This is the first chapter of a book that I am planning to release next week. Hope you enjoy it! Contact me at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DrLeonardoNoto.
By: Leonardo Antony Noto
©2012. All rights reserved. No portion of this manuscript may be reproduced or used in anyway without the written permission of the author.
Note to Reader: This book is a true story. All names have been changed to protect the anonymity of the author and of the other people involved in the author’s life. This work is based on the author’s recollection of these events. Other people might remember said events differently or from another point-of-view, which their prerogative. I have written the overwhelming majority of this two-part memoir exactly as I remember it. It is approximately 95% accurate, to the author’s recollection, and the 5% that is not exact does not change the story in any meaningful way. I wrote Intrusive Memory in my late 2nd to early 3rd year of medical school (2006-07). I initially considered revising some of the content based on my subsequent experiences as a physician, but I ultimately decided against revision to let the book stand as a testament to the person that I was as a medical student. The second installment of this memoir, Three Years in the Army, was written in 2012, five years later, and it will be available shortly through Amazon.com. Readers who have read my other works, namely The Cannabinoid Hypothesis, may notice that I used (very loosely) some events/places from my true story in that fictional work — guilty as charged. Questions, comments, hatemail, etc. are welcome at www.leonardonoto.com, where I hope to see you soon!
Best Wishes and Thank You for Reading,
Leonardo Antony Noto
Author of: The Life of a Colonial Fugitive, The Cannabinoid Hypothesis, and Intrusive Memory.
Soon to be Published (in 2012/13): Three Years in the Army: A Doctor’s Journey in the Green Uniform and Lords and Disciples.
“The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”
~James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States of America.
It was May 15, 1995, the last day of the eighth grade. I was sitting in my third period English class watching the clock tick off the seconds to summer freedom when a sixth-grader arrived at the classroom door with a written message for my teacher that would change my life forever. I’ll never know the exact wording of that little note, but my English teacher immediately told me to go to the guidance counselor’s office, even watching me as I walked down the hall, which was unnerving because she didn’t do that even when she sent someone to the office for misbehavior. I was frightened because my mother had warned me that if one of my teachers saw the bruises on my face they might call D.H.S. and she had even tried to cover them with make-up for the past few days. The facial bruises, by the way, were self-inflicted with a baseball bat, a self-punishment for “letting my family down.” My mother was very careful about where she hit me and she never would have been careless enough to leave bruises in such an obvious location. In fact the first time she saw the bruises she yelled at me, not for hitting myself, but for hitting myself in a place where other people would see it. All of this was buzzing through my mind as I opened the door to the guidance counselor’s office and saw that sitting inside with the counselor was…my father!
I immediately ran out of the office. Just as I was stepping into the central corridor the assistant guidance counselor grabbed my shirt collar and yanked me into the conference room, which was immediately adjacent to the counselor’s office. I loudly demanded that I be allowed to call my mother at work and, somewhat to my surprise, she handed me a phone with my mother already on the line. My mother sounded desperate and she nervously said “Leo, Leo, wait there, I’m on my way — I’m calling Andrea and Elaine for help.” Then she hung up. Andrea and Elaine were my mother’s younger sisters, identical twins, and I was glad to hear that she was calling them because Elaine and her husband Henry both were respected attorneys and I was feeling like I really could use a lawyer right about now. I was certain that the guidance counselor would put me into Department of Health and Human Services (D.H.H.S.), Child Protective Custody, and I didn’t want to be molested or turned into a house-slave as my mother had told me that I would be if this ever happened. My mother was a social worker and she knew about these kinds of things so I believed her entirely on the matter.
The guidance counselor opened the door to her office and, with a stern expression on her Wicked-Witch-of-the-West-appearing face, motioned for me to enter with a curl of her pencil-thin index finger. I acted like I was moving towards her and then, without thinking, bolted out of the room, down the hallway, and out of the school at a full sprint. The assistant guidance counselor gave chase, and she was very close to catching me for the first hundred yards until we exited the school building and I started running down the hill, at which point the counselor’s dress began to trip her up. I kept running until I had crossed the street in front of the school and entered the woods, woods which were thick with spring growth — the perfect hiding place. I don’t know how long she chased me because I didn’t look back again until the woods got so thick that I was forced to slow to a walking pace to avoid the spiders’ webs that were strung between the trees. Finally, I dared a look back over my shoulder and I realized with relief that I had escaped, at least for the moment.
