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Kaysen sees the hospital as a place of both shelter and
captivity. Confined to the ward, the girls can avoid taking responsibility
for schoolwork, parents’ wishes, and jobs. The patients’ families
pay hefty fees for their children’s treatment. Kaysen wonders whether she
and her fellow patients are confined to the hospital in place of
all the other crazy people in their families. Torrey, a new patient
from Mexico with an amphetamine habit, joins the ward. Torrey’s
parents blame her for her addiction and the troubles in their family, including
her mother’s alcoholism. Torrey is happy to be at McLean, away from
Mexico, drugs, and her abusive family. Eventually, Torrey’s parents
come to take her home, and Lisa hatches an escape plan. The girls
pool their money while Lisa causes a scene to ensure that Torrey
will travel to the airport with only one nurse. Torrey is uncertain
and scared, despite Lisa’s assurances. But Valerie is a step ahead
of Lisa and gives Torrey Thorazine, a powerful sedative, to keep
her from running away. After Torrey’s departure, the girls are overcome
by boredom. They devise a plan to circulate around the ward according
to a schedule. Kaysen becomes preoccupied with her hand and wonders
whether it has any bones in it. She begins to scratch at her hand,
trying to tear off the skin to examine the inside. Georgina finds
Valerie, who rushes in with Thorazine. As the drug’s effects wash
over her, Kaysen takes comfort in the fact that she is finally demonstrably
mentally ill and won’t have to leave the hospital.
Kaysen is stricken with a wisdom tooth infection. Valerie
takes her to the hospital dentist, who recommends surgery to treat
the abscess. Kaysen refuses, and Valerie quietly supports her by
suggesting antibiotics to the dentist. Valerie later commends Kaysen
for refusing treatment by the McLean dentist. The infection subsides with
a course of penicillin, but Kaysen has an allergic reaction to the antibiotic.
Valerie suggests that Kaysen visit a dentist in Boston. The girls
are excited about Kaysen’s impending trip into the city and propose
ideas for what she should do while outside the hospital. After the
surgery, Kaysen demands to know how long she was unconscious. The
doctor is confused by Kaysen’s adamant questioning. “It’s my time
and I need to know how much it was,” she shouts. Kaysen cries at
the thought that she will never know how much time she lost.
The chapter title “Bare Bones” articulates the conflicting
sensations of total helplessness and freedom that Kaysen feels as
a patient at McLean. “In a strange way we were free,” she says.
“We had nothing more to lose.” Stripped of self-determination, the
girls respond by embracing the slim protections offered by their
confinement. By claiming to be “too upset,” they can avoid annoyances
such as phone calls from parents or visits from outsiders. The girls
are able to take some ownership of their powerlessness, hiding behind
diagnoses to avoid accountability. The Torrey episode illustrates
this strange blend of captivity and freedom. Fleeing her family
as much as her drug addiction, Torrey feels liberated by her confinement
to the hospital. Here, there are no readily available drugs or dysfunctional
parents to tempt or abuse her. The tenuousness of the girls’ control
over their own situations is exposed, however, when Lisa hatches
a plan to help Torrey escape from her parents, who have come to
Boston to return their daughter to Mexico. Despite an impressive
performance from Lisa, the nurses halt any escape by using their
ultimate weapon: medication. The aftermath of Torrey’s aborted escape
leaves the girls in a funk, the fragility of their power exposed.
The episode serves as a catalyst for Kaysen’s breakdown. In the
most frank admission of mental illness in the book, Kaysen describes
her psychic break with reality that leaves her raving and scared.
Having yielded to her darkest impulses, she says, Kaysen feels “safe”
because “nobody could take [her] out of there.” Kaysen has struggled
with a nagging question throughout her stay at McLean: is she actually
ill? An odd comfort comes of the realization that she is in fact
sick. Exhibiting a form of Stockholm syndrome, a phenomenon in which
hostages grow to identify with their captors, Kaysen is relieved
that she won’t have to leave the hospital anytime soon.
Kaysen’s trip to the dentist revisits one of the book’s
motifs—the importance of time. Upon waking from a routine dental
procedure, Kaysen demands to know how much time she spent under
anesthesia. Having spent months in an environment in which time
is punctuated predictably by routine and nurse checks, Kaysen is hypersensitive
to time’s passing. She is acutely aware that she is living outside
of time, sidelined while the rest of the world moves on. This realization
induces a fixation on the moment-to-moment passage of time as a
means of exerting some feeble control over it; if she can measure
time, she can track its progress.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Girl, Interrupted!