His name was Bror and I was told that he had a mental age of a six-year old. After getting to know him, I’d say they were right. But he was one of the most perceptive and kind persons I’ve ever met.
When I look back at that 1968 summer, and especially when I look for Bror, I see him being led out of a ward bedroom where they had set up, temporarily, the ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy, i.e., Electric Shock) equipment. I don’t remember seeing him enter the room for his treatment but I did see him being led out (he was a little unsteady on his feet after the electric ordeal) and when he saw me, he smiled; it was a sort of reassuring smile for my benefit. I must have looked quite worried about him for his smile told me not to worry, I’m feeling fine. It’s all good. He may even had said something to that effect, I don’t remember.
I remember asking the nurses, perhaps even the head nurse, why was Bror in the hospital in the first place. Well, for one, he could not look after himself and he had no family to take care of him. For two, he was an alcoholic that if given a smidgen of a chance would drink lighter fluid or thinner, anything even remotely alcohol-based or -like. He was addicted to alcohol, that was the word I got.
Over the first few weeks at the hospital I sat down and talked to him quite often. He enjoyed our conversations and was always open and friendly with me, good thing too, he was big and very strong and could had quashed me like a soft fruit had he had the notion to.
He would always say hi and wave if we met out in one of the many yards, or even at the mini-golf course (a game which he was surprisingly good at). Soon we were, in a word, good friends. He knew I cared for him, and he valued our friendship.
One day he even confided in me that he had a girlfriend on one of the women’s wards in the hospital. Anna was her name. Lovely Anna. Lovely, lovely Anna. He’d see her whenever he could. Maybe they would even marry one day, he said, yes, that would be so wonderful. She was such a nice girl, they would be very, very happy.
One day shortly thereafter—it was a gray one with rain-heavy clouds, though not raining yet—the head doctor of the hospital (her name was Solti, and she looked like a huge turkey in a white coat—did this blob of a woman on stick legs) during her rounds arrived on our ward (I believe she did so once a week).
This woman, Doctor Solti, and I am sure she is dead by now so I am not hiding her identity to protect the guilty, was (in two words) one of the most evil people I have ever encountered.
As she strolled down the ward, junior doctors and senior nurses in toe, she was just about to pass Michael’s bed, when he said “Doctor Solti.” Loud and clear. And desperately.
She turned and faced him.
Now, Michael was a nineteen-year-old drug addict who had ended up in this mental hospital since there was no other facility in town that could look after him; or, let me rephrase this: who could contain him. He had escaped all youth and/or foster homes he’d been assigned to so far and throwing up their hands in despair the local authorities decided to “lock him up” at Santa Maria.
So far so good, until the first chance Michael got to run away, he took. Good-bye hospital. Well, that lasted about two hours.
The next escape lasted twice that.
He had now been returned from his third attempt and seeing as locked doors and windows could not stay him put, the good Doctor Solti had decided to give him liberal injections of Hibernal (Chlorpromazine) to, in effect, render him psychically incapable of escaping, sort of chaining him mentally his bed.
Now, they were giving him way too much of this stuff (is my guess) and since he was not actually mentally ill these injections made him very ill. The way he put it to Doctor Solti once she turned around to face him was:
“Doctor, I cannot take any more of these shots. I cannot sit up, I cannot lie down, I cannot walk, I cannot rest.”
“Nor can you escape,” added the good doctor.
“I’m burning up,” said Michael. “Could you please, please stop giving me these injections.”
“Now, here,” said Solti, now pointing while addressing her cortege, “see how the injections have pricked the skin and discolored it. It’ll be less invasive, and not so hard on the skin if you inject the Hibernal at an angle, like so,” and she held up her hands to demonstrate.
“Please, Doctor Solti,” said Michael.
Which the good doctor utterly ignored.
“Please,” he said again. But now that doctor had moved on to the next bed or beds. “Please,” he said again, to a whole set of moving-away deaf ears.
Out into the hallway they all strode and I looked back at Michael, deciding that I would help this guy (my age, actually) escape, sooner rather than later. It was insane that they were using Hibernal on him just to prevent him from escaping. In-bloody-sane.
Glancing back into the hallway I noticed that Bror was approaching Doctor Solti, and as I certainly took an interest in this, I rushed after them as unobtrusively as I could, in time to catch Bror saying, “My girlfriend.”
The male ward head-nurse, trying to impress Solti, I’m sure, cut Bror off right there, “There’s not going to be any drink, Bror. You know you’re not allowed.”
“No,” said Bror, voicing his innocence, “I don’t want to drink. I want to see Anna.”
“Who is Anna?” said Solti.
“Anna Bergsten on Ward D,” said one of the nurses. “Bror thinks she’s his girlfriend.”
“She is my girlfriend,” said Bror.
“No bottle for you,” said the male nurse.
“I don’t want to drink,” said Bror. “I want to see Anna. I just want permission to go out today and meet her in the park.”
“I know all about your plans,” said the male nurse, “and all you want to do is find something to drink.”
“That is not, not true,” said Bror, getting a little desperate by now, close to tears from where I stood.
“Please,” said Bror, looking at Solti, who was looking at her watch now. This was taking up too much of her precious time.
“You’re going nowhere,” snapped the male nurse. “Get that through your thick head.”
And that did it for Bror, he snapped physically, and took a swing at the male nurse. Solti, alarmed stepped back. The male nurse swung back, but missed as widely as Bror had initially. “I just want to see Anna,” he yelled.
Now, I did not notice an alarm go off or anything but all of a sudden, the hallway was filled with men of all sizes in white coats and they all jumped Bror and wrestled him to the ground.
Bror must have thought that his days were numbered for he grew desperate and began fighting as if for his life.
Now, as I’ve said, this man-boy was six feet tall and pretty much sheer muscle. Four of five nurses could not contain him, he fought like a wild, cornered animal, yes, for his life.
Me, I’m too stunned to move. Bror was so unfairly treated and provoked and now, of course, it was all his fault.
“Hey, Ulf,” yelled the male nurse. “What are you standing there gaping for. Give us a hand. What do you think you’re paid for?”
Ah. So, this is what I’m paid for.
However, rather than joining the fray, I kneeled down and grabbed the one hand of Bror’s that was not held, or sat on, or otherwise subdued. I took this one lonely-free hand in my two hands and just held it: a true all-will-be-well grip. And at that Bror—who somehow recognized my hands as the ones holding his—calmed all the way down.
The gang of white coats climbed off of him, and Bror looked up at me like a terrified horse—eyes mostly whites.
He didn’t say anything, but he emanated: “Thank you, thank you.”
A week or so later Bror came up to me and said he wanted to talk to me. Could we sit down in the day room perhaps, or even here in the corridor on that bench right there.
We sat down, Bror to my left, happy, excited almost.
“You saved my life,” he said.
“You mean with…?”
“When all those guys tried to kill me when Doctor Solti was there. You saved my life then.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You made those guys stop killing me.”
“I just held you hand,” I said. “They stopped holding you down when you stopped fighting them.”
He didn’t hear this or chose not to hear this. Instead he leaned toward me and in an almost whisper told my ear, “I know who you are.”
“You know who I am?”
“Yes, I know who you are.”
“Who do you know I am?”
Bror looked around to make sure no one was listening in, “A prince from India.” he said.
“How do you know that?”
“Because you are not afraid of the elephants.”
I nodded, and said, “True. I am not afraid of the elephants.”
“And you saved my life.”