By Frances A. Garcia
Schizophrenia is like being trapped in a cave-in. There is no light, no oxygen, and death is inevitable. One feels trapped and smothered. There is no respite from it. Such was the situation of Eliza Elizondo, a 26-year-old woman, descendant from a prominent family in Mexico. She was born in the border town of Laredo, Texas. Gone were the riches of her ancestors. She was a young, beautiful and desirable woman who worked successfully as a nurse. But now, there was a strange and frightening thing happening to her.
Mental illness crept upon her gradually. First, she began hallucinating. She was an observer of her environment. She visualized images in slow motion of accidents occurring in the rearview mirror of her car. When she watched TV she saw herself in the tube, the actors of the soap operas warning and threatening her with imminent imaginary dangers. Fear gripped the pit of her stomach.
Next, she heard voices at night, drenched in sweat her body rigid with fear. She heard her mother and sister laughing at her and plotting her death. Or am I already dead? She thought. After all, my body is rigid. Isn’t this rigormortis? Her appearance deteriorated slowly as she struggled with the voices that planned to destroy her and steal her soul. Her mother often reminded her to bathe when she went to work.
One night something in her snapped. When she arrived from work, she locked herself in her room, but her mother insisted on coming in. Eliza unlocked the door, her mother entered, sat down and talked to her, trying to understand what was happening to her. Eliza sat on her bed rocking, clenching her knees. She remained silent. Her mother then gave her a hug and a kiss and left. Eliza, convinced at that moment that her mother hated her, panicked. She then prayed.
The sleepless night ended and she slipped into jeans, shirt and boots and scurried off to the street. She took nothing with her and traveled on foot through the town. No one noticed any difference in her. She reached the highway leading north thinking this road leads to Heaven. I am now dead. I am resurrected. As she reached the border patrol checkpoint, an officer called out to her, “Where are you heading?”
“North,” she replied.
“You’ve got a long way to go.”
She neither answered nor looked, but kept walking. As she reached a fork on the road, she rested under a bridge. Her mouth was dry. She was tired. But she knew this was the road to Salvation, so she walked. All along her journey, she focused on prayers she learned as a child. Her persistence, though, did not relieve her thirst, and now her bladder was full. Just ahead, there was a brawny truck driver smoking and resting. He looked at her and smiled. Eliza slowed down. On the back of his truck there was a cooler.
“You must be thirsty, girl. Want some water?”
“Yes, thank you.” She cupped her hands as he opened the drain and she slurped it.
“Want a ride?’ the man asked.
They both got into the truck and for a moment he drove in silence. Then, he proposed, “Want to go do what men and women do together?”
Eliza answered, “No.”
“Get out!” he yelled. “I don’t give freebees to no bodies like you!”
Eliza resumed her escape as dusk fell. Tonight there was no moon and the road was pitch-black. She stumbled and fell and continued to pray out loud.
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty…”
Also, “The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want…”
Confused and exhausted she forgot some of the words and that troubled her. Suddenly, a car pulled up and stopped in front of her. A strong, tall, heavy-set man stepped out and grabbed her, pulling her towards him. He smelled of tobacco. She prayed louder.
“Shut up! Get in the car!” he yelled.
“Be gone Satan! Be gone!” cried Eliza.
“”I’m not Satan, stupid! Get in the car!”
The rigidity of her body returned and, although she did not struggle, she did not obey him. He pushed her toward the brush along the side of the road, knocked her down and she froze.
“Take off your pants!”
“Be gone, Satan! Be gone!”
The man planted his forearm across her mouth, pulled her jeans and underpants down and raped her. Or was it rape? She felt numb. She sensed but did not actually feel the penetration. When he was done, he pulled her up and screamed at her, “Pull up your pants!” But Eliza continued her prayers. The man pulled her pants up and left. Eliza stumbled and shivered her way through the moonless night, then finally fell, oblivious to the attack and the darkness. She slept.
A bellowing cow woke her up at daybreak. She heard voices which appeared real.
“Is she dead?” asked one man.
“No I think she just passed out,” answered another. “The ambulance is coming.”
Eliza dared not to open her eyes lest she ruin her resurrection. She laid stiff and cold. The ambulance arrived. The attendants lifted her on the stretcher, loaded her in, and transported her. I’m going to heaven, she thought. I’ll see Jesus!
