Digital Asset Information
Project: Alaska Mental Health Trust History
Date of Interview: Dec 8, 2010
Narrator(s): Harold "Doc" South
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
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Section 1: Suicide prevention and experiences
Section 2: CME - Certified Medial Education and it's purpose
Section 3: Behavioral psychology and psychiatry
Section 4: Working in Fairbanks and moving to API (Alaska Psychiatric Institute)
Section 5: His involvement with the court system and evaluating patients
Section 6: Instance of a patient who was a psychopath
Section 7: Working at the hospital in Fairbanks
Section 8: Removing the mentally ill from the hospitals
Section 9: Importance of having a place for the mentally ill to receive treatment
Section 10: API helping people
Section 11: Acting superintendent for API
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
Section 1: DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, how -- you know, I've wondered sometimes, I mean, people have asked me, I mean, like with this psychiatrist who had three suicides the first month of his practice, he never asked me, but -- but if a person asks me, "How do you account for the fact that you don't have this experience?"
And so I didn't -- I -- I never did know.
I remember -- I remember some -- I remember one -- I could count on one hand or less all the suicides I've had in my whole career that is if the person had seen me, was seeing me, and if he was on medication and was taking his medication, but -- but I -- I guess I guessed wrong.
I remember one -- one boy who was 16 who called me one night, you got a -- I mean, understand the situation there, because of my own values and what I consider the ethics of medicine and psychiatry, I was working 24/7. I was on duty -- I was available to anybody any time. And I think this -- this -- this had damaging effects on my own family.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: And -- but I remember this young man called me one night, and said, "I'm terribly depressed and I'm having trouble going to sleep."
And I said, "How come?"
And he said, "Because I'm thinking about girls. I can't quit thinking about girls and sex."
And I said -- I was laughing. I just laughed out loud. I know I chuckled probably. I said, "That's great. I'm glad to hear that. Because that is perfectly normal."
And I said, "I went through that, and all boys go through that when they are teenagers, and don't worry about it; eventually, you know, it will work out. And be happy that you got it because it's -- it's just -- you're a normal teenager."
And so I went back to sleep being very happy, but I found out the next day that he had got his rifle and shot himself. And there's so many -- there's so many elements in these things, it's hard to single them out.
And I don't -- I don't really think that what I said had all that to do with it that has caused his suicide or something. It's -- but -- but I do think -- I think that people are always looking for some simple answer that -- and they go from one extreme to another. There must be some pill you can give people to keep them from suiciding. Well, there are a lot of pills.
And actually, psychiatry has become -- it is just a special branch of internal medicine. Because the frontiers of psychiatry are -- are in the area of the brain, the hormones, the neurohormones. And all the CME that I had to do this year, most of it was -- was to do with that.
That is, I remember when I was in pre medical training, some -- some person in the class, immunology class, said -- some guys just come out and said it, and I think they were telling me that particularly because he knew I was going into psychiatry, "You're going into psychiatry? Ha ha!"
I just read in the paper that some guy says, some guy says that mental illness is caused by neurohormones, biochemical ailments, phenomena.
And so but -- but -- in other words, well, we had a guy in Ypsilanti, Michigan when I was a resident there, he said, "There is no twisted thought without a twisted molecule." And that's become -- that is becoming the focus.
Section 2: KAREN BREWSTER: CME, is that continuing medical education? Is that what that stands for?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: And that's to keep yourself board certified? Is that why you --
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, I don't think it would affect my board certification. I mean, I've done that, and it could be -- it can be used, it can be used for what they call recertification, but my -- my particular purpose in it was just to renew my state license to practice.
All doctors are required to have CME. And if -- if you're lucky, you find some CME that's in your specialty. You know, I could -- I could have -- I could have, if there were -- if there were lots of meetings in Anchorage about ear, nose, and throat, OB/GYN, or proctology, or whatever, I could go and take those, but -- but I always take these psychiatric courses because that's -- that's what I want to keep up with.
So it doesn't -- I don't -- actually, they don't require it, the state doesn't require you to take it in your specialty, but --
BILL SCHNEIDER: What are you looking for in there?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: I was -- I was -- I was just looking for what -- what I was -- find a representative article to, like, just read it -- read a title or something, or a little bit about what sort of things.
Section 3: And here's one that I just found that I think just kind of serves as an example of the sort of things that psychiatrists have to study and learn these days. The whole field, the whole field of, well, what's loosely related to mental health. Psychology, psychiatry, social work, sociology, whatever, is -- is becoming more biological oriented constantly.
