The good Lord spared my life the first time when I was four years old. I contracted a serious case of diphtheria. Diphtheria can be a fatal disease. I think the I came up with the malady is by messing around with some chickens. I would sneak under the house to play with those cluckers, spending a lot of time there. I found these creatures quite interesting. I was fascinated by the way they drank from the puddles of rain water that accumulated underneath the house. We humans use a dipper or a glass to drink. These birds, however, had quite a different way of quenching their thirst. One would lower its beak into the puddle, take a small sip, raise its head as high as possible, and then finally swallow the small amount of water that was taken in. This procedure had to be followed several times.
|The scary, twisted face of mental illness|
I was thrilled whenever I had the opportunity to see a number of my [fowl] feathered friends perform this ritual simultaneously. Some of the heads would go down, while others went up. Up. Down. Up. Down. They were a live carousel of hens. I would giggle with glee at the delightful sipping symphony.
Naturally, sometimes I would pretend I was a chicken, and I was very thirsty. I would get on all fours, lower my lips into a puddle and take a small sip. After stretching my neck toward floor of the house, I would finally swallow. Up and down I went. I was a chicken. And, so, it was speculated that this was how I contracted diphtheria.
The symptoms of this illness were difficulty in breathing, high fever and a sore throat. I did not know the word for breathing, so I complained to Mama. "Mama, I can't go like this!" I wheezed as I labored to breathe. The first doctor that saw me misdiagnosed my condition. However, when Dr. Orien Dalton initially saw me, he knew it was diphtheria.
I was hospitalized until I was better. The one thing I remember about the hospital was my first encounter with a hamburger. One night Daddy brought a hamburger to Mama for supper. When Mama unwrapped the still-steaming sandwich, and unfamiliar, yet mouth water aroma tantalizingly flooded my sense of smell. "What's that?" I asked Mama excitedly. "It's called a hamburger," she answered. While passing me a generous portion, she said, "Try a piece." Well, that was just the most wonderful food I had ever tasted. It was unfortunate I could not eat much solid food at that time. I felt as though I could eat at least five of those savory sandwiches all by myself.
After returning home from the hospital, my ordeal was not yet over. I had to remain in bed, and the entire house was quarantined. Mama and Daddy stayed, but Grandma, Carol and Lorita were forced to leave in order to stay with Mama's parents, who lived just down the road. After a while, I was allowed visitors inside the house, but not inside my room. Lorita was one year old then. I remember Mama would lay a chair down across the entrance of my bedroom so we could see each other. Loreet, (my sister's nickname) meanwhile, would try to crawl through the chair to play with me. She would reach toward me with her little hands and cry out of frustration.
The time finally arrived when I could leave the bed and then eventually go outside. God had healed me through a young doctor named Orien E. Dalton. By the mercy of God I had my while life ahead of me again. I was certain my relatives prayed for my healing, but at four years of age, I knew very little about our great and almighty God. It would not be until the age of 32 that I would realize God's powerful healing grace throughout my life.
Well, many are called, but few are chosen. I would neither be a missionary priest nor a diocesan one. That summer, only a few weeks after I graduated, I was stricken with an emotional illness. I feel that it was God telling me He had not chosen me to become a priest. Realizing that once a seminarian became mentally ill, he was never allowed to pursue the priesthood any longer. I was completely devastated and that made my emotional start worse.
I spent about two months at the state mental hospital in Pinesville, Louisiana. My stay there was a most horrifying experience. After I was there a couple of days, I ran into Timmy. Timmy was a cousin who married one of Mama’s sister. I had just come to the hospital a couple of weeks before with my aunt, Nora. We had come to visit her husband, Timmy. You talk about coincidence! But was that one? Timmy was just as sedated as I was, and he had very little to say. That did not offer very much encouragement. I did not understand what was happening to me.
