Crazy Days at Metropolitan State Hospital — Walking the Line as Captain Kirk

On the ward, we had a color television that received a few broadcast channels, suspended from the ceiling in the day hall. On the CTG Wards (“Continued Treatment Group” — shorthand for “expected to be here forever”) very few patients actually paid attention to the television, though a handful of the more lucid ones would occasionally watch for a while. Almost nobody except visitors had the skills and inclination to actually watch it for an entire show, though occasionally, whatever happened to be on would feature prominently in somebody’s delusion.

I was in the day hall when Star Trek: The Next Generation came on, which I’d never seen before (not having a VCR, and always working when it aired.) I recognized the words in the introduction from the classic series… and pandemonium ensued. “Donna” ran to the television, screaming at the top of her lungs, “you’re not Captain Kirk!” over and over. She’s so agitated, I reach up and change the channel.

“Was that Star Trek?” yelled “Rob” from the porch.

“No!” shot back Donna, still shaking with rage. “The real Captain just turned it off!”

Uh oh.

She saluted me, adding, “Captain Kirk, you have the bridge. Shall I set a course, sir?”

Again, one walks a fine line between buying into a delusion, and denying it outright. Both paths are fraught with peril. But human interaction is a good thing, and generally people don’t like being ignored, and deflection isn’t always easy.

“Well, I don’t see a need to set a course right now,” I said, walking the line. “I think it’s best if we stay here for a while.”

“Understood,” she saluted, and marched off.

Rob sat on the porch with his new boom box and a pile of tapes, purchased with a social security check he got for disability benefits, listening to heavy metal at reasonably low volumes. Long-haired Rob looked like a heavy-metal weightlifter, and was usually lucid enough for conversations.

“Hey, Captain,” he greeted me with a smirk, having overheard Donna. “Have you seen my sweet boom box?”

“It’s great, Rob.” I was genuinely enthusiastic; it sounded great, and Rob didn’t insist on playing it too loudly or after hours. He’d bought some headphones, too, but during the day, he’d just play it quietly. He had decent taste in music, and the boom box was more expensive than any I’d ever own.

“I need you to get me something,” Rob said, in a conspiratorial aside. “It’s something I couldn’t get myself while I was out on my pass.”

At this point, I was rather assuming it would be drugs.

“I need you to get me a t-shirt. One with writing on it.” Well, that didn’t seem so bad after all.

“What writing?”

“It should say, ‘I murdered your children when you were at work,'” he said, “you know, something to wear around for my next day pass so nobody fucks with me.”

“Do they?” Rob was as big as I was, and heavily muscled. Aside from our giant hallucinating Vietnam veteran, he’s one I’d have concerns if I needed to take him down.

“Well, my dad fucked with me. ‘You need to feed the cat,’ he said. I said, ‘I’m not feeding the fucking cat.’ and a took a shotgun and BLEW IT ALL OVER THE FLOOR. ‘THERE, DAD, NOW NOBODY NEEDS TO FEED THE CAT.'”

“Uh. I’ll see what I can do, Rob,” I told him, walking the line again.

A commotion broke out; I hear female screaming in one of the dormitories, and I ran toward the sound. On the way, I passed Donna, standing at attention. “One of the crew has been possessed, Captain. There’s blood everywhere.” She salutes and steps aside.

I see the blood everywhere first, then I see one of the female patients, “Lanelle,” waving her bleeding wrists and chasing around everybody she sees. She is shouting, “I HAVE AIDS. I’M GOING TO DIE. WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE.”

She very well could have AIDS, or it could be a delusion. Due to patient confidentiality, we wouldn’t routinely be told. I notice that the other MHA’s are nowhere to be found. Regardless, she needed to be calmed down and helped.

I grab Lanelle from behind and wrap my arms around her arms, being careful not to slip in the blood. The problem with our usual restraints is that they cover the whole arm, so I wrestle with her as I ponder what to do, talking calmly and keeping her off balance.