And in the '50s, when I was studying psychology, I remember one article I read that was probably by a psychiatrist who said there's no further need for psychiatrists to be medical doctors because the basis of -- you know, their basic theory is Freudian theory, and the basic treatment, the basic therapy is like talking to each other.
The -- the pure -- the purest treatment, I mean, in theory, the treatment in theory is Freudian analysis. And so there's no point in studying biochemistry and all that. Because the behavioristic school never wanted to look into that.
Behaviorism started in the 1920s as a named phenomenon, and a man named Watson, I think, seems like it might have been Charles Watson, but anyhow, what they -- what they were teaching in behavioristic psychology is we don't know anything that goes on in the organism.
And there's no use talking about it or thinking about it because for thousands of years, philosophers have wasted their time talking about, you know, the difference between good and bad and good and evil or how people make choices or what is the right way to live and all that stuff and we don't know. We -- you know, it's just how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? That was something they talked about in the Middle Ages.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So are you saying --
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: So forget that, they said. What we're going to do is we've got a stimulus here and we get a response here. We study the stimulus and the response and try to develop a learning curve, see if you -- if you reward them, do they perform better; or if you punish them, do they perform better.
I mean, you -- if you shocked a rat in this end of the cage but give him food pellets in that end of the cage, he will always gravitate to that end of the cage. That is true. And it is really helpful in very similar situations, I mean, very simple situations like where you're trying to get your mule to plow the corn.
But -- but since -- but they figure this is our strength, this is our power, this is the way B. F. Skinner is thinking. I could manipulate the stimulus and I can study and classify the response, and what's in between there, the organism is a black box. That was the term they used. A black box and don't worry about it because we don't know anything about it.
Now the psychology departments in the universities are -- the graduate departments, they are doing the same things that the psychiatrists are doing, kind of. They've got functional MRIs that -- in their departments. They are studying people's -- the changes in people's brains, the chemical and electrical changes that occur during behaviors or whatever.
This -- the title of this article was Dopamine. Dopamine is one of those neurohormones, it's a very important one. Dopamine is what makes you feel good, basically. And everybody knows way back there adrenaline or epinephrine, that's what causes the fight or flight syndrome. And so dopamine in alterations of the sense of self and personality in Parkinson's Disease.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So the point is that it's become much more chemically and neurologically oriented, the whole field of using drugs to treat patients?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah. Let me -- let me just read a -- a line or two.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Let's leave it to a line or two so we can move on to get you down to API and your work.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah. Well, about Parkinson's Disease, it says, "Enhanced rigidity, inflexibility, and harm avoidance behavioral strategies may begin to occur before the onset of disease's motor symptoms, and thus may constitute precursor symptoms. As the disease progresses, harm avoidance diminishes, whereas novelty seeking and impulsivity increases in selected individuals."
Well, it didn't even -- I didn't even hit a place where it talks about that the chemical changes, but the hardest things to study and keep track of for me is the changing levels of chemicals in the brain associated with -- with changes in behavior.
But in the meantime, the behavior has got so strong that now it's called -- they don't talk about psychiatry, and it will soon be not talking about mental health matters. Some people would say now that that's a hangover from 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, it's behavioral health, which is another -- it's a malignant influence.
It began with Skinner. Because if all you're treating is the people's behavior, then the way to manage that is like you manage a -- with, like, other species, like with the mule or the rat.
Section 4: BILL SCHNEIDER: Let's get back to your career, though. So you were working in Fairbanks?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And then what -- what made you move to API?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Thank you. The state. The state made me move to API. Let me -- let me talk a little bit about the highlights, a lot of fun I had in Fairbanks.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Although a lot of stress, as well.
One thing that I -- one thing that I did was to be involved in a lot of court matters. A person can't be put in a hospital or treated against his will unless he has a Superior Court finding that he's dangerous or gravely disabled, can't take care of his own minimal survival needs.
And so we had -- we had some hearings like that in Fairbanks, but actually, more of that I was involved in at API because there's a special session of the court that meets every week at API to take care of those kind of matters. So you don't have to drag patient, family, you know, professionals and security and everything down to the regular courthouse.
The judge and the stenographer and a couple of lawyers come out to API, so I was into more of that there.
But one thing that was interesting was some -- some psychiatrists found, I think they -- I think maybe I shouldn't say this, but I think it was mostly it was kind of lucrative, people accused of serious crimes could claim that they were mentally ill at the time.
And since most people have got a very, very fuzzy idea about what mental illness is, they -- the first thing that happens when people do some things is to -- is to say he must have been crazy. So they -- they go with that as like, you know, that's a given. Anybody would have to be crazy to do that.
Well, I might say that, you know, but I -- I have to be careful, I wouldn't want to say it in public, you know, like I had a friend who was wiped out on a K 2 within the last couple of years. I'd have to be crazy to do that. But I'm too old and feeble now, but even when I was young, I tried to watch my step and be careful. And somebody would say, "Why don't you go up there?"
I'd say, "You go, I don't want to go. I didn't lose nothing up there."
I mean, I've got into a few hairy kind of situations, but I wasn't looking for them. I'm not going to go -- there's enough danger in the world without going and looking too hard for it too many places.
I used to ride a motorcycle down in Indiana, but I was kind of restless and --
Section 5: KAREN BREWSTER: So what was your involvement with the courts, then?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, if anybody's accused of murder and they've got no excuse otherwise, they think that they are not guilty by reason of insanity.
And later the law got changed, but it took a terrible tragedy to change it.
But if you would have found -- if you murdered somebody, you're found not guilt -- if you are found to be mentally ill or the legal term is insanity, they are -- they are different but similar. You could be put in a hospital by the court. Instead of put in prison, because you weren't bad, you were sick.
The question is -- the issue is between bad and sick. And that -- that keeps on being -- being an issue, and I think it will be for a long time yet, I mean, forever, probably. So the lawyer says, "My client is not bad, he is sick." And so a lot of people chime in and say, "You have to be sick to do that."
KAREN BREWSTER: So you would assess the --
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, so -- so sometimes, I mean, if I found out, I learned something about the law, some things about the law by being in court so often because the person that doesn't want to get convicted of a crime will -- can hire a psychiatrist to say that he's not bad, he's sick.
The court -- I mean, the state court realizes -- the state furnishes a psychiatrist there who is available to anybody for any time for any purpose for nothing. So they would say, "Well, we've got this report from this psychiatrist who came up from Anchorage and evaluated this patient."
"Well, send him over to Dr. South and see what he thinks."
Well, I -- I remember saying to one lawyer one time, I said, "Oh, it was to hell you would have plead not guilty by reason of insanity. I mean, why did you do that? I mean, why don't you plead, say, self defense?"
And he said, "Oh, you think that will work?
I said, "Well, I don't know, but" I said, "I don't see any sign of mental illness in this guy, and I'm not going to -- and I'm -- that's my report."
And so -- so that's the way it went. But because -- because the courts figured I was pretty reliable. And there were a lot of -- you know, there were a lot of really hairy cases there, I mean, really bad situations.
Section 6: I just remembered one of them that there was a -- a Native guy, there was -- they started having coed dorms at the campus, and a Native guy there, I forget his name now but it was notorious at the time, he went to a girl's room and murdered her and raped her, you might say had sex with her corpse, I think actually is what happened.
Well, it happened that I had been going out to the college when I first got there one afternoon in the week to see students because I'd just go out there and see several, and they wouldn't have to come down to town at the clinic. But this guy had been working in the kitchen there and his supervisor had sent him downtown to see me one time, which was a mistake.
It was a mistake because the average person should not -- is not really qualified to -- to know who should see a psychiatrist, but you could say that with anybody. I mean, if that's a choice between that and some other maybe more appropriate action, I'm not saying that -- I mean, I don't care if anybody -- actually, nowadays, it's -- it's kind of an insult probably, you should see a psychiatrist.
And there's an interesting thing I've learned, too, that real religious people, religious fundamentalists, if they say, "I will pray for you," that's -- that's an insult. That means you're praying so badly that I will do -- I'll intercede with God, I mean, the most powerful weapon I've got, I'll put that on you. So...
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you had seen this young boy, huh?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: I had seen this young man. He came down to the clinic, and he had -- I don't remember exactly what he did do, but I think maybe -- I think maybe he wrote a bad check but, I mean, you know, I'm not attesting to the facts of this, I just don't remember exactly what he did.
It was something that could have got him involved with the law; I mean, he could have been arrested for it. But his supervisor, you know, just was in charge of some of the kitchen workers in the kitchen, and he -- he decided, he said, "You should see a psychiatrist," you know, like it's crazy to do that.
Well, thank God that they don't send -- that everybody didn't send all the people who wrote bad checks to me because I was swamped enough anyhow.
But anyhow, so I talked to the guy a good while.
And -- and, of course, the idea was that maybe I would write a report. So then I told him, I told the young man -- he was Eskimo, by the way -- I said, "If I -- if you sign this release, sign a release, I'll send a report to your -- to your supervisor, because he's the one that requested a consultation. But without your permission, I can't do that. So do you want me to do that, sign this."
He said, "What are you going to tell him?"
I said, "Well, I can't discuss with you what I'm going to tell him." But I said, "I won't tell him nothing if you won't sign the paper, but if you sign it, why, then, you just got to risk whatever I'm going to tell him."
Well, he was pretty shrewd, I mean, I think he had it scoped out. And I don't know, I think maybe he got drunk, he wrote a bad check or something. So I was influenced in a very negative direction by this, being a bad guy, really, isn't --
BILL SCHNEIDER: So after the rape, he got referred to you, or how did that --
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: No, this was before the murder.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Then when he came up for murder, it turned out that a psychiatrist from Anchorage saw him and said, yeah, he was crazy.
There was another psychiatrist came and was stationed at Wainwright, and -- and started some part-time practice and later came into full time practice there, so he got into some of this actually, and I think -- I think he might have been the guy, been the psychiatrist who said that guy was mentally ill and, I mean, not bad, but sick.
Well, the court was more influenced by my report because I knew him before he did that. And I had put down that my impression was that he was a psychopath when I had seen him at the university. So that's what got him put in prison instead of put in the mental hospital.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What's a psydopath?
KAREN BREWSTER: Psychopath.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Psychopath.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Psychopath.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Now they tend to be called more sociopath. More often they are called sociopath. And that's the whole -- that's part of this sort of major difference that is some of -- some of the older doctors used to make -- some -- originally, most medical people thought that the mental illness was -- it was hereditary, that was clearer, it was very strongly hereditary,
and it was often the cause of -- it was often related to the presence of specific diseases with a known physical cause, like -- like beriberi, or like alcohol abuse for a long period of time, or like taking various drugs.
I mean, it was sort of -- but everybody -- but -- and actually, the people who were interested in social -- some -- the jokes that some people made, some of the people who believed that there was a physical cause, mostly medical people and psychiatrists, they -- they made fun of these other people by saying those people think that schizophrenia, for example, is a social disease.
And by which there was a big move in -- in somewhere along in there, I think it started in the '60s, to attribute things to social causes. And that is still, that's very common among -- I mean, just in general now.
I mean, if I would say, "Well, you know, there's not very many fish in the Finger Lake anymore; I mean, the rainbows, you can't catch as many rainbows as you used to could," somebody will tell me, "That's because of Reagan's economic policies" or, on the other side, that's -- that's those, what do they call them, Tea Party people that are causing that.
I mean, this is really true. I mean, it's kind of sad but it's true. And I -- and here I am between them. You're both wrong and a pox on both your houses. That ain't got nothing to do with that.
But anyhow, they changed it from psychopath because "psycho" would be like in your own mind. And when I was studying psychology, you did not use the term "mind." There was no such thing as mind. It could not be defined, it couldn't be measured, and so I think -- I think there's a lot to conditioning, psychology, but it's -- it's -- but it's trivial, mainly.
It's true that if you want to train your dog to jump up, you know, you hold up a bone and say jump, and he will, and you keep doing that and pretty soon you just hold up your finger and say jump and he will. But -- but it's -- that's got nothing to do with anybody's mental health.
Section 7: Well, let me see, back to where was I. Back to court. I did go to court a lot and learned a lot about the law. And this became a problem after I got down to API.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, we've got to get you down to API.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, so talk to us about working at API. That was in 1979 you came down here?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah. Well, the Division of Mental Health, I never saw -- I never saw, like, the director of the Division of Mental Health come up to Fairbanks. We was -- we were kind of a free -- free agency.
When I first went there, the people there had the practice of -- people would come in and sign up, they wanted to get therapy, see somebody about problems. They'd put them on a waiting list. They would -- somebody would interview them and put down a little bit about them, and what they were bothered by, and then they'd make a waiting list, and then the people who worked there would -- would pick out who they would want to see and they would let them know to come in and you can see this worker.
