Let me stop editorializing and return to the heart of my experience. Shortly before midnight, I woke up at Edgemont Hospital, a small mental hospital in the heart of Hollywood. The day was Monday, February 2. I did not know how I got there. I was told that I had had an epileptic seizure but that my conduct thereafter was coherent. I cooperated with the decision to be hospitalized and willingly let myself be taken by a friend to the hospital. I wish I could remember the details, but I can’t. My wife could not accept the fact that I was experiencing a lapse in my memory. I wonder how many people who have no recollection of their crimes are behind bars today?
When I had regained consciousness, I looked around and immediately knew where I was. The thought that I was in a hospital in no way frightened me. Apparently I was sufficiently prepared for the idea. In fact, I was somewhat relieved. Upon opening my eyes, I first saw an attendant and then our gardener friend, Joe. His presence was reassuring. I had always liked Joe. We had some kind of unspoken bond. He had given us the wood blossom a few months earlier. I looked at my wife. Her eyes revealed fear and concern, shock and bewilderment. I cannot remember what I said to her, but her anxiety made me feel uncomfortable. When I was finally left alone, I was glad. I felt safe in the hospital.
When I awoke the next morning, I knew I was on the closed ward of a mental hospital. I had no desire to be anywhere else. I felt a loving, tender concern for all the patients and was extremely interested in what had brought them to this place. I tried to be as helpful as possible. The patients talked freely and told me their stories. I believed everything they told me, having no idea that these stories could be the result of a sick and tortured imagination. I had trusted people explicitly all my life, so I did not screen these stories with my intellect. Everyone pulled on my heartstrings. The idea of dedicating my life to helping these poor, misunderstood people entered my mind. One young man said that he had a prickly cactus stuck in his throat. He had tried to convince the doctors to operate, but they would not listen. I believed him. He talked intelligently about Kant and Nietzsche, and we played chess together.
A young woman who had slashed her wrists was brought in. She was screaming. A patient asked me, “Do you know why she’s screaming?”
“No,” I answered.
“The hospital is trying to force her to commit herself, to sign that she is insane,” she volunteered. “She’s screaming because she doesn’t want to admit that she’s insane.
“How cruel,” I thought; but before the day was over, I discovered that the patients could be real “con” artists. For example, each patient was allowed one cigarette an hour. Since I didn’t smoke, the patients would use me to get extra cigarettes from the nurses’ station. I knew this wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how to refuse their requests. I was disappointed because I desperately needed to trust people.
Before the day was over, arrangements were being made to transfer me to the open ward. I didn’t care which ward I was on. I thought this was a most fascinating experience. A new world was being opened up for me. My wife was rather solicitous. She wanted me to have the best care. There was a great deal of back-and-forth dialogue about my transfer. I was responsible for most of it because at first I did not care where I was, but I suddenly became extremely fearful of the patient with whom I played chess. His very presence threatened me. Why, I don’t know. I had become sensitive to the
psychic emanations around me, but I had no way of protecting myself or understanding the phenomenon.
Because of my wife’s insistence and the pressures she put on the hospital staff, I was transferred to the open ward. The new quarters were very pleasant, almost like a living room with convertible couches. I believe I slept soundly the second night in the hospital. I was totally exhausted and tranquilized. The doctor had prescribed Stellazine and Sinequan as the principal medications. Stellazine is an anti-psychotic drug; Sinequan, a tranquilizer. Sinequan was prescribed in dosages of 25 milligrams four times a day. The amounts of Stellazine prescribed, I cannot recall. I also took a sleeping pill at night.
A therapist was assigned to me, a man probably in his late thirties, probably about my age. He came to see me every other day. He tried his very best to be of help. I enjoyed his company because he let me talk. I always enjoyed talking if there was someone truly interested in what I had to say. I still do. Probably the need to talk is also expressed in the need to write.