To amuse themselves (David was now a patient at the same mental institution) late at night, the technicians would drag me out of bed, and antagonize me into wrestling and fighting with them. They had themselves a good old time taking turns manhandling me, and tossing my heavily drugged body around like a big rag doll. Once, when I was tied down to my bed, wrists and ankles, two patients came into my room. One was an older man with a pot belly, and the other was a teenager. They were supposed to be on a laundry run. Well, they took turns slapping me in the face until they became bored. When they left my face was covered with blood.
The absolute worst ordeal I went through was those series of electrical shock treatment I was forced to undergo. Back then, in 1965, shock treatments were administered in its early, crude form. A considerable amount of voltage was used. I rode a small bus with other patients to where the so-called “treatments” were performed. There was a look of fear in everyone’s eyes during the bus ride, and no one spoke a word as we were being hauled to hell.
We always arrived at the shocking center much too soon. Inside, they strapped me down securely on a table. I do not recall [them] ever giving me any sedatives—they may have. In any case, I was always awake and aware of everything going on around me. There was a long row of tables with a hapless victim atop of each one. The torturers started on one end with that cursed machine of theirs, and worked their way toward the other end. When they were two beds from me I would turn my head slightly, and witness this horrendous spectacle. I would see them hold the electrodes on either side of the unfortunate sufferers’ head. They would then turn on the switch of that fiendish instrument. The poor person that was being electrocuted would immediately go into uncontrollable convulsions.
This horrifying scene reminded me of the way those chickens writhed and tossed in agony after Grandma had cut their heads off so we could have them for dinner. As the electricity shot through the pulsating patient, it seemed that his body would levitate above the table at times. The patient could not scream to vent some of the pain, because a large, rubber mouthpiece had been installed inside his mouth to prevent him biting off his own tongue.
By the time the “electrocutioners” got to me, I was in an extreme state of terror. I moaned and sobbed loudly as I rolled my head from side to side in a pool of my own tears. I knew how excruciating the pain would be, but I was helpless to do anything. All I could do was stiffen my entire body in anticipation of that dreadful, initial surge. I bit down hard on my mouthpiece, tightly closed my eyes and hoped and prayed that I would live through yet another one those tortuous shocking sessions.
When I got zapped, all I could do was grunt and squeal. The pain from this inhumane shocking of my brain was truly unbearable. Thanks be to God that I would fall into a state of unconsciousness before I suffered too long. On the bus ride back our quarters I felt like a limp, lifeless dish rag. For the longest, tormenting hours, I was forced to endure the most severe headache imaginable. What seemed like many days afterwards, when my condition had improved some, I was given the liberty to walk around the grounds. It was a blessed relief that those shivering shock treatments had finally come to an end. I sincerely enjoyed my newly found freedom. I felt almost like a human being again. While walking I started getting in touch with the spiritual part of myself. In my young life I had never really done this before, even when I was in the seminary.
This spirituality began to grow bigger and bigger until one day I was convinced that I was Jesus Christ. I suppose I had gotten in touch with the real Jesus within myself, but I had gone to extremes. I became obsessed with finding a priest with whom I could discuss all of this. I wanted to ask a priest whether I was Jesus Christ. After wandering around the entire day, I finally came upon the chapel, and the priest who ministered to the patients at the hospital. “Father,” I asked him in dismay, “Am I Jesus Christ?” In a kind, gentle voice, he replied, “No, my son. You are not Jesus Christ.” A great burden was lifted from my soul at that moment.
One day, by the grace of God, I was released from the mental hospital and allowed to return home. However, for about two months I was like a zombie. I had neither the inclination nor the energy to do anything. All I did was watch television all day and all night. One day, praise the Lord, I just snapped out of my deep depression and rejoined the human race. I had truly been blessed by God. I was touched by His healing grace.
This is a true story. David was first hospitalized for mental illness when he was 16, and diagnosed as a manic depressive. He spent a number of years in and out of mental institutions. His depressison is controlled with the medication Lithium. In his book God is the center of David's existence, who he talks about more than he does his wife, who suffers the same illness. He used a pen name to protect his privacy.
The Extraordinary Life an An Ordinary Man is self published© by David Delahoussaye, 1999-2000, printed by Princess Press, Austin, Texas. photo by dorothy charles banks