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Tales of Madness and Enchantment from the Back Ward

by Susan Baur

Pub Date: July 31st, 1991
ISBN: 0-06-016538-3
Publisher: HarperCollins

 Like Oliver Sacks, psychologist Baur (Hypochondria: Woeful Imaginings, 1988) writes with clear empathy for those afflicted with mental illness. The Dinosaur Man of the title has been a schizophrenic patient in the chronic, or ``back,'' ward of a mental hospital for 37 years; not mentioned in the title or subtitle is the other category of patients the author writes about--outpatients with less debilitating disorders who live their troubled lives outside institutional walls but inside their private hells. While other members of the hospital's professional staff direct their efforts to getting the back ward patients to behave in an acceptable manner, usually with medications, Baur focuses on understanding and valuing, even loving, them. She listens carefully to the Dinosaur Man's fantastic delusions, initially to try to interpret them but soon abandoning that goal in favor of becoming a participant--or, in her words, an accomplice, a cameraman. She stores and sorts various fragmented memories, trying to help him- -and other patients--reconstruct their pasts so that they may live with their presents. No miracles, no sudden ``awakenings'' are reported here. The Dinosaur Man remains a chronic schizophrenic; there are changes, however, in Baur's perceptions of schizophrenia, and doubtless one goal of her book is to change others' perceptions as well. Comes close to being a voyeuristic trip through a sideshow but is saved by the author's genuine concern for those whose afflictions she describes.