In the woods it rapidly dawned upon me that time was not working in my favor. Soon the police would be after me, if they weren’t already, and if I wanted to make it home without getting arrested for truancy, I had better hurry up. I exited the woods and jogged down the side of the highway until I reached my neighborhood, about a two mile run. I was out of shape and winded by the run so I allowed myself to slow to a walk when I reached my block. My plan was to make it home, grab as much money and food as I could find around the house, then hide in the backyard behind the shed until I figured out what to do next. It wasn’t much of a plan but trying to think when your running from the police is a lot harder than it sounds. Just as my house was coming into sight I heard a car horn blaring behind me. I looked back, thinking that I was about to get run over, and I saw that it was Andrea in her Explorer. She leaned out the window yelling in her thick Mississippi drawl, “Leo, hurr’ up, get in. The police are out lookin’ for you.” I hesitated for a moment then reluctantly climbed into the front seat. Andrea immediately started driving whilst simultaneously dialing my mother on her brand new, high-tech cellular phone.
My mother told Andrea to take me to Stony Creek Mental Hospital in Dove, Mississippi because the school guidance counselor and D.H.H.S. had scheduled a family evaluation for us there and there was no way to get out of it. Andrea assured me that I wouldn’t have to go inside the hospital if I didn’t want to, which is the only reason I didn’t jump out of the Explorer and take off running again. Andrea and I drove down Nicety Road the fifteen-some-odd miles to Dove and then up the hospital’s steep driveway. Stony Creek was a large, sprawling, one-story building with reflective windows that prevented anyone outside from seeing into the patients’ rooms. It was an intimidating-looking place and I was resolute that there was no way I was going inside.
Andrea parked the Explorer then attempted to coax me inside the hospital, unsuccessfully — there was no way in hell that I was going into a mental hospital. She eventually gave up and walked inside the hospital alone while I stayed in the Explorer, hunched down in the seat so that people wouldn’t see me. Andrea came out a few minutes later flanked by four large men and I immediately locked the doors to the Explorer although, in hindsight, a wiser plan would have been to take off running again. God I was scared and I prayed for Him to please help me. I had heard about the horrible things that happened in mental hospitals and if I had had the means I would have murdered all four of those men to have stayed out of there. The four hospital orderlies surrounded the Explorer, one at each door, and Andrea electronically unlocked the vehicle with her keychain. I grabbed the first solid object I saw, a full Coca-Cola Classic can, and tried to defend myself with it but I was no match for the four of them. The orderlies grabbed me, wrestled me out of the vehicle and onto the ground, then carried me inside like a dead pig, one man holding each limb.
The four men hefted me into a small, barren, white-brick room and strapped me face down onto a leather-covered restraining bed, one rubber restraint for each limb. They then started examining my whole body, including my genitals, for wounds and tattoos — examining me none too gently at that. The restraining bed was cold and hard, as were the hands that were violating me, and I was so afraid that I nearly urinated on myself. I said another prayer, begging God to help me, but to no avail. The next thing I remember is a large needle being jabbed into my buttocks and the whole world going black as I tried in vain to fight the drug that they had forced into my body.
I woke up at some point later, how long I can’t be sure, groggy from the drugs but still full of fight, like a dog backed into a corner by a man trying to club him to death. I immediately began trying to force my way out of the restraints, struggling and struggling to exhaustion and beyond, before finally accepting the futility of this effort. I then attempted to chew the rubber arm restraints off and I had made a fair amount of progress on the right arm-cuff when the towering orderlies reentered the room, unstrapped me, hefted me off the table, each man with one limb in hand, and strapped me into a pampoose. A pampoose is a full-body straight jacket attached to a wooden backboard and being in it is very painful, a bit like being strangled by a python. I was left in the pampoose for several hours, which I know for a fact because the staff was required to check my peripheral circulation once every hour to make sure that none of my limbs were necrosing, that is to say dying, from lack of circulation. Several people have actually died outright from being physically restrained like this — the pampoose is that tight. Eventually, I was transferred back to the restraining bed, but not before I had had the opportunity to urinate all over several of the bastards who had been manhandling me all day long. That would prove to be the highlight of my stay at Stony Creek and I still remember it rather fondly.