Well, after I got there, I said, "Ain't going to be no waiting list." I don't believe in waiting lists. I mean, if a person needs help, needs help now, we'll see them then.
Well, it wound up, you know, I had to see people in the hospital, as well.
At first it wasn't so hard because it was old Saint Joe's right across the river, but then -- but then they built the new hospital and that was the more time to go over there.
By the way, I want to mention something about the travel, because I was going to say, it wasn't so hard to travel to the new hospital.
I knew people who worked for the state, and you may know some of them, too, who have per diem for travel. They travel all the time. There are people who do not -- who can bank their salary because they live on their per diem. They travel all the time.
Now, you watch and see about this big conference about suicide that's going to meet at Nome. I mean, you know, and watch it for another 10 years or something and see what happens as a result. It ain't going to do it. It ain't going to do it. Because people want to overlook what is -- that is -- the question, like, is not why are these people dying in these streets and alleys and stuff.
It's what can we do -- I mean, it is what can we do for this person. I mean, if you would just know one of those people and say, "Come on, I'll buy you a cup of coffee," you'd be doing a lot more than if you fly to Nome and have some meeting about it.
I always thought -- when I've been involved with agencies, they are always having meetings about everything, so they -- but they don't really do anything about it. Anyhow, so travel was like that. Travel -- travel is a -- a benefit, it's like, what are your benefits in your -- in your agency? Well, that's one of them. If you travel enough, well, then you don't have to spend any of your regular salary, you just put that in the bank.
So I didn't -- I don't really think it's effective to go around and talk. And I -- I think I was kind of unpopular in -- in the state Division of Mental Health, although I was popular enough when they wanted me to do something. I was -- I was seeing people in the clinic every day, going to court very often, seeing more and more people in the hospital and trying to develop a psychiatric service in the Fairbanks Hospital against an organized effort by the administration of the hospital.
Section 8: The hospital administrator told me, I mean, he did not want any mentally ill people in his hospital. I mean, I could -- I could go on with that. I mean, I've got a lot of passion accumulated up in me about things that I had to fight all the years, but at the same time, I -- I was trying to say draw a line across the Alaska Range and we don't have to send people down to API for treatment, we treat them up here.
But it turns out that the community don't want them.
So I got a book called Madness in the Streets, and it's by a couple of social workers who -- who point out that we used to have -- we used to treat mentally ill people in hospitals, but now they are on the street.
And that's very interesting, I'd like to talk more about that. That's one of my -- my, you know, what do you call them, obsessions. But -- but I'll try to get on to -- what happened was the -- the whole country was going the direction of -- and this was happening in Indiana before I left there.
And I saw some terrible results; that is, we had a -- this is back to Indiana. We had a new commissioner in Indiana who came to our hospital and said, "Half the people in this hospital do not need to be here. And I want you to discharge them. And I don't care which half. I don't care what criteria you use to discharge them, but you've got to discharge half of them," because he was going to make this his reputation by saving money.
Well, we -- it's true, we had a lot of people in the hospital, but they needed a home. They need -- that's the least I can say about it, and a lot of them did need special handling and mental health treatment, and some of them I had to -- had to be put in restraints from time to time.
I mean, I got attacked there several times, I got attacked several times up here, I got attacked at API.
Well, in Fairbanks, I took a -- took a gun away from a woman who came in and held a loaded, cocked .38 automatic against our secretary's head. And I came out and took the gun away from her. Believe it or not. But that's just a fun story.
What was I talking about?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, we were getting down to API.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: We got to get to API.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, there's got to be some alternative if you're going to get the people out of the hospital, what's going to happen to them, who is going to take care of them. Well, we'll have community mental health operations. And if they need to take medicine, they just go to the community mental health, and they prescribe the medicine and they fill a prescription and/or they just come in there and they give them their pill and then they go back where they are living. Well, where are they living? Well, on the street, as it turns out.
Section 9: I mean, originally they said boarding houses, county homes, there's a lot of places for people to live that don't need acute hospital treatment. This is getting to be a problem with other problems.
There's a lot of ads in the paper now for a St. Elias Hospital, and a doctor or somebody comes on there and he -- and I think they identify him as a doctor, he explains that a lot of people go in the hospital, they don't need an acute hospital care for them, but just for a day or two or three, I mean, to get operated on or something,
so they don't need all of the facilities like Alaska Regional Hospital or Providence Hospital, but now they've got St. Elias Hospital because a lot of them need to stay in the hospital for two or three weeks, maybe, and have continued medical care, and see the doctor every day, have physical therapy, et cetera, but -- so that's where St. Elias comes in.
