A Moment of Clarity

It’s almost funny, people understand so little about life until their lives are close to over. Ah, but youth is wasted on the young, right? Well, from my youth on, I have attended patients at Mashapaug Psychiatric Institute, a private manor in a heavily forested area outside Union, Connecticut. There are a number of mysteries surrounding the Institute, such as why the local populace knows so little about us or how the institute came to be officially recognized, but I fear I may understand only the mystery surrounding the longest ,and currently only, residing patient, Mr. Ulvsson.

Mr. Ulvsson is the constant and overbearing concern of my employers, so much so that the Institute is kept open, surely operating at a loss, to care for him. The man suffered so it seemed, from an acute aversion to and fear of ordinary materials, and the powers that be decided exposure therapy was the best hope at rehabilitating the patient. Thus, there were a number of peculiar rules surrounding his care, most of which infuriated Mr. Ulvsson to no end. No less than three large thermometers hung off adhesive hooks inside the door of his room, all older models filled with mercury. He claimed an allergy to mercury, which would cause him to break out in hives, but since the mercury was contained and no hives observed, the allergy seemed a part of his condition. Outside his room, there was a parlor area with doorways to other wings and the main office, and every metal fixture in this room was required to be britannia silver. He claimed to dislike the smell of the metal and said it agitated his nose. Silver allergies are incredibly rare, usually the result of nickel in jewelry, and silver has no smell to speak of, so again his aversion was explained psychologically. The strongest reaction was reserved for a wreath decorated with aconitum shoots and flowers which hung on the main office door. The plant is poisonous, but Mr. Ulvsson would mutter to himself whenever he caught sight of the purple flowers and scurry to another side of the room. It was this reaction which assured most of the staff that the man needed to be here.

His condition was so ingrained that at night, he was restrained to his bed, an old hospital cot with belts, for fear of violent outbursts. It usually was not bad, but one to two times a month he would have a bad night. I saw some of the damage once after a night of struggling; thick red lines and scratches covered the man. Strangely, he had no problem with the restraints. Rather the need for being belted down bothered him, and he complained that his treatment was the far crueler restraint. In truth, the argument for keeping him was difficult to sustain, and became more so the longer I stayed at the institute. I would explain that none of his fears were justified, that the allergies were not real, but a man should be able to choose what metals are in his house or flowers in his wreaths. I eventually became sympathetic to his complaints. Whenever I discussed the matter with my employers, however, I would be severely reprimanded. The patients require treatment, they cannot be expected to know better. The explanation rang hollow for me, but after many years, when Mr. Ulvsson became the only remaining patient, I had a chance to right things. I am now the director of the institute with a handful of staff, and I resolved to do things better.

So, one week ago, I started to make the changes. First, I removed the thermometers, they popped off with a loud snap, like when one snaps a belt to intimidate a child. Mr. Ulvsson seemed instantly happier. Over the next few days, I removed all the silver, replacing it with brass. The sounds of metal clanging against metal filled the institute, and my ears are still ringing with the clashing, banging noise. Finally, I removed the wreath, and the door creaked loudly. The old wood groaned as I took out the nails holding in the wreath. The nails are making the door creak. The creaking, the groaning, it is so loud. His nails, his claws, are battering the wood, causing it to groan as it breaks. With moonlight spilling in through the window, I can see a single claw through the door. It’s almost funny, only now at the end do I finally understand why my employers were so insistent on surrounding Mr. Ulvsson with quicksilver, silver, and wolf’s bane.

Credit: Eric Miller

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