The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird and His Daughter's Quest to Know Him

By Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton

Chapter 5

This chapter of the book was written by Dr. Baird while he was being held at Westborough State Hospital, just outside Boston, in 1944. For much of his time at Westborough, Dr. Baird was forced to wear a straight jacket. In this chapter, he is lost in his delusions and is visited by his wife, Gretta.

These days of constant restraint were the darkest of my life. I cannot imagine exploring greater depths of discour­agement and hopelessness. I knew then—and I know now—that I became delirious in a way previously unknown in the course of any of my illnesses. These spells of delirium were brought on by the harsh treatments employed. I am sure of this.

During the hours of my flights from reality, I passed through phases quite foreign to anything I have ever expe­rienced before. As I lay there bound down, I lost all sense of time and season and imagined that scores of hundreds of years were passing by. I imagined that some strange power of eternal life had been bestowed upon me and radi­ated to those who came within my immediate encasement. From day to day, nurses and attendants seemed to grow younger. I felt sure, however, that my friends and relatives on the outside were long ago dead and that I would never see them again.

My thoughts wandered with all anchorage eliminated. It seemed that I must have traveled back through sub­conscious impressions imposed by every stage of the evolutionary tree. My dreams and thoughts focused upon the origin of man, the nature of his soul and the nature of eternal life. I visualized the migration of a tiger­like crea­ture that flew on silver wings from a distant planet to earth, thousands of years ago. This imaginary creature was inter­preted as a forerunner of man, and looked like a saber­toothed tiger, with a coat and wings of silver. I could see these creatures stalking prey, their tongues out­stretched in hunger and rage. The tigers struck down smaller animals and ate entire carcasses, sucking blood, voraciously.

In my dreams I could see the saber­toothed tigers as they took to upright positions, a force of gravity slowly changing the shape of their heads and other parts of their bodies, developing into savage, primitive men. These men rode large, powerful, and very fleet horses with hair grow­ing to great lengths. These riders of that ancient age used no saddle or bridle but buried their legs and hands into their horses’ long hair, and each man seemed to become a part of the horse he rode. The hair, which was twelve to eighteen inches long, was very fine and quite translucent, and carried a magnetic field. The lines of the field radiated in all directions, covering a space many yards beyond the dimensions of the horse. It seemed that these magnetic waves were transversed by the rays of the sun and that the horses were able to travel along beams of sunshine like a railroad on its track. I could see these horses and their riders migrating by the thousands to and from earth, and going off vast distances from the earth, visiting Mars and other portions of the universe. These dreams were so vivid that I believed they were a true reflection of some primitive state of the earth, leaving behind recollections in the vast subterranean passages of the human mind to which one could find access in certain mental states.

I dreamed about the soul and discovered that it was a magnetic field, partly shaped like a human body, but with dimensions far greater. It seemed that nobody could have life without these magnetic fields of which there were only so many available. As the child took shape in its mother’s womb, such a soul would migrate into it. Other souls would wander off to seek a new type of existence on some far away planet. Conceived in this way, the soul and eternal life seemed comprehensible qualities, and understandable. Such a soul living on forever could see and hear and think, but could not be seen or heard. On the basis of this concep­tion, it is easy to explain why the souls of departed ones do not come back and appear to us. In my dreams, these souls came back and sought out loved ones, but could not make themselves seen or felt. However, this did not make them unhappy and thus free from all earthly lives, they soared away to play among sunbeams and moonbeams and wan­der eternally through the universe, finding constant com­panions. Others chose to live life again and found their way into newborn babies. I found much happiness and reassur­ance in these dreams about the soul and eternity.

My thoughts dwelled upon world affairs: the war and peace and how to deal with Russia and Japan and Germany. I must have talked constantly about the ceaseless flow of ideas concerning these enemies. I pictured a peace confer­ence which would deal in a Christian manner with both Ger­many and Japan, allowing these countries to choose their own leaders, subjecting them to no humiliation, no poverty, to ensure peace by some far-reaching educational system and not by force of arms alone. There is no way to know whether the development of the science of destruction will make it possible for human beings to destroy each other completely, but it does not require much use of imagination to visualize the horrors of the wars to come, robot bombs lending greatly to this vision of the future.

I talked out loud at nighttime, alone in my room, about these thoughts, dreamed about the use of Christian propa­ganda to help win the war, perhaps employing skywriting to replace leaflets as a means of reaching the common man in Germany and Japan and later Russia. I visualized a near future date when skywriting could be done in flashing col­ors at night, with music, thunder, and other sound effects.

During the next several days I lay constantly in restraints, never moving, never making any requests, cooperating si­lently. Some of the patients came to my window and tried to tease me into getting out of restraints. I took no notice of this and made no reply, kept my eyes closed, lay still, slept very little. After three or four days the restraints were gradually used less and less and finally discontinued. A table and chair were brought into my room. I entered a slightly more normal way of being. My secretary sent sev­eral boxes of sharpened pencils and some paper. A small amount of additional paper was obtainable at the hospital. I began to write this story and to describe my experiences, my dreams, my thoughts.

Then, one Friday, three or four weeks after my admis­sion to Westborough, I was told that visitors were coming to see me. Immediately I went to the bathroom to wash my face in cold water, collect myself, and comb my hair. I was still dressed in my sackcloth and ashes hospital underwear to my ankles, slippers, and a drab bathrobe. As I darted into the bathroom, I could see coming down the hall Gretta and Dr. Means, my friend and former faculty advisor at Harvard Medical School. They were waiting for me when I came back to my room. Greetings all around were warm and friendly. I kissed Gretta and we sat down to talk. I was in good shape, only mildly manic, but I had just drunk a cup of coffee and this made me very talkative. I read them let­ters that I had written and then gave them to Gretta to mail. I talked too much.

Gretta seemed upset that they would not give me my own clothes.

“The whole plan of treatment has been brutal in the ex­treme, but I don’t mind it,” I told them. “I write complaints to my lawyer, because I think it’s the logical thing to do—but I really don’t mind it at all.”

Gretta wept a little.

“He’s such a good sport about it all,” she said.

Passing comments were made about the divorce. We talked on at length. I related the chain of events leading up to my manic depression cycles—going back to the high points of the original development of the attacks.

I could see tears in Dr. Means’ eyes.

Mr. Burns, the attendant, came to the door and I intro­duced him.

“You’re cooling off all right,” Dr. Means told me. “Your chief problem is to stay on the right side of Dr. Boyd. He’s your chief critic at present.”

Dr. Boyd was my appointed psychiatrist at Westborough. Later I spoke of the harsh treatments I had received, say­ing, “I think that Dr. Boyd should be put through these treat­ments so that he’ll know what he’s doing when he prescribes them in this way.”

“That’s logical,” said Dr. Means.

The total visit wasn’t long.

As I walked down the hall with Gretta and Dr. Means, I slipped my arm around Gretta’s shoulders and she slipped her arm around my waist. When we got to the nurse’s of­fice, Dr. Means stepped aside to tell a joke to Mr. Burns. As Gretta and I stood there she seemed like such a child, and her arm around my waist seemed so small and so delicate. I turned to her and said, “I’ll always want you to be at my parties and to help me.” She looked at me and smiled. Dr. Means shook hands and went out the door first.

As Gretta went through the door she stopped and we kissed. The tears were streaming down her cheeks and, as I came away from her, I could see great sorrow in her face. Mr. Burns said that she cried all the way downstairs.

After the visit by Gretta and Dr. Means, no one came to see me for about six weeks. During this time Saturdays and Sundays seemed especially long because they were days when so many patients had visitors. Often on Sundays a nurse or an attendant would say, “Dr. Baird, you will surely have visitors today.” I soon learned that when this remark was made, no visitors ever came. On days when visitors did come, I usually learned of it because someone said, “You will have visitors in a few minutes. They are on the way over.”

Perhaps Gretta didn’t come to see me because it upset her to do so. Perhaps other people didn’t come because the hospital authorities wouldn’t let them. The effect of having no visitors was agonizing. No greater loneliness or despair can be imagined.