Today, it is just a relic, a hold over, no doubt a living anachronism of the sadism of so called modern medicine & the sins of psychiatry. But that was then when I first agreed to this calling. Back then, before the last discharge at New York State Psychiatric Center on Wards Island.
There, where the last great psychiatric cathedral now stood, is a carefully laid out and organized hospital and symbol of the medical discourse to exercise its prowess at various levels of power. It was a symbol of the same sinful power that housed an entire population in hallways of the living-damned, and in the very next room, would force treatment upon its victims calling it a service, and making billions in the process as lobotomies set the stage for shock treatment, just to be supplanted by big pharmacy, the final abuser in a canon of psychiatric atrocities of the 21st century.
Today the legacy of the psychiatrists of New York Psychiatric Center is overshadowed by the rise of the specter of its ex-patients, psychiatric survivors, and peers that liberated medicine from psychiatry. It was the end of a movement that began in the 1970’s, almost forty years of struggle until that one day, when the last discharged patient was freed from those very passages by the peers that lived through Operation-Psych-Out.
Back then it was a day that began like any other, patients were just waking up for their morning medication, getting ready for their programs, and the nurses were taking report. All the while, on the shores of the island, beyond the gates of the grand-facility, was the staging point of the largest civilian army in the history of the United States. By the time psychiatric nursing was done with its last report in each unit, and right before morning rounds, the order to green-light Operation-Psych-Out, the liberation of New York Psychiatric Center was given.
Back then, nobody knew if it would work. It all began as chatter, talk amongst the peers in community mental health centers. Nobody knew, least of all me, that that talk about disseminate so quickly, move amongst the ranks of the peer movement, and rise to the level of its czar. That was when I first read about it on mental health affairs.org. Max Guttman had issued the order. Like the Nazi decree that all Jews must enter the ghetto, so too, Mr. Guttman had issued the order for the final deadline for New York Psychiatric Center, its staff, to comply with ward-closure teams, and sign-off on the discharge of every patient in the facility.
But when the day of Operation Psych-Out began, fate had already chosen its hero, and so anointed its czar in history. About the time patients were eating breakfast, they too could see the specter of the czar and its grand consortium of peers began their charge on the facilities gates. When the first shots were fired, and the first patriots fell, the alarms had already been sounded, and the staff mobilized.
Nobody knew then what would happen next. As with all things absolute, there was an exception to that rule. & with all that rule, for the peer czar answered only to calls from justice. It was at that very moment Mr. Guttman could be heard throughout the island, clear as day, a distant voice, now capturing the hearts of the patients with the same euphonious chatter from the community centers Mr. Guttman commensurate with his peers years ago, when the decree was issued for the last discharge.
That was when everything changed, and patients could see the specter rise in the very gaze of the psychiatrists. The czar had already won. His people liberated. Power restored in the hands of the people gifted by their sovereign czar Max Guttman. It was at that moment he laid down his powers as czar, taking off his coat, and re-joined the ranks of the peer movement as a peer. The balance had been restored, a people freed, and a discourse liberated from psychiatry and its rulers from the peer czar.
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