward where the shock was given. They had learned to provide lots of staff for this, as I fought so hard that it was impossible for any one person to control me.

“I won’t go to the shock treatment, I won’t!” I kicked, tried to bite my captors, tried to escape their grip. But they dragged me down the hallway and threw me violently onto the shock table, where several of them held me down. A rag was stuffed into my mouth and down my throat, making me choke.

And that was the last thing I would remember, until I woke up in a dark room somewhere. Often I would wake up in the same room with Stanley, a very big boy of about thirteen. I was terrified of Stanley, though I don’t know why. Whatever the reason may have been is lost in the black hole that the shock had created.

I had learned to try to memorize my name, concentrate on my name so I would remember it after the shock. Teddy, I’m Teddy, I’m here in this room, in the hospital. And my mommy’s gone… I would cry and realize how dizzy I was. The world was spinning around and coming back to it hurt too much.

I want to go down, I want to go where the shock treatment is sending me, I can’t fight any more and I want to die…and something made me go on living, and to live I had to remember never to let anyone near me again.

The man came to my bed, my isolated little bed in the big hallway, and grabbed my head and forced my mouth against his penis. Then he tore off my hospital gown and tried to turn me over. I fought back, and he grabbed me and slammed me down, hitting my head against the bed frame and stunning me…

My bottom hurt all the time and I was bleeding. I had a terrible taste in my mouth that wasn’t really there but never went away.

My father came to visit me, and I told my daddy what the man was doing to me.

I was crying, as I almost always did.

“Daddy, please make him stop. Please don’t let him do that to me.”

My father looked very upset.

“I’ll talk to the doctor about it.”

He visited me again.

“Teddy, you imagined it. The doctor says you imagined it.”

I imagined it. My daddy says I imagined it.

My daddy doesn’t care what happens to me.

I want to die.

Almost every night the man came to my bed in the big hallway and raped me. And then it stopped.

And then one night I heard a little girl screaming across the big hallway. I recognized her voice. She was a beautiful child about my age who I saw sometimes on the girls’ ward. She was getting shock treatment too, because on the days I didn’t get breakfast, she didn’t either. Like me, she didn’t sing either, she didn’t sing and celebrate our happy childhoods like we were supposed to. She was much more affected by the shock treatments than I was, and said almost nothing, just smiled vacantly.

It must have been her bed that I saw in the hallway when we were led to the girls’ ward to sing and celebrate.

I heard her almost every night in my sleep, waking me up, although during the time of the shock treatments, I never was either fully awake or fully asleep.

And even now, so many years later, she sometimes comes to me in my dreams, the beautiful little girl crying out in terror and pain.

And so, in May 1944, after being being raped and killed over and over, I finally was released from Bellevue. The little boy who had been taken there to be tortured didn’t exist any more. All that was left of him was a few scraps of memory and a broken spirit, and the rest was ashes in a giant dark pit, mixed with the ashes of the hundreds of other children who had been tortured and burnt alive by Doctor Bender, a leader of her profession.

It was two months after my seventh birthday, but I don’t remember my birthday. I don’t remember anything about the next few months, but eventually I found myself at home in the Bronx, trying to remember who I was.

I was so terrified now that I would cling to my mother and I was afraid to go out for a while.

Finally, I took my tricycle and rode it all over the neighborhood, very confidently, as I had always done, for I knew every block. But suddenly I realized that I didn’t know where I was, and I panicked. Somehow a kind neighbor got me home, but I was scared to ride my tricycle any more. I used to have a sense of freedom, that I was a big boy and could ride it anywhere, but that was gone now.

And a little boy named Karl, about my age, came to our house to visit me. I was told he lived very near to us, on the corner just two houses away. And I was told he had been my best friend, but I didn’t know who he was.

Miss Callaghan said my memory loss was a very bad sign. It meant I wasn’t getting better.

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Ted Chabasinski, JD
Still Crazy After All These Years: Ted Chabasinski, now a patients' rights lawyer, was taken from his parents when he was six years old, experimented on with a course of electric shock treatment, and then sent to a state hospital for the rest of his childhood. He writes about the power of psychiatry and how it is abused, especially against children.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Good article. Sadly psychiatry has only doubled down on its efforts to violate the bodies of children in the decades since.

    If you’ve ever worked in forced psychiatry and ever laid a hand on a child/adult/old person in an effort to force something into their body, psychiatric drugs, electroshock, or a penis, you’re just as bad as the disgusting abusers in this article.

    And believe us, this is the 21st century, you can’t silence us any longer. The stories of the abuse you carry out for a living will be disseminated far and wide. You cannot hide. If you work in forced psychiatry, you are on the wrong side of history and morality and we will be exposing you and your vile trade.

    Never in the history of forced psychiatry have the perpetrators been at so much risk of losing their ‘what happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors’ protection.

    I love how this article names and shames the actual thugs who worked at Bellevue during that time.

    May the descendants of Doctor Lauretta Bender see and read and feel the shame this medical criminal brought to her family name.

    Some of her victims should sue her estate.

  2. Jerry Sandusky is in prison and will probably be there the rest of his life for sexually abusing boys. It’s too bad that none of the people responsible for the abuses you suffered are still alive because they should be in the prison cells right alongside Jerry. What is wrong with a system who will punish a Jerry Sandusky but not a horrid person like Dr. Lauretta Bender. If there is a hell, your tormentors will be there. Unfortunately, many of these same things are going on still, this very day, all across America. And the people doing the abusing will not be tried in court and marched to prison, where they all rightfully belong.