My therapist seemed to take careful pains not to agree or disagree with my opinions. He was very accommodating, even to the point of bypassing hospital regulations. I remember the time I had requested Epsom salts for rinsing my mouth. My gums were hurting, and I still felt unclean. I thought that rinsing my mouth with a solution of Epsom salt would help. The hospital refused my request; so my therapist proceeded to buy some for me in a nearby drugstore. The self-prescribed treatment did not help. In fact, it made my mouth feel very raw. Eventually, the Epsom salt was discovered in my room and taken from me.
About the third or fourth night I came close to having another supernatural experience. I did not want any more experiences like the ones I had before; I was afraid of them. I thought I would not be able to stand one more hallucination or vision. I remember being aroused out of a semi-sleep one night by the sound of an ambulance siren passing by the hospital. I do not recall the details, only the tremendous fear that came upon me as I came out of a light sleep. I did not dare go to sleep again. I convinced myself that there was still a residue of Dilantin in my system. As soon as my body eliminated the drug, I reasoned, I would not have any more hallucinations. I made every effort not to fall asleep that night. As soon as I would begin to doze off, I would get up and take a shower. I must have been in the shower eight or nine times that night. During one of her rounds, the nurse found me in the shower. She asked me what the problem was, and I told her of my fear of going to sleep and experiencing something I could not handle. She gave me an injection, after which I fell asleep quickly and slept well.
Since that night I have had a few more frightening experiences. They were clustered around those days when my wife divorced me in May of 1971 and another period of time when someone had persuaded me to fast. I was told in May of 1972 that a host of demons was living in me and the only way to exorcise them was for me to fast. After twenty-four hours of going without food, I began to have terrifying experiences. I broke the fast and became free of unpleasant psychic disturbances. In the meantime, I have discovered that there are numerous well-meaning persons around who have very strange and unhealthy views about demon possession.
My stay in the hospital lasted nearly three weeks. In almost every detail, it was very pleasant. I quickly formed friendships with the patients and staff. I could talk freely to almost everyone. Only a few seemed sinister and unapproachable. Some patients wondered if I might not be a doctor in disguise. I felt as if the patients were my kind, especially the younger ones. I had never felt so free. They trusted me and I trusted them. I didn’t want this time in the hospital to come to an end. It was like a vacation, and yet there was a premonition that this way of life was a luxury and would not be allowed to enjoy for very long.
I listened to the patients, studied them, watched them select their foods. I watched them form symbiotic relationships, which I knew could not last. I sat on the lawn and listened to their music. A new world of sound and song and lyrics opened to me. I was enchanted with the beauty and truth of the song “Blowing in the Wind.” I was ushered into the world of country music and loved it. I could hardly wait until I had my own portable AM/ FM radio, so my wife went out in a pouring rain to buy a radio for me. She was willing to do anything for me that was reasonable.
I remember the celery party we had. I noticed that the patients expressed strong cravings for certain foods that were not always available. Celery and sunflower seeds were high on the list of these special food items. I asked Josephine to bring in some celery packed in crushed ice and not to forget the salt. Our little party was a big success. There were other foods that were highly favored by the patients. Some day I hope to have an opportunity to candidly study the correlation of various foods to our mental and emotional equilibrium. A great deal more exploration needs to be done on how diet, sounds, and colors affect our mental health.
This may sound strange, dear Phyllis, but I would consider it a real privilege to be an undercover patient in a mental institution. Some new insights might be revealed to me. I have always had a highly analytical mind and enjoy correlating seemingly unrelated facts. Maybe one day someone will read these lines and extend an invitation to me to become more intimately involved.
I was a witness and participant in a mania that affected a number of patients. I noticed that ideas are highly contagious among mental patients, although the same could apply to every group of confined people. Maybe you recall the prediction that a part of California was going to break off and fall into the ocean. At one point during my hospital stay that prediction became the subject of conversation. Many of the patients sensed the catastrophe was imminent, including me. I remember calling my wife about the catastrophe one afternoon when dark, foreboding clouds began to cover the sky. Everything becomes symbolic when your mind is not in order. I recall that several patients, including me, were planning escape routes out of Los Angeles. A song that had the city of Phoenix as part of the lyrics caught my attention. I was convinced that the best route would be via Phoenix, Flagstaff, and then up to the Continental Divide in Colorado. I had all kinds of fascinating ideas about starting a new colony with a remnant of people. These people would eat no meat and would use no knives or forks. Knives reminded me of cutting; and forks, of stabbing.