I had had the misfortune of being admitted to Stony Creek on a Friday afternoon, and since the psychiatric staff was off on the weekends, I was left on the restraining bed until Monday morning. The staff had begun letting me off of the bed, briefly, twice per day to eat because it’s easier to feed someone orally than intravenously, which was the other option. It is also easier to put a drug in someone’s food than it is to inject it every day and I know that they were doing this because I refused my apple juice during my first meal on the suspicion that it might be drugged and the staff proceeded to force me to swallow it. I would later learn that one of the drugs they were giving me was Mellaril, an antipsychotic/sedative medication with several rather nasty potential side-effects including: Parkinson’s disease-like neurological dysfunctions (i.e., intractable tremors and drooling) and tardive dyskinesia (an irreversible movement-disorder of the muscles of the face), to name a few. Other lovely side-effects of this drug range from permanent pigment deposits in the eyes, painful muscle dystonias (cramps), and neuroleptic malignant syndrome — a constellation of dangerously high fevers and muscle rigidity that can progress to kidney failure and death. Fortunately, I didn’t develop any of these horrific sequelae but I’ll never forgive the people who forced that poison into my thirteen-year-old body because it very well could have done permanent damage. Never during this time was I allowed to see anyone I knew, including my parents, or given any explanation for why I had been forcibly institutionalized. I gave up on God on that restraining bed since it seemed a foregone conclusion that if God would not help me now He must not exist.
While contemplating my behavior at Stony Brook I would like my readers to keep in mind a few salient points. I was only thirteen years old, I was from a horribly abusive family, and I had been “brainwashed” by my mother to think that D.H.H.S. and their associates wanted to place me into foster-care, where I had been told by my mother that I would be sexually assaulted. The only way, in my mind, to avoid foster-care for not only myself but also my younger siblings, was to keep my mouth shut and, quite frankly, I was almost certainly correct about this. It is also pertinent to note that I didn’t consciously know that I was an abused child. I know that this may be difficult to conceptualize for those who have not been in a similar situation, but I suppose that it is analogous to the old saying “we were poor but we didn’t know it.” Children only have one family and it is only natural for them to assume that what goes on in their family is “normal,” at least for them if not for their peers. Making matters worse, my mother had done a wonderful job of playing me against my father and I considered him just as much of an enemy as I did D.H.H.S. I was in an inescapable catch 22 where, in my mind, I couldn’t help myself without harming my mother and my brothers, all of whom I still loved dearly. I very deliberately and rationally, based on the information at my disposal at the time, made the decision to protect my family at the expense of myself. Of course that didn’t mean that I was any happier about my present situation, and since the futility of direct resistance had become painfully obvious, I quietly vowed that I would run a “guerilla war” against my “captors” at Stony Creek.
That Monday I was released from the isolation room and transferred to a room on the adolescents’ floor. It was a reasonably comfortable room, save for the fact that my next door neighbor was a sixteen-year-old Gangster Disciples’ gangbanger from Johnsonville named ‘Twinkie.’ Twinkie bore a striking resemblance to Mike Tyson and he had the appearance and mannerisms of someone who didn’t shy away from using violence as a routine form of communication — he had been admitted to the hospital for raping two of his preadolescent cousins. Across the hall was Mac, a seventeen-year-old Vice Lords’ gangbanger, also from Johnsonville, who had been admitted by his family after being shot in the leg by the same Gangster Disciples gang of which Twinkie was a member. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the gaping bullet hole in his leg, a wound which Mac’s doctors had decided to leave open to heal on its own via scarring, a process that in medical circles is referred healing by ‘secondary intention,’ i.e. without stitches. Mac had a large afro hair-do and he must have stood at least 6’5’’ — one of the things I first thought when I saw his mangled leg was that that was probably the end of a promising basketball career. Believe it or not, Twinkie and Mac seemed to get along really well, although they both scared the heck out of me.