At the hospital, voices whispered and fussed over her. Still she dared not open her eyes. However, when she was alone she opened them and saw a small white hospital room. She was lying in a clean bed with crisp white linen and clothed in a white hospital gown. The room had one window, which aggravated her hallucinations. Through the window she saw a man bent at the waist, led by a lamb. Once again, fear gripped her. This could not be heaven. I am afraid, she thought. She also saw other animals and people trying to speak to her, but she could not hear them. All the images moved in slow motion.
A nurse finally came in and said, “You’re awake! How do you feel?”
She did not wait for Eliza to answer, but returned almost immediately with a tray of food, which Eliza gobbled in an instant. She remained in the Whittier County Hospital for one night and two days. The comfort and security of the hospital allowed her brain to rest from her flight and she yearned for her family. She called collect on a phone in the room, but there was a poor connection and that intensified her paranoia. She persisted, though, and then spoke with her mother.
“Hello. Mama, it’s me. I’m at Whittier County Hospital. Can you come for me?”
“Yes, mija. We’ll be there.”
At that moment, the nurse came in and announced, “You may leave. You are free.”
“I’m waiting for my mother.”
A few hours later, her mother arrived, and when she embraced Eliza, the young woman swooned onto the bed shutting her eyes. Her body and limbs contorted and twisted, like a pretzel. She had made a terrible mistake! This was not what God wanted for her.
“What’s wrong, mija?” her mother cried.
Eliza’s brother-in-law and sister were present. The young man carried Eliza’s body and slid her into the back seat of the car. Oh, she thought. I’m returning to Hell! There were moments of silence in the car when Eliza opened her eyes, but when she closed her eyes, they spoke. “She knows what I did. She sees everything.”
“Her sister spoke, “Well, she’s not moving. She can’t know.”
Then they grew angry and yelled at her.
Soon they were home and the young brother-in-law carried her and placed her on her bed. However, Eliza remained catatonic and ate and drank nothing. She wet her bed consistently, and her mother cared for her. Frantic about Eliza, the family decided to take her to San Antonio, Texas to receive treatment.
On a cloudy day they drove to San Antonio Health Hospital. Eliza sat in the rear relieved that she was going to Heaven to be safe from these evil ones. God is more powerful than they are, she thought. Along the way, her mother offered her a drink of milk and she ravished it, but through her peripheral sight her mother’s stomach heaved in laughter. Eliza knew her mother hated her and she hated her mother.
When they arrived, they were escorted to a small office. A doctor sat behind a desk and computer asking routine questions and also asking, “Are you hearing voices?” Eliza did not speak. The doctor left for a moment. Eliza felt her bladder full and could not hold it. She released the urine and when the doctor returned he merely stared at the puddle on the floor. He informed her she was going to be admitted to the Psychiatric Ward on the 11th floor. He then led her by the hand and Eliza’s mother cried to see her escorted in her wet clothes.
Eliza spent two weeks in the hospital. She was prodded and tested. She struggled to read and made no sense of the questions. Writing was difficult with her stiff, rigid fingers. She was mandated to attend group therapy sessions, but awkward and out of place, she became uncooperative.
In the evenings her mother would visit her and attend the family group sessions. Eliza hated to sit by her mother. Why won’t she disappear? She thought. She projected unlikely images and paranoid thoughts of her mother as a practicing Satanist. At the end of the two weeks, the doctor diagnosed her with Chronic Paranoid Schizophrenia and insisted that she be committed to the State Mental Hospital. Her mother said, “No! Give her medicine.”
So, Eliza went home—fearful, anxious, and paranoid. She returned to work as a nurse and learned coping skills that helped her lead as normal a life as possible. However, it was far from normal. The side effects of the medications affected her libido. She felt no sexual arousal and she was desensitized to the world. The doctor said, “No children.” Eliza cried. “What is there to my life? I am dead, after all!”
By all standards, physicians and counselors expected her to give up, grow suicidal, but she didn’t. She dedicated herself to the sick and even volunteered to assist homeless Veterans. In spite of her intense paranoia and the side effects of the psychotropic medications, she survived. She worked hard, attempting to be normal. Her co-workers pretended to laