Keeping your cool important in a violent situation

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

People laugh when I make any reference to taking part in a physical brawl.

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“Kay’s a fighter!” is a hilarious idea to my friends. Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot this week, trying to understand what made a cop kneel on a guy’s neck, for Pete’s sake.

I’m not even totally convinced that he did it because the man was black. You see, I’m not really a total stranger to knock-down drag-out brawls, ridiculous as that may sound coming from a frail, wheelchair-bound old woman of 97.

But I was a psychiatric nurse, and even though we had tranquillizers in my day, we occasionally encountered a somewhat lively episode.

After all, there are some among the mentally ill who find it next to impossible to control rage.

Those who have read one or both of my books about the Mental Hospital in Weyburn will have read my short story, “Kleckner” (fictitious name, true story) about one of three or four really violent patients we had in the place at that time.

I was on the ward during one of his disturbances, but I didn’t have to take part in the fight. No woman was strong enough to help the staff control Kleckner.

But I remember being in other fights. It went with the territory. If a patient went “up the pole”, as we used to say, you didn’t stand back and watch him hurt another patient or some of the staff.

You jumped right in to help. I can still hear the charge nurse calling out, “Give Parley the legs!” I had very strong legs, so if a patient was kicking dangerously, I could wrap mine around and get control.

Oh yes, we had our talents. We had a few (very few) nurses who were a bit too rough, but I never knew anyone to kneel on a patient’s throat. What might have made us do it? Anger, of course.

It is a bit annoying to have someone kicking, punching or biting when you did nothing to her, and it certainly can make you feel anger.

I guess a bit of anger gave us motivation to win the fight, but it had to be under control. We had lessons about that. I remember a psychiatrist tell the class we would feel resentful if attacked, but as professionals, we must not fight back.

We should do what we had to do to keep control, but we must not retaliate. That’s an important lesson: no retaliation.

I would think the police get the same warning, because they too are in a position where it’s their job to control when someone is endangering others.

Of course, we had no guns, and the worst weapons we had to face were metal ashcan lids or chairs, but the dynamics of a fight aren’t that different.

The biggest problem is keeping your cool.

Kay Parley, Saskatoon

(Kay is a writer, and was a psychiatric nurse at the former Weyburn Mental Hospital)