Treated with Ping-Pong

Ah, Christmas break!  Time to leaf through old LRB articles and rediscover this wonderful opening paragraph by Susan Eilenberg, reviewing a book called Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present, by Lisa Appignanesi:

I managed to leave home before I found out that my mother had once spent time in a mental ward.  She was, at the time of her hospitalisation, a very new mother – of me – and consequently exhausted.  What sent her to the mental ward was delirium.  That, at least, was what the emergency room doctors thought when she arrived at the hospital extremely ill with encephalitis (which they never even suspected, despite her complaints about an unbearable headache and neck pain and nausea).  She was admitted as a mental patient, and treated, over the course of the week, with ping-pong.  My mother, no lover of the game even when not in shattering pain, played.  It was clear to her that a show of friendly interest in her fellow lunatics and placid obliviousness to her frightening circumstances was the way to signal that she might safely be released.  To have shown distress, much less anger, would have been crazy.  The infection in her brain was diagnosed on the morning of her discharge, the masquerade having been a success, when one of the doctors nevertheless thought to order a spinal tap.

Really, it’s a metaphor for so much!  But laziness compels me to let you figure that out for yourself, gentle reader.

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