Don Whitney Autobiography -

The Psychiatric Ward Experience

Now that the war was over, I decided to revisit my nausea problem which, while somewhat better since having received my commission, still lurked in the background. I reported to Sick Bay, explained the history of my problem, and again underwent a myriad of medical tests. As in the past, nothing showed up. It was suggested that the problem might be psychological, and that if it persisted after I was released from active duty, I should consider seeing a psychiatrist. I asked if the Navy had one available in Pearl Harbor, and I was told yes. That set off a round of events which I find hard to believe, even to this day.

I was told to pack my things and given orders to report to the Naval Hospital at Aiea Heights, just outside of Honolulu. As the name implies, the hospital was situated on a hillside, and consisted of a large number of separate buildings. On reporting to the hospital, I remember being escorted up the side of the hill, until we reached a relatively small building at what seemed to be the end of the line. On entering, I found myself being checked into a psychiatric ward where there was a long row of padded cells. As the paperwork was being completed, I told the nurse that I felt a mistake was being made - that I didn't feel I belonged in that place. She took a better look at me, hesitated a moment, and then placed a phone call. When she hung up, she said a mistake had, indeed, been made. She even said she didn't think I looked like I belonged there.

Now I was escorted back down the hill, past facilities which I believe housed Japanese prisoners of war, and into one of the main hospital buildings where I was assigned to the fifth bed in a four bed ward. I was given an appointment with a psychiatrist for the following morning, and was told to make myself comfortable. My four roommates seemed nice, and were ambulatory. Before long, a nurse came in and attached a card to the end of my bed. The card contained the usual hospital type information, but following the word 'diagnosis' was the term 'Conversational Hysteria.' That seemed as unreal as the padded cells, so I went to the nurse and told her I thought there had been another mistake. Meanwhile, my roommates began to treat me rather strangely, as if they were afraid to get into a conversation with me. Who could blame them? The nurse listened patiently, and after some persistence on my part, patronized me by removing the card and erasing the diagnosis. She left that part blank. Who was she to argue with a crazy man diagnosed as having Conversational Hysteria? Dinner that evening was noticeably quiet - it was as though nobody wanted to talk with me.

At 2100 we all got into bed. My four roommates each put on earphones, and listened to the radio for about an hour. Being the fifth patient in a four bed ward, I didn't have any earphones. It was a weird sensation when my roommates would burst out laughing, all at once. They had heard something funny and I, of course, had heard nothing at all.

The next morning I had my first visit with a psychiatrist. My opening question was, of course, why had I been diagnosed as having Conversational Hysteria. Now it has his turn to laugh. It seems there is no such thing as Conversational Hysteria - the temporary diagnosis was supposed to have been Conversion Hysteria, which meant that something bothering my subconscious was manifesting itself in some particular way - in my case, nausea.

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