You can see, dear Phyllis, how much liberty my mind had to entertain “way out” ideas. I wonder how the prophets of old felt when they were instructed to write down their visions. The fear of a catastrophe remained with me for several years. It was finally replaced by faith, by a solid confidence that my God would never leave me nor forsake me. I had become convinced that He truly loved me.
I cannot remember the chronological sequence of all these events, but I believe the most significant have remained with me. I recall one night very powerful vibrations of fear, feeling terribly threatened by a new patient, about sixty years of age, who was in my room. I knew nothing about the man, but his presence overwhelmed me. I took my blankets outside and found a lawn chair on which to spend the night. I am surprised that none of the nurses complained about my being outside. Usually a patient would receive some kind of shot if he was unable to sleep in his bed. The following day the new patient and I became acquainted. I had no subsequent attacks of fear. He seemed to have a personality similar to mine. I usually do not care for those who are very much like I am, or at least like I was.
Describing the power of healing that I experienced a number of times while in the hospital is very difficult. It was similar to what I had experienced early Wednesday morning, January 28. As I was talking to various patients, an electrical current would suddenly fall upon my body and seemingly emanate through my pupils. Without warning, my eyes would intimately connect with the eyes of the person with whom I was conversing. It seemed as if the windows of our souls had been opened and a powerful jet stream of electrical power were pouring through us. By and by, I noticed a calm spirit settling upon both of us. The pupils of the other person then became quiet as if they had been rotating rapidly before. The eyes resembled a placid sea. I sensed that a supernatural healing had taken place. The experience left me happy but drained. Later on I asked if any unusual recoveries were reported. I was informed that some unexplainable healings had taken place. In a mysterious way God was beginning to use me as His instrument. I have learned a great deal about being used by God. Yet, how God fulfills His purpose through us remains largely a mystery and probably always will.
While I was a patient in the hospital, my brother and father came to see me. They came all the way from Escondido, a trip of about two and a half hours. They were greatly concerned about what had happened to me. My father was highly incensed by the diagnosis. He did not believe I belonged in a mental hospital. He tried to convince the doctor that the decision to put me in such a place was cruel. In fact, my father feels that even to this day. My brother was also genuinely concerned. I could feel his protective love streaming out toward me, but I could not bear to have him near me. I felt terribly fragile in his presence. “Don’t touch me, don’t touch me,” I kept saying. My being still trembles as I recall those moments.
My wife came to see me every day. She was the only friend or relative regularly permitted to visit me, but her presence was painful and oppressive to me. I dared not tell her. How can you tell someone that her sacrifice of time is not appreciated? I didn’t have the heart to hurt her feelings. She seemed to be desperately trying to rediscover the Peter she loved and married. I tried my best to be the person Josephine expected me to be, the Peter she could relate to, but it was extremely difficult for me to put up a front, to display the Peter she knew. Her solicitous concern for my welfare made me very uneasy. The new Peter was not allowed to come out in her presence. Oh, how I wished the doctors would tell her in a very tactful way not to visit me. How unnecessarily hard we make it for one another because we don’t understand, because we don’t give another person the freedom to grow, to change, to experience life, dear Phyllis.
My therapist told me that my biggest hang-up was my inability to say “no”. I believe he was right. The hospital used to allow us to have a few dollars for such items as cigarettes, candy, or hot chocolate, which were available through vending machines. Some patients soon discovered that I was easy prey for a short-term loan. I quickly discovered that some people never paid their debts, yet I did not know how to refuse a request for a dime or a quarter. The only way to be left alone was to have no money. I have learned not to befriend those who do not live up to their commitments. A broken promise is like a broken trust—it is always painful to me. I myself have been guilty of broken promises; but I try to be more and more careful about making commitments that are beyond my financial, physical, emotional, or intellectual resources.