And there's a -- there's a lady who very emotionally says, "Those people saved my life and I really appreciate them," or something. Anyhow, that's -- that's happening there, too; that is, what he was saying was these people do not need acute hospital treatment.
But what we did, and what we did there was I had gone to Michigan and finished up my residency and then come back, and in the meantime they built a new intensive care unit, and me and the other guy that had board training took that over and -- and I had the idea to starve the rest of the hospital where we just kind of gave people board and room by -- by not sending people to them, but discharging them back to where they came from.
But -- but when I was off, I think the superintendent and the assistant superintendent was afraid that the hospital would wither away totally, so they would transfer a bunch of people while I was off. And I remember I took a weekend off.
But anyhow, they decided to start community mental health centers and where people would be treated in the community mental health center. Let them be in their own community. Well, they never really asked the communities. That's the problem, was one problem.
They are having a big hassle down in Anchorage down at the Red Roof, I think they call it, it's a motel or hotel that they were able to buy cheap, and the idea was to -- to let alcoholics live there so they wouldn't freeze to death in the park. And they'd have to pay rent and they -- they wouldn't have to quit drinking, though.
It's not necessary that they be successfully treated because by and large, that hasn't worked. I mean, they would rather die than quit drinking. So don't require them to quit drinking because just -- just give them a warm room.
KAREN BREWSTER: So do you think that's effective?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, it's -- it's better than what's happening. It's better than what's happening.
I think some of them might -- they might move from that and it's like people always say, that won't work because it ain't enough.
Well, that's a spurious argument, you know. I mean, if I say, "Look, I'm starving, give me a biscuit," and some politician gets up and says, "I'm against giving him a biscuit because that will not do. That ain't going to do him. I mean, he needs new clothes, he needs a bath, he -- he needs more than that, and he'll be calling on us tomorrow for three meals if you let him get away with that.
So -- and besides, I want to keep all the biscuits for myself." That's the main message. But you might try it, it might help, and some things are, like, counter intuitive a lot of people -- I mean, to a lot of people. They --
Section 10: KAREN BREWSTER: So did API help people?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Oh, very definitely. Very definitely. I could give a lot of testimony to that. I could give a lot of testimony for a long time, after I left Fairbanks, I would run into somebody now and then who would say, "I saw you in Fairbanks, I came to the clinic and saw you. Do you remember?" And I'd say, "Vaguely. I can't remember your name." And maybe they would tell me, but they would sometimes surprise me, but --
KAREN BREWSTER: So they would come and say, "You're welcome"?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah. It would please me. It would please me.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: And so -- but I -- I see people -- I see people once in awhile who were in API.
Well, what happened was the state decided -- and I never did have much to do with the Division of Mental Health, in a way, because they didn't invite me to their meetings, and I remember being at one meeting in Juneau, and I thought that most of them, including the director of the division, they had far out ideas.
One idea was that they kept hammering is we cannot -- to prevent mental illness, and we've got to do that. I mean, it starts out with the kids. We've got to start with the kids, somehow we've got to get access to the kids. And, you know, I said stupid things, I mean, undiplomatic things like, "I don't know how, what to do with kids, to prevent their being mentally ill.
And I don't think you guys know what to do with anybody to keep them from being mentally ill." I mean, psychiatrists become psychotic. I've seen it myself.
We don't -- it's -- it's not -- it's not as if one -- everybody knows the story about small pox, and apparently we have eradicated small pox.
If we had something like a small pox vaccine, well, even if we had the inkling of that, you know, the cow pox connection and so on, we could hope for it, perhaps, but we don't have that. And -- and we probably will sometime, but I mean, we're a long way from it. So that's just wasting time.
What we need to do is just like you do with anything else. I mean, it's triage, essentially, but the triage is in reverse; that is, the more -- the more disturbed the person is, and the more help he needs, the less likely he will get anything from anybody because he's hard to deal with.
I mean, I didn't have people coming in, you know, separate and coming in and please may I get into API most of the time, I had people who are trying to fight to get out of API while the cops and their families were trying to push them in API, and I was in the middle.
