“Mental Hospitals” by David Myers
(This article is reprinted from the San Dimas Rattler published at C.P.S. Camp #76 at Glendora, Calif. Myers worked at the mental hospital at Medical Lake, Wash. When asked why he left the work after eleven months Myers wrote: "I left Medical Lake because I couldn’t take it—institutional routine, ward work, etc. It was a wonderful relief to get back to pick and shovel.")
I have just returned to camp after eleven months as attendant at a mental hospital. I am writing this in the hope that many more C.P.S. men will decide to volunteer for this work.
If you are looking for work that meets human need, if you want a job that takes as much patience, self-control, imagination, and human sympathy as you have to put into it, then I doubt if you will find any other job within the present set-up as satisfying as a job as attendant in a mental hospital. This does not mean a nasty grind of mop-up and strong-arm tactics, as many people conceive of life in the "bughouse." The word "institution" comes closer to implying the nature of the life. It is actually a rather monotonous and dull routine, with boredom the evil, not overwork. Chiefly, the attendant supervises the patients in dressing, eating, bathing, directs them in "ward work" such as polishing the floor, attends to their minor complaints and comforts. Most important, he learns to know them individually, talks to them, observes them closely for anything unusual in behavior, appearance, or speech. In short, he has their well-being in his charge. This is a real responsibility, not merely because of the ever-present possibility of violent outbursts, dangerous actions such as arson, suicide and escape attempts, but also because it depends so very largely on his individual alertness, kindness and intelligent handling, whether the forty to one hundred men on his ward live half-decently, with some small pleasures and friendliness, or merely exist like prisoners. The welfare of patients and their response to good treatment can be strong stimuli, and for me constituted the chief incentive and reward for effort. Under present conditions of doctor and attendant shortages, it is not possible to do very much in a positive therapeutic sense, but it is still something to bring small comforts and pleasures to the majority who must stay hospitalized indefinitely and try not to impede those few who are making a recovery by themselves.
There are, of course, many adjustments to make in going into hospital work. Nevertheless, of the original group of twenty-five at Medical Lake, I believe only three or four have left to return to camp in eleven months. Many of those remaining find the work agreeable as well as interesting and worthwhile and plan to stay on indefinitely. The rest of those remaining do so in varying degree for the sake of the service they wish to give, with other reasons such as pay, free time, living conditions, entering in.
In conclusion, I would like to appeal to all C.P.S. men to seriously consider hospital work. The need is very great, and there is a satisfaction and emotional reward in directly and personally helping people in need, which can be found in no other sort of work.
--Taken from The White Coat, a publication of camp #74. March 1944. p3, 7. In "BSC Camp #74; Cambridge, Maryland. 'The White Coat,' March 1944," folder 17/53, series IX-13-1. MCC Records Collection, Akron, PA.