Exorcist

Alan worked at a mental hospital in the Midwest. He asked to be transferred to the acute ward, which housed some of the most psychotic people in the area. His request was approved...

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

All right, welcome back. I'm doing a special Uncle Glynn's SNAP JUDGMENT "Campfire Tales." All right, all right, all right, all right - it's from NPR and PRX. I said it. And I've got a story for y'all that comes straight from the darkness. So there's this guy I knew. His name is Alan, and he worked with mental patients in the Midwest. And he started working in a wing with the healthiest people, but Alan wanted to be where the action was. He actually asked to be transferred to the acute ward which housed some of the most psychotic people in the region. And the thing is, Alan's request was approved.

ALAN: We had a signal that would be piped throughout the building if somebody became violent or suicidal or whatever. It was called Code Red, and then it would be followed by a room number or an area. Code Red - cafeteria, Code Red - lobby. What you were told in orientation was drop whatever you're doing and go to that spot as fast as you could.

You really developed situational awareness. You always knew who was behind you and what patients were where and where your friend was. When you went into rooms, you were aware where was the space that somebody could be hiding with anything to club you over the head when you walked in. It was very common for patients to barricade themselves in a room, pick up a chair and start smashing at the windows. We had ways to get into the room, almost tactical-squad like, and overcome this person.

It was around 19 - oh, I don't know. When did the movie "The Exorcist" come out? It was in the early '70s. There was just this spate of admissions of people who were convinced that they were possessed by the devil, that they were Linda Blair. They were now possessed. It was like, damn that movie. When will that movie be out of the theaters? They were almost always young people, and they were going to a late-night showing of "The Exorcist," and they all dropped acid. It was like, OK, how stupid do you have to be that you would do acid and go see the "The Exorcist"?

If somebody came in and thought they were possessed, they got stronger.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through loudspeaker) Code Red, room 312. Code Red, room 312.

ALAN: I remember admitting a relatively young woman, a really small woman as I recall. It was just a titanic battle - eyes just wild, cursing in tongues, projectile vomiting, sores that would appear almost before your eyes. We had leather straps and locks; they would attach to the metal bed frame. One would be on the wrist, one on the arm, chest restraints just above the elbow, ankles, just above the knee. And these are big, thick buckles and locks. We stepped back sort of in relief of just, thank God the hard part is done here.

The person was, of course, continuing to thrash and speak in tongues. And at one point - I do not know how it happened, but we all saw it - she appeared to rise up two or three inches off the bed across the whole body. I remember looking at the next person next to me. We both just go, [bleep]. I can't explain it.

When you are confronted with Satan-obsessed people, you had to be afraid, is my grip on reality that tenuous, too? We see this as just a clinical psychological thing - you're crazy. Yeah, and if you're wrong - you know. I mean, anybody who doesn't posit the - whatever their worldview is could be completely and utterly wrong, well, you're not much better than a psychotic person because they're completely convinced that the way they see the world is not insane. So you're just mimicking them unless you can at least let in that you don't know what's going on.

WASHINGTON: Scary, right? It was scary. Don't worry, don't worry - well, actually you should worry 'cause I got one more story that you need to hear.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.