Newspapers (Part 1)

image of a stack of newspapers

Sammy.  She lived in a State Hospital for over 50 years.  Sammy was called an “institution” at this hospital.  She had lived there longer than any of the current staff who worked at this hospital.  They could not imagine life at this hospital and on the wards without her.

Sammy valued routine.  She would wake in the morning, dress, eat breakfast, have a cup of coffee and a cigarette, then walk the halls carrying magazines and newspapers.  Up and down the halls she walked.  Every few hours a staff would ask her if she wanted to go to the “canteen” and she happily obliged.  She would have a cup of coffee and smoke her cigarettes.  She would have lunch then resume her walk of the halls carrying magazines and newspapers.  Stop at the canteen for a coffee and cigarettes (sometimes multiple).  Supper time then resume her walk of the halls carrying magazines and newspapers.  Stop at the canteen for coffee and more cigarettes.

After these 50 years she was identified as someone to move out into the community into her own home with supports from an orgnization.

People were scared.  People were sad.  Sammy seemingly took it all in stride.

Sammy didn’t speak.  It was written in her files that she only spoke very rarely and only in one to two word sentences… if at all.

It was interesting that she carried these magazines and newspapers.  “She just likes to carry them,” her staff at the hospital would say with a smile.  Sammy was an institution at this hospital as a familiar as the smells of the wards and the color of paint on the walls.

Sitting with her, she was unemotional in her facial expressions when talking with her.  Her movements were limited to walking or when handed something.  A light touch was needed as a prompt for any movement or interaction.  A few hours passed of time together and a newspaper was handed to her and asking her to read aloud the paper as reading glasses were left at home for the other in the room.  She read aloud in a deep, low, raspy voice with precise articulation and enunciation.  

“Sammy, you can read?!”

Looking with laser precision, “Yes, I can read.”

Waves of shock and regret went through the nurses station and the professional staff when this was shared.  “We didn’t know.”

Fifty years of records were reviewed at high speeds.  Sammy was valedictorian of her high school class, then shortly after something happened that is lost to time and extensive records.  She stopped talking and was diagnosed with “Catatonic Schizophrenia” and for fifty years, she lived a life behind walls and barbed wire. “Sammy is an institution.”