    Thank you for sharing your story and for living. You are abviously a very strong and resiliat person. thank you for stading up against the lies told by the system.

  3. Ted,

    I am really sorry. Your story is very strong, and poignant, but I am so sorry you had to live through that. It sounds like you have landed on your feet, which is a miracle. You must be a very strong person.

    After reading this I went on google and just put in Dr. Lauretta Bender. Her wiki write up is ugh, but one little paragraph caught my interest:

    “Bender, who shocked 100 children, the youngest of whom was 3, abandoned the use of ECT in the 1950s. She is best known as the co-developer of a widely used neuropsychological test that bears her name, not as a pioneer in the use of ECT on children. That work was discredited by researchers who found that the children she treated either showed no improvement or got worse.”

    Isn’t it strange that the children didn’t “get better”? Wonder of wonder’s. Rape, violence, cruelty, isolation, dehumanization and discrediting does not help people become stronger human’s.

    I wonder why.

    I wonder – how much have we actually learned from the 1950’s. We still discredit, dehumanize and pathologize. Psychiatry still uses violence and force, and then blames it on the “bad choices” of those that suffer.

    Mostly, my heart bleeds for the children that had to live through this.

    Malene

  4. Brave.

    A word that is so-often overused.
    But the only word I can think of that describes that little boy… and the man you are today.

    Brave.

    You’re still here.
    You’re still alive.
    Which speaks volumes to all of us; every soul who reads your story.

    With sincere gratitude and deep respect,

    Duane

  5. An incredibly powerful story Ted:))

    Difficult to read, in the pain and shame it made me feel about being human. Your story speaks a powerful truth about our so-called civilization, that should be, could be, hopefully one day aspiration which fails the test of behind closed walls, real life experience.

    While the majority in our so-called 1st world cultures are comfortably adjusted to the should be ideals of life, promoted in public policies and an individuals “public” sense of self, its the private arena where real life happens and the mismatch between reality & idealism occurs.

    Sadly the comfortably adjusted only manage to maintain that comfort-zone by shying away from any real-life reality like yours.

    How do we break down the walls of a consensus normality, built on denial about what actually goes on behind closed walls? The pretense about the nature of humanity?

    I’m sure many with a similar experience take heart and hope from your role model of resilience, and living testimony to the nature of a true spirit.

    Be well.

  6. Thank you for telling this part of your heartbreaking story with such clarity and poignancy. I was so much older at 19 when I, too, was forcibly shocked and molested by an attendant who also held me down during the ECT. I, too, cried all the time and was terrified for my life and can barely imagine how terrified you must have felt at the very tender age of only six.

    Thank you for writing and posting this, Ted, and for doing the important work that you have been doing for years to make life better for the children of today.

  7. Thanks for your powerful and poignant account Ted. This of course was the era of the lobotomy –hailed as a miracle cure for “schizophrenia.”
    Jesus I can’t help but wonder what happened to your biological mother–I guess you never found out.
    Foster children are still at risk today.Most are in institutions and are the most heavily drugged segment of the population.
    Oddly enough though Ted it seems to me the motive has changed.In those days money had little to do with it. But there was such fear of anyone who was different–fear of the Other. It was a mass Psychiatric Inquisition in the Age of Reason. Not unlike the persecution of heretics and witches by the Inquisition in the Age of the Church.
    Today I don’t think that figures as prominently. After all we live in post-modern times where is much greater acceptance of diversity per se, and even “deviance.” Rather it is the pharm companies constantly searching for more markets,greater profits and the psychiatric pimps trolling to find new clients for their Masters–the Psychiatric-Pharmaceutical industrial complex. Of course those who are different and those who hAve less status (the poor, people of color)are the first victims. WE still live in a society that Thomas Szasz characterized in The Manufacture of Madness (1970) in which one group enhances their social status or increases their income and profits by destroying spiritually and/or physically the lives of others. If we do not transcend this, humanity will not survive.
    In fact I draw your attention to Bill McKibben’s article in current Rolling Stone on the new arithmetic of global warming. McKibben reckons unless we curb use of fossil fuels now we will not survive this century. Of course thanks to dysfunctional political system Congress and the President in hock to the oil industry have given up all meaningful efforts to switch to renewables. The lives of all living beings, of the future of life itself is sacrificed by those who judge their well-being by next years profits margin–whose only God is Money, Mammom.To Mammon must all be sacrificed even the earth itself. It is genocide and ecocide–and to use a new term omnicide. THe majority of Americans favor curb the oil industry but alas they trust our leaders. Obama in 2008 promised to lead the fight against global warming. Now he promises to build enough oil pipelines to encircle the globe and to open up the Artic to drilling for oil. And this is the sane world to which the psychiatric mind police think we should all adjust? Never! Mad Pride meAns to fight against the worship of Mammon and the mass delusional system in the name of holiness of all life.

  8. CORRECTION. I carelessly left oiut a word:L cannabalistic. I meant to write:WE still live in a cannabalistic society that Thomas Szasz characterized in The Manufacture of Madness (1970) in which one group enhances their social status or increases their income and profits by destroying spiritually and/or physically the lives of others. If we do not transcend this, humanity will not survive.