A few weeks ago, I heard about The Hospital by Barbara O’Hare in a foster care and inspirational memoir group on Facebook. I decided to check it out and it sounded great. Having been in a psychiatric hospital myself and having endured some controversial treatment there, somehow I was drawn to this book. Maybe it’s because I want to be reassured that it could’ve been worse. I don’t know.
“Nobody knew what was going on behind those doors. We were human toys. Just a piece of meat for someone to play with.”
Barbara O’Hare was just 12 when she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital, Aston Hall, in 1971. From a troubled home, she’d hoped she would find sanctuary there. But within hours, Barbara was tied down, drugged with sodium amytal – a truth-telling drug – and then abused by its head physician, Dr Kenneth Milner.
The terrifying drug experimentation and relentless abuse that lasted throughout her stay damaged her for life. But somehow, Barbara clung on to her inner strength and eventually found herself leading a campaign to demand answers for potentially hundreds of victims.
A shocking account of how vulnerable children were preyed upon by the doctor entrusted with their care, and why it must never happen again.
The story begins with Barbara’s early childhood memories of being abused by her Dad and step-Mom because of being a “dirty tinker”. The abuse unfortunately only continues oce Barbara is cared for by Edna, a woman renting her father’s house while he’s working off-shore. Barbara from there ends in a children’s home, where she tries to run away, so she’s placed in The Cedars, a locked children’s facility.
There, Dr. Milner meets her and tricks her into going into Aston Hall. Once there, she’s tied down, drugged and abused regularly throughout her eight-months-long stay. Barbara discovers that the other girls on her ward share two things with her: most come from The Cedars and all don’t know their biological mothers. What struck me as interesting was the dynamic between the girls while not in “treatment”. They were pretty typical girls, forming cliques and friendships and bullying one another.
When Barbara is on leave with her father and yet another of his girlfriends, she confides in them and they decide to get her out. They get Barbara into an approved boarding school, which is a lot better than the hospital but still very strict. Barbara yearns to meet her biological mother and tries to escape the school to find her. Her father than moves her to a girls’ hostel, where she is free to go as she pleases. She eventually goes on a search for her mother, which ends in disappointment.
I must say that it’s not too clear throughout the book how the hospital affects Barbara long-term. She does explain in a chapter about her ongoing PTSD symptoms and risk-taking behavior (possible dysregulation from complex PTSD).
Most people in the Facebook group said that they didn’t like the ending of the book. I had no problem with it though. I mean, I didn’t feel Barbara’s appreciation of her father was all that warranted given his early abuse of her, but then again he did get her to escape Aston Hall.
Overall, I really loved the book. It was a pretty fast-paced read and I finished it within a few days.
Rating: five out of five stars.
Title: The Hospital: How I Survived the Secret Child Experiments at Aston Hall
Author: Barbara O’Hare
Publisher: Blink Publishing
Publication Date: Feburary 9, 2017