Summary: Bare Bones

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.

Summary: Dental Health

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.