Donna appears before me. “Orders, Captain?”

“Go to the nurse’s station, tell him we need a gurney and we have a patient with bleeding wrists.”

“Aye, aye,” Donna salutes and runs off.

Moments later, two MHA’s arrive with a gurney. We strap down Lanelle while the nurse puts gauze over her wounds. “Does she really have AIDS?” one of the MHA’s asks the nurse, trying to avoid the blood Lanelle and I are covered in.

“I don’t know,” says the nurse. “Try not to drink any blood.”

The wounds don’t look too bad, but per procedure, the MHA’s take her away to be examined by a doctor, and the nurse follows. This leaves me alone in the ward. “Orders, Captain?” says Donna, standing at attention nearby.

Screaming breaks out in the day hall, male and female shouting. Oh, shit. There’s still blood all over the dormitory. “Well, Donna, maybe you could see what you can do about cleaning this up, I’ll be back,” as I run to the day hall.

One of the women on our ward, “Clara,” is a very large woman. By that, I mean she’s both quite tall (probably around 6″ 3″) and has a lot of non-fat bulk to her. She never says anything coherent, but generally lurches about the ward, swinging both arms together in unison.

I round the corner in time to see Rob punch her, hard, in the face, while she swings her arms, clubbing him in the head. “Don’t fucking touch me!” Rob yells, and she’s shrieking incoherently. I hope that if I restrain Rob, she’ll calm down, so I encircle him in our take-down hold, dragging him backwards, as fast as I can get him out of range of her fists. Rob struggles, hard, and we’re too close. ”

“Listen,” I said in Rob’s ear. “If you let me get you to the restraint room, I promise I’ll get you the shirt.”

“Really?” he says, relaxing in my grip. I pull backwards hard to get him out of Clara’s range. She’s still swinging, but not at anything in particular.

Rob walks with me back to the restraint room, and I’ve got him strapped down, sitting outside the room, filling out incident paperwork for Clara’s black eyes. Meanwhile, Donna has managed to clean up all the blood; the ward is spotless. When the nurse and MHA’s return about 10 minutes after they left, they are amazed.

“How the fuck did you restrain Rob by yourself?” asks one of the MHA’s.

“How did you manage to clean up all the blood?” asks the nurse, inspecting the dormitory. “I don’t think it’s ever been this clean in here.”

Donna gives them a smug look. “He did it because he’s the real Captain Kirk. There’s only one, and the sooner you understand that, the better off you’ll be.”


A week later, I handed Rob a paper bag containing a t-shirt silk-screened in capital letters, “I MURDERED YOUR CHILDREN WHILE YOU WERE AT WORK.” Despite the possibility of it being a terrific lapse in judgment, I keep my promises, and I printed it myself, in my apartment.

“Just promise me you won’t wear it around the ward, and especially not around the Christians,” I asked.

“No problem,” said Rob. “I’m going to visit my dad in a couple of weeks and I’m going to wear it. I can’t wait to see his face when he reads I’ve murdered his children while he was at work!”

He seemed so happy, I didn’t have the heart to point out that Rob is an only child. “Are you sure?” was all I could think of saying.

Rob seemed to have second thoughts, “Hmm, you’re right, he might think I meant his cat.” He thought a moment, then brightened. “I’ll wear it when I visit my mom.”

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3 Responses to Crazy Days at Metropolitan State Hospital — Walking the Line as Captain Kirk

  1. star says:

    I used to work at the Met- 1979-1989. I was an MHW at CTG for a year or so. Interesting memories.

  2. BRIAN HAYES says:

    I am doing a research project for class at Evergreen State College on Mental Health policy from 1950 to present and I am especially interested in the MET. Can you tell me of any literature on the facility to corroborate your comments here? Thanks!

    Great stories by the way.

  3. queued says:

    Unfortunately, I’m not aware of much that covers Met State in the late 80s, though there’s a great book called “Behind the Walls: Shadows of New England’s Asylums” by Katherine Anderson that does have a section on it.

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