Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Injuries of Nerves and Their Consequences


by Deborah Flanagan

It is not that women are really smaller-minded, weaker-minded,
more timid and vacillating, but that whosoever, man or woman, lives
always in a small, dark place, is always guarded, protected, directed
and restrained, will become inevitably narrowed and weakened by it.

–Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Some thought it was because of all the babies I suddenly seemed to be having. Dr. Silas Mitchell believes that there is a large and troublesome class of thin-blooded emotional women, for whom a state of weak health has become a cherished habit. Initially, he suggests the Earthquake Cure, tells me several of his patients were bounced out of bed to complete recovery. His institution is a big proponent of the Get-Them-Addicted-To-Opium Cure, which also saves on food. However, he’s famous for his Bed Rest Cure, and finally prescribes this, since remorse is already a springboard, and I don’t seem especially bouncy. Bed rest doesn’t sound so bad: in a dream you’re allowed to do anything. Becoming an invalid is an acceptable response to the adversities of life, he tells my husband.

There is one fatal addition which tends to destroy hysterical women: the self-sacrificing love and over- careful sympathy of mother, sister, or other devoted relative. In addition to constant bed rest, I’m secluded from all family. To me, it just feels like he killed off all my central characters. The only human I’m allowed to see is Nurse who massages, bathes, clothes, and feeds me. She finds anything having to do with the human body offensive. It’s hard for me to be touched. I’m not allowed to use my hands at all.

A draught of air is extremely harmful: the doors and windows must be closed, the window-cracks stuffed with cotton, the chimney stopped, the keyhole guarded. The word “galaxy” comes from the Greek word for milk. Part of the doctor’s Bed Rest Cure is his Fat-And-Blood Cure: he prescribes excessive feeding and fatty dairy products. It is difficult to treat any of these cases without the use of milk. Nurse feeds me milk and raw beef soup every two hours. No troublesome symptoms usually result from this full feeding, and nothing is more tiresome than for a patient flat on her back to cut her food and use fork or spoon. I don’t need tears to express my misery to myself. I do need a fork. An earthquake is just a hiccup. An average cloud equals the weight of 100 elephants. I dream that someone is in the room, and I’m naked in bed. Someone is getting dressed so as not to wake me, but I actually wake myself up getting dressed. Nurse is extremely displeased. Not to mention I used my hands. Dr. Mitchell says I’m emotionally unpredictable, and adds two more weeks to my cure.

After nine weeks, I’m sent home with Dr. Mitchell’s instructions: Live as domestic a life as possible. Have your babies with you at all times. Lie down an hour after each meal. Have but one hour intellectual life a day. And never touch pen or pencil as long as you live.