I remember one -- one guy that the cops brought in and then left him there, and I went down to see him in the entryway, and his mother was there, and he called me all kind of choice names, and -- and he had a bottle, and he was drunk. And so he had a bottle in his pocket, I think it was empty, and he gets it out, he's -- he's going to hit me with his bottle. I mean.
In the meantime he's ragging on me, you know, like you blankety blank, blank, blank, blank, blank. I'm not going to stay in your blank blank hospital, and so on. But so he's going to hit me with this bottle, and so I push him up against the wall and I'm taking the bottle from him, in the meantime I got to laughing because his mother's over there screaming, "Don't hurt my baby, don't hurt my baby," and he's trying to hit me with a whiskey bottle. That's the kind of typical scene in my -- my day. But --
KAREN BREWSTER: So at API you were the admission -- admitting psychiatrist?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah. But back before that, when I was still in Fairbanks because there was no money in the system, I mean, couldn't make any money working with the state at that time, because they hadn't got the pipeline flowing yet and so the state was still poor.
So they -- the -- they got down to where the -- we had three psychiatrists. One was the regional psychiatrist in Juneau, so he's sort of fixed there and can't do anything much; and one is the director of the division, well, he has to be in Juneau, because that's a requirement of the position. And -- and then, I said, me in Fairbanks.
Section 11: Oh, we had two doctors at API. And neither -- neither one of them was board certified. And neither one of them wanted to be superintendent, or -- or had the proper qualifications, that whole thing.
I don't know about all the ins and outs of some of these things, but -- but the division director asked me if I could help out with this situation. And I said, "Yeah." And I remember that the guy that was, like, the administrative assistant he sent to talk to me about it, and he asked me that, I said -- and when I said, "Yeah," he said, "Oh, you can? Oh, good. Oh, wonderful."
So -- so in addition to seeing people at the clinic all the time, and seeing people in the hospital, and going to court, and travelling to Fort Yukon and Tanana, I agreed to be the acting superintendent at API. And I would -- what I would do is fly down Wednesday -- Wednesday afternoon after I got off work up there,
I'd come down, fly down to Anchorage, and then take call that night to give the two doctors at API a break, so they didn't have to take -- be on call every other night, I'd be on call Wednesday night. And then be the superintendent on Thursday, and then fly back to Fairbanks Thursday evening. I'd usually go to sleep on the plane.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, I bet.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Without -- without even having a drink, I would just pass out. But that was fun.
But then it was kind of a -- it was kind of my itinerary, once I went to -- to -- I did -- I was doing my regular trip to Tanana Hospital, so I went down there, and they had a guy there that they pulled off a log floating through there trying to get to Siberia or something who was psychotic. And that night I played the fiddle for a dance.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Tanana?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: At Tanana. And so then -- then the next morning, we got a -- we got a ticket arranged there to -- for that guy. I mean, we had to call back to my office so they could -- administratively, they could set him up a ticket.
And so then he and I and the pilot flew in a little air taxi to -- to Fairbanks, and I didn't get to go home or back to the office because we only had, like, an hour or two to wait there until the plane to Fairbanks, I mean, to Anchorage, because at the same time I was going down there to be superintendent acting for -- well, I was acting superintendent all the time.
Once -- once -- once I remember while I was down there acting as superintendent, I got a call from one of the social workers at the clinic in Fairbanks that said one of her patients had come in to talk to her but was flourishing a firearm. So I said, "Well, put him on this line."
So she gave the phone to the patient and got her to talk to me, so I talked her into giving the pistol to the social worker. So I was trying to -- anyhow, so that went well, and if I had wanted to, I guess I could -- I would have had first dibs on being full time superintendent at Anchorage, but -- but I wanted to keep on in Fairbanks because I thought the job there was important. And so I just wanted to stay there, and besides, I didn't want to uproot my family.
But as it happened, then, in '78, the state, the Division of Mental Health decided we don't need a mental health clinic. I mean, we'll close the mental health clinic in Fairbanks, except for the administrator who can kind of revert to doing what he used to do, furnish transportation and that sort of thing. A community mental health center will be set up. And they will take care of all the mental health needs. So then I was looking at out of a job.
And I -- at that time, when they first were going to do that, I called -- I contacted API and they didn't even have any positions open at that time because -- because by then, they had more people. Oh, the -- I had been the temporary, the acting superintendent just for the winter of '74 to '75, then we got a full time, so now from '75 fast forward to '78, I'm back working in Fairbanks, and don't have to come to Anchorage anymore, and we've got a superintendent.