Doctor Harry Bailey promised people that he could cure them of drug addiction, depression, schizophrenia, anorexia, and nearly anything else. Then he sedated them for weeks. And he kept this up for 17 years.
Chelmsford Hospital’s deep sleep ward was a quiet place to work. Aside from the staff, and the occasional visitor, everyone at the Australian private hospital ward was unconscious all the time.
The doctor in charge, Harry Bailey, believed that a “long rest” was the ideal way to heal anyone of anything. Prolonged spells of unconsciousness would allow the brain to unlearn destructive patterns, and so would cure people with schizophrenia, PMS, or depression.
It would also help people break out of unhealthy behavioural patterns, like drug addiction, anorexia, or compulsive behavior. And if you wanted to take off a few pounds, deep sleep therapy could help with that as well.
His philosophy resulted in two deaths a year inside his hospital, every year, for nearly two decades.
Between 1962 and 1979, about two people a year failed to wake up from the coma that massive doses of barbituates put them in.
Others died or were injured due to the electroconvulsive therapy that was performed on them while they were unconscious but without the muscle relaxers that would keep them from moving due to the shock. Others were injured by the sheer lack of motion.
Depending on who you ask, the death toll due to the therapy is in the low 20s or the high 80s. Some patients went on to die of illnesses that may have been caused by their time in Chelmsford. A high percentage of the deep sleep patients went on to kill themselves.
Others just had terrible experiences. While the luckiest patients went to sleep and woke up missing no time, others experienced hallucinations and woke up covered in their own urine and feces.
While some visitors said the deep sleep ward was peaceful, others talked about how it was filled with constant incoherent moaning.
What made Chelmsford a national scandal was not that this happened, but that the Australian government did nothing about it. Despite the deaths, and the live patients’ complaints, the hospital passed inspection.
It stayed operational when a 14-year-old boy died during the therapy. It even stayed operational when a man had second thoughts, accepted a pill that he was told would “calm him down” so he could talk about his therapy, and woke up days later.
The man tried to press kidnapping and wrongful imprisonment charges.
It was only when the rest of the doctors at the hospital, horrified by the deaths, threatened to quit that the practice was stopped.
A few years later it became the subject of a television special and an ongoing national scandal. Investigations were opened up against the doctors in charge, but they were so prolonged and scattered that after over a decade a court stated that the delays amounted to a government misuse of the system and dismissed some of the charges.
Doctor Bailey himself committed suicide after investigation revealed that the research into sedation therapy on which he’d based his treatment was actually about the benefit of a few hours sedation. The average stay at Chelmsford was 14 days.
Frankenstein observing the first stirrings of his creature.
Engraving by W. Chevalier after Th. von Holst, 1831. Featured as frontispiece to the 1831 edition of Shelley’s novel. Source: Wellcome Library.
Far from the fantastic and improbable tale that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein now seems to us, the novel was declared by one reviewer upon publication to have “an air of reality attached to it, by being connected with the favourite projects and passions of the times”.
Among these were the scientific investigations into the states of life and death. Considerable uncertainty surrounded these categories. So much so that it was not far-fetched that Frankenstein should assert: “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds”
He was not alone in considering that the boundary between life and death was imaginary and that it might be breached.
Worried by the potential inability to distinguish between the states of life and death, two doctors, William Hawes and Thomas Cogan, set up the Royal Humane Society in London in 1774.
It was initially called the “Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned”; its aims were to publish information to help people resuscitate others, and it paid for attempts to save lives (the Society paid more money if the attempt was successful).
Many people could not swim at this time despite the fact that they worked and lived along London’s rivers and canals.
There was an annual procession of those “raised from the dead” by the Society’s methods, which may well have included people who had intended suicide too.
One such seems to have been Mary Shelley’s mother, the feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, who after leaping from Putney Bridge into the Thames in the depth of depression complained “I have only to lament, that, when the bitterness of death was past, I was inhumanly brought back to life and misery”.
The pun on her “inhumane” treatment may well refer to the efforts of the Humane Society in rescuing her.
Valeria Messalina was the third wife of emperor Claudius. She was notorious for being an absolute nymphomaniac.
She married Claudius in A.D. 38 and they had two children, who were rumoured to have actually been fathered by Caligula as she was a frequent attendee to his many banquets and orgies.
After Caligula was finally murdered, Messalina, although now empress, did not suppress her urges.
At night she would even dress up as a prostitute and incognito she would trade as a prostitute – such was her insatiable appetite for men.
She once challenged the famous Roman prostitute, Scylla, to a sex-athon, whereby the winner was the one who copulated with the most men.
The competition lasted for 24 hours and Messalina won with a score of 25 partners.
In 48 A.D. she plotted with one of her lovers, Sillius, to have Claudius murdered and even had a secret marriage ceremony with him. However, one of Claudius’s advisors Narcissus, exposed the plot to him.
Claudius was heartbroken and could hardly believe his own ears, but was eventually persuaded to have her and Sillius promptly executed.
Messalina was given the option of suicide but she could not bring herself to take her own life.
If the medieval legends are to be believed, the devil was a prolific architect.
All around Europe are bridges known as the Devil’s Bridge, each with a story of soul-selling deals and outwitting satan.
These stories that developed independently of each other likely were related to the gravity-defying structure of these bridges, the likes of which had rarely been seen and seemed beyond the possibilities of human hands.
Unholy Features: This Devil’s Bridge in Ceredigion, Wales, is actually three bridges stacked strangely on top of each other — the oldest at the bottom being from 1075-1200, the second from 1753, and the third from 1902 — all looming over a yawning ravine in the woods.
You can descend to the oldest bridge on a set of stairs called Jacob’s Ladder.
Deal with the Devil: The story goes that the the ravine was too steep for mortal architecture, so the devil offered the traditional deal which was to take the soul of the first to cross.
Donated by Alexandre Cabanel (born 1823 in Montpelier – died 1889 in Paris) to the museum of his birthplace, this painting is an exemplary work by the artist and strongly representative of his achievements and success during the period.
The classical figure of Phaedra’s languid body stretches across the canvas.
Nearly as white as the sheet draped over her, her body dramatically contrasts against the vivid colours of the setting.
The details of the architectural features, furs, fabrics and the servant’s costumes are all rendered sumptuously and create an atmosphere of exotic luxury.
Cabanel used the wife of a prominent banker as his model.
That he could represent the significant classical figure of Phaedra in this way – both frail and banal – was heavily criticised at the Salon of 1880, where the painting’s confusion of insignificant details was also taken to task.
Nonetheless, it was precisely the painting’s confusion of banality and excess that made it a fitting, nostalgic allegory to Second Empire society.