Those not from the Deep South may be surprised to learn that little ‘nowhere’ towns like Johnsonville, Mississippi have street gangs, and this fact is somewhat of an interesting social phenomenon. The black migration northwards during the 50s and 60s was followed by a counter-migration back to the south during the late 80s and 90s. Along with this migration came street gangs, especially the black Chicago-based gangs, the Gangster Disciples and the Vice Lords, who began springing up chapters in virtually every city and small town in the cotton-belt. As a result of this gang influx of street gangs, Memphis became a major drug distribution point and several high-ranking gang members, many still taking orders from their bosses in Chicago, set up there. In the early 1990s, Johnsonville, Mississippi, a small town that lays about forty-five minutes’ drive south of Memphis, had a violent street war between the Gangster Disciples and the Vice Lords. Mac was one of the turf-war’s many casualties (Note: I have changed the name of most of the towns/locations in this book to protect the identity of the characters).
The other patients in Stony Brook included the typical cases seen on an adolescent psychiatric ward: sexually abused children, drug-addicts and drug-dealers (cocaine was big in the Memphis metro area in the 1990s), violent criminals, and the occasional paranoid schizophrenic. Stony Creek specialized in treating adolescent criminals and I’ve often wondered if this was a deliberate decision on the part of the administration or whether the hospital ended up that way by chance. When I first met the other male patients I was immediately disgusted by the fact that so many blatant thugs had managed to weasel their way out of jail by coming to a psychiatric hospital. Honestly, at least half of the male patients should have been behind bars and they must have had really great lawyers to have been able to sucker the legal system into sending them to ‘treatment’ instead of straight to prison. The female patients were another story entirely. Sexual abuse, rampant promiscuity, and suicide attempts were the rule on the female-side of the hall — the only exception that I recall in the whole bunch was a schizophrenic girl who, as it turns out, attacked me the first time I laid eyes upon her, throwing me out of my chair onto the floor because she thought that I was “makin’ da voices come agin.”
I met with my psychiatrist for the first time around noon that Monday and my mother was there for the conference, there wearing lots of makeup and a nice dress. I was glad to see her and I gave her a hug and asked her to please get me a lawyer because I was scared and I just wanted to go home. Dr. Agarose was a middle-aged, balding man with a truly gargantuan head and I remember wondering if he had to special order his glasses to find a pair that fit. The guy also bore a close resemblance to the psychologist from The Simpsons and I still wonder if that character was modeled after him. During the meeting I was as reticent as my mother was loquacious. My mother immediately began accusing me of having horrible behavioral problems and she broke down crying as she moaned, “I just don’t know what’s wrong with him, he used to be such a good kid.” And then, I shit you not, she started coming-on to my psychiatrist, right there in front of me! He blew her off but my mother persisted and Dr. Agarose actually had to say “let’s redirect our conversation back to Leo now” more than once during the session. My mother continued accusing me of all manner of horrible behavioral problems from abusing my brothers to doing drugs, all the while putting on a rather pathetic show of crocodile tears. I was enraged — I had taken care of her kids, gone without food to save her money, helped her type her college midterm, and listened to her respectfully while she accused me of chasing my father away on countless occasions, never having complained, not even once. Now, there I was, locked up with a bunch of rapists, druggies, and gangbangers, keeping my mouth shut to protect this woman and it obvious, even to me, that she didn’t give damn about me. Not one damn! I stormed out of the session and decided that I didn’t love my mother anymore and that I never wanted anything to do with her ever again.
