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A Personal Story

Note from Ruth Gerzon (1994) I was Mavis’s social worker when she went to live with her nephew Jim about 6 years ago. I left my social work job 2 years later, but Mavis and I continue to be friends, and I sometimes act as her advocate. Mavis spends most weekends with my family. We all enjoy her company and admire her courage. The following is her story as she first told it to me.

Mavis May
4.5.1928 — 2.5.2005

download this story as a word.doc

Mavis May with Tommy Nichol

In the hospitals you get abused; you get hit, and they make you a slave.  When I was about 6 years old, I had to help, I never went to school.  They wanted me for the work because I was so good at it.


Half the nurses wouldn’t do anything at all.  They’d leave it to the patients.  I used to help do the dishes and look after the crippled kids in chairs.  We wheeled the crippled kids with big heads and little bodies and feet onto the verandas.  Then we scrubbed the floor twice a week.


You didn’t get any money, that’s for sure.  We didn’t get any money.  Staff told us when to get up and what to do.  We didn’t have any choices.


Some of the nurses were very strict, and we didn’t get away with anything.  They would hit us on the head with a wooden spoon.  They are not allowed to do that now.  I believe.


Some staff were nice; some were good to me.  They would give me cuddles and that.  When I was hit, they knew.  But they wouldn’t say anything.  I would like the bad staff to get caught.  The good staff should talk about it and put the others out.


I went to Templeton (hospital) when I was a baby in arms (in 1929). My mother and father were fighting, and I got hit on the head with a beer bottle, and that’s what damaged my brain.  They said I was a normal baby when I was born.


The hardest thing for me was closed doors, locked doors.  The staff had keys in their pockets on big chains.  They had windows open only that much, so you couldn’t climb out.


We were in the big dormitory.  There were 106 in the dormitory. Some used to get favoured more than others.  I wasn’t a favourite.  I tried to be good, but they used to think I was naughty just the same.


We had a special room for when we were naughty.  They called that room the naughty room. They shut us up.  The door had three locks; one at the top, one in the centre, one at the bottom. We had to stay there all night.


I didn’t like their food.  It was the same food over and over again.  It wasn’t fresh food.  If you didn’t eat it one day, you’d get it back the next day. They’re not allowed to do that any more.  They had big pots of food, everything done in the one pot, potatoes and everything, not done nice.  They used to make you eat milk puddings; force it down your throat.  I can’t eat milk puddings even today. 


There were separate villas for the boys.  We weren’t allowed to mix up with the boys and men at all.  Tommy was all right.  He and Pat and a few of them were trusted.  That’s how I came to know Tommy.  He was 21 when he came to Templeton.  His mother and father had died.


I didn’t have any clothes of my own, not even underclothes.  I didn’t have anything of my own.  I would wear ward stuff, the stuff from the store.  Because I came as a baby in arms, I didn’t have any of that.  I’m glad Tommy didn’t go in as a baby in arms because that wouldn’t have been right for him because I love Tommy very much. 


We had a lot of cats and dogs, Alsatians and Siamese.  Kath would breed them.  We made lots of money from that.  Kath took me shopping, but she looked after my money, I wouldn’t be happy unless someone looked after my money.  When I went to live with Kath, I was so pleased, so happy.

I was with my cousin going on 28 years.  When my cousin died, I got very upset.  I didn’t want to stay in Mangamuka.  So Herman took us to Hamilton.  Kath knew Herman, but she didn’t know exactly what he was like.  She was too sick to care, I think.  She just wanted him to stay and keep her company.

Herman used to pinch our money for his drinking.  His kids were terrible.  Little devils they were.  Two of them were 16 and were twins, the other one was 15, and they wouldn’t let me and Tommy have a sleep.  From the fist night, we weren’t given a fair go.  Herman and the boys were cruel.  We didn’t know what to do to get away.

One night I was in my bedroom, and Herman said he was going to come in there.  “No your not,” I sand.  “You’re not allowed in this room.  My body is my body, and no man is coming in here.” I just kept banging on his face.  He went and told on me, and I think that‘s why the cops came, I had a breakdown.  They took me to Tokanui (hospital).


Then I want to IHC (residence).  Herman wanted me back, but they wouldn’t let him take me.  He came to see me at the hostel, and I said to Joy, “I don’t want to see him.”  She said, “You must let us know,” but I was too scared to stop him.


The lawyer and social worker found Jim, my nephew.  I went to live with him on April 1, 1988.  Tommy came later, and we had our own flat behind Jim’s house.  It was good with Jim. I loved him very much and still do.  He showed me how to cook.


They told me I had another breakdown.  I threw the furniture around, and I went to Ward 8 (the psychiatric ward at the local hospital).  I felt awful leaving Jim and Tommy.  Jim went to see the doctor, and I went to live at the Lodge (a home for the elderly, and Tommy went to the Mary Shapely Home.  I wanted to stay with Tommy.


If my cousin Kath was still alive, I wouldn’t have been put away.  The Lodge was like those places.  The staff were nice at the lodge but there was no one hardly to talk to, nothing to do all day, just sitting around like some of those in hospital who couldn’t do anything for themselves.  They’re old people, and a lot of them don’t understand.  I was 63 then, but felt young.  It was boring having nothing to do all day, very boring.  I wanted to help lux the floors, do the dishes, the cooking and things like that.  I wanted to learn to read and write.  Staff should have taught us, given us schooling, let us do some work, taken us for a walk down to the beach.


Now I’ve left the Lodge after 18 months, and I’m glad.  Jim and my friend Ruth got me out of there.  I’m now in an IHC home with Paerata and Merenia.  We are allowed to do what we like here.  We can do dishes and lux the floors and watch the T.V. channel we want.


I’ve got my own key now, to get in and out of the house when nobody’s here.  I have a nice bedroom, and we have a white kitten.  I like to stay home by myself sometimes instead of being in the crowd.


Tommy lives nearby.  He comes to see me quite a bit and sometimes stays for dinner.  The staff take us out sometimes.  We go to McDonalds and the beach.  The staff also take me out to Ruth’s farm on the weekends and to Jim’s place.  I am very happy here.


After listening to this book, I know the abuse is still going on.  I fell terrible about that.  Some places should be closed down because of the way the people get treated.


This book is good.  It’s trying to do something for us, to help people like me.


Mavis May

Self Advocate

Whakatane, N.Z.

Levin (hospital) was worse.  The place was dirty.  It wasn’t clean.  The kids had cradle cap in their heads.  I had it too. You get sores all over your body, little kiddies, too.  One nurse came and said, “What have the kids got in their hair?”  “Nits,” I said.  “Well, the staff can’t be looking after them properly,” she said.  She used to trust me to lock the stores.  She got me good clothes from the store; she picked out the best for me.


Before he died, my brother told my cousin Kath about me.  The doctors told her I was partly handicapped, but I’m not ashamed of that.  I can knit squares and other things. I can count too.


I was 26 when Kath came to get me, and I was with her going on 28 years.  Tom came a long time after.  Kath asked me who I would like to have living there, I said, “Tommy, I’m sure Tommy would like to come out.”


edited by Dick Sobsey, R.N.,Ed.D Professor Dept of Ed Psych University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. Brookes Pub.1994   

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