Monday, August 23, 2010

Chestnut Lodge, Rockville, Maryland Tales From The Locked Wards Of A Private Psychiatric Hospital

Click on the above photo to enlarge it. This novel was based on the author's work at Chestnut Lodge as a psychiatric aide. It was first published by Simon and Schuster in 1961.

Click on the above photo to enlarge it. This is the way Chestnut Lodge looked when I worked there in 1973 and 1974.

Click to enlarge above photo.

The aftermath of the fire that destroyed the Chestnut Lodge in downtown Rockville, MD on June 7, 2009.

Rockville City Councilwoman Phyllis Marcuccio said:
"It was an icon for the city," she said. "I remember growing up here and Rockville was not known because it was the county seat, but because of the world famous sanitarium."

Click to enlarge and go to Youtube and read comments.

Click on the picture above to enlarge it.
The link below is a full page of photos of Chestnut Lodge before and after it burned down. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

In 1973 and 1974 I worked as a psychiatric aide at Chestnut Lodge in Rockville,Maryland. Chestnut Lodge was a really expensive private mental hospital. They had around 100 patients and 25 full time psychiatrists.
The aides would stay with the patients on the locked wards and walk them back and forth to their sessions with their shrinks.
Here is a link to learn more about Chestnut Lodge.

I first learned of Chestnut Lodge when I saw the movie LILITH with Jean Seberg and Warren Beatty. This movie came out around 1964. It was filmed partially at Chestnut Lodge and in and around Rockville and other Maryland locations. It is also the third movie that Peter Fonda appeared in. He is a patient in the movie. Here is the international movie database information on the movie. Click on the link below.

The movie was based on the novel of the same name by J.R. Salamanca which came out in 1961. He had worked as a psychiatric aide at Chestnut Lodge some time in the 1940s or early 1950s. Briefly the story of the novel and the movie is he meets a seductive female mental patient who slowly draws him into her fantasy world and he slowly begins to lose his mind.

So I knew about the novel and the movie and in October or November of 1973 I went to Chestnut Lodge and applied for a job. I had worked as a staff member at a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed adolescents in Florida the previous two years so I had some qualifications. That plus my education and other work experience got me hired. So I went to work at Chestnut Lodge.

I will tell a few stories of my experiences on the locked wards of Chestnut Lodge as I remember them.
#1. A young man who had been a stockbroker in Philadelphia who came from a wealthy family. He would talk on the pay phones from time to time. This was allowed. However it had to come to a stop when it was learned he was still selling stocks and doing business from a mental hospital.

#2. A kindly old woman who read the paper every day and would write in the margins and critique every story she read. She tried to explain to me one day where oil could be located. One Sunday morning when I got to work early she complained that she had not gotten her Sunday Washington Post. I told her I would go down to the lobby and get her paper for her. She said, "Soft soap from a southerner".

#3.A strange young man who sat in a chair silent all day smoking his cigarettes. He never flicked the ashes. The cigarette ash would continue to grow until there was no cigarette left and then fall off and onto the floor on its on. He was always very calm until he had visitors. When he was told his mother was coming to visit he would get highly agitated.

#4. A young man locked in his room who did pushups all day. He was a full blown psychotic. He never spoke any language but would wail and howl sometimes. He kept doing pushups until he was in fantastic shape and extremely muscular. He was incredilby strong.

One day we were told we were going to give him a bath. Four of us were given a mattress to put over him as we ran in and each got an arm and a leg. We also wore scarfs over our heads so he could not pull our hair. We opened the door and ran in and covered him with the mattress and each grabbed an arm or a leg. He did not resist. I knew then we were in for trouble.

We took him down to the room where there was a large bathtub. We got him in the tub with no trouble. Again I thought this is too easy. We filled the tub with water and he sat calmly as we soaped him down. As soon as he was fully soaped and wet he came flying up and out of the tub. All hell broke loose. It was like trying to catch and hold a greased bull. Finally we got him and finished washing him and put him back in his room.

I will add some more stories of my time at Chestnut Lodge as I remember them.

Note: No electric shock was used. No insulin shock as
far as I know. It was all Freudian analysis.
They did use a WW2 treatment called "wet packs" which
was ice cold sheets wrapped around a patient tightly
so they could not move. Only their heads stuck out.
They would be kept that way for an hour or two. it was
supposed to calm them down. We(the aides)had to wrap
them up and then sit there with them and watch them.
There were some patients who I felt had been put there by
their wealthy family in an attempt to get rid of of
them or get their money.