The staff grabbed me as soon as I stepped out of Dr. Agarose’s office and they slammed me to the floor. I hit the ground with a loud “thud” — it hurt something awful because the carpeting was thin and the floor was rock solid underneath. One large man put all of his weight on my back, using his knee as a lever against my spine, as four or five other orderlies grabbed my arms and my legs. The man on my back was so heavy that I could hardly breathe and I started gulping for air like a bass in the bottom of a rowboat. Dr. Agarose and my mother came out of the office, my mother’s excessive makeup running down her cheeks, her face coated with the fake show of tears that I’d seen so many times before. She patted my hair while I struggled wildly against the orderlies, my anger now boiling past the capacity for rational thought. Realizing the futility of my struggle, I began banging my head on the floor trying to knock myself out to make it all go away. One of the hospital staff members grabbed my hair to hold my head up as I tried to scream, unable get enough air in to expel because of the weight of the man who was on top of me. My mother eventually tired of the show and she stood up, the tears ceasing immediately as she began having a professionally-toned conversation with my psychiatrist. They walked away talking about me the way doctors speak to one another about an interesting case study, like the Elephant Man for instance, and not long afterwards I was mercifully injected with a sedative that temporarily put me out of my suffering.
I suppose that it is quasi-normal for an adolescent to declare that he hates a parent and is never going to speak to them again only to let it blow over in time. I was not a normal adolescent and the day that I realized that I no longer loved my mother I meant it, one-hundred percent. The rest of the time I spent at Stony Creek was a waste of my insurance company’s money by any estimation. I refused to cooperate in any therapy and would simply sit quietly during sessions and ignore anyone who spoke to me. I considered myself a “political prisoner” and my behavior during the next few weeks at Stony Creek went from bad, to worse, to worst. It is little wonder why the staff at Stony Creek began to believe my mother’s lies about her “defective child’s” inexplicable behavioral problems.
My pent-up rage against my mother, my father, and my infuriation about my forcible detention at Stony Creek consumed me during the two months that I was held as an inpatient there. Despite the fact that I was sedated on Mellaril to such a degree that I occasionally fell asleep whilst standing, my “guerilla war” against Stony Creek had reached fully operational status. I had managed to read, and to destroy, nearly every book in the school library (at least fifty) by using a rather simple method — as I read the book I would randomly tear out pages, hide the pages in my pocket, and then throw them into the large waste basket in the central hall as we filed past it in line from activity to activity. I overheard a few staff members discussing how much money health insurance companies paid Stony Creek per patient, which was around one thousand dollars per day, and I became determined to prevent Stony Creek from making any money off of my “imprisonment.” I even went so far as to do rough calculations using estimated salaries of employees, electricity costs, etc. to estimate approximately how much damage I had to do everyday to negate the profit margin that the hospital was making off of me. Looking back, as far as I can tell, my calculations were fairly accurate. In addition to destroying just about everything I managed to get my hands on, and without ever getting caught, I also would leave the hot water running in my room’s shower and sink in an attempt to run up the electric bill. One day I decided to leave the hot and cold water running simultaneously since, I reasoned, that I may as well attack the water bill while I was going after the electric. To my delightful surprise, the amount of water coming out of the facet was now greater than its draining capacity and it spilled over onto the floor while we were all attending a mandatory church sermon. To add insult to the injury, Stony Creek’s rooms were all constructed below the level of the central hallway to allow for easy wheelchair access (every room had a small ramp built into the entrance), and the water accumulated to at least three inches before anyone noticed the puddle creeping its way out of my room!
Needless to say, Stony Creek’s staff hated me with a passion. After the psychiatrists went home for the evening the orderlies would punish me by holding me up with my arms behind my back, which was really painful, and by letting other patients openly make fun of me and, on occasion, rough me up a bit. In the staffs’ defense, I was an extremely difficult patient in a hospital that largely specialized in dealing with juvenile criminals and they really were utterly unqualified to handle a child such as myself. Overtime, many of the patients came to admire me — two seventeen-year-old criminals even took to referring to me as “the kid with balls.” After eight weeks, the powers that be at Stony Creek decided that they had had enough of Leo Noto and they arranged for my transfer to Pleasant Breeze Hospital, a long-term care mental facility in Jefferson, Tennessee. My last night at Stony Creek was sleepless and I spent the restless hours trying to make sense of how my once ‘normal’ life had degenerated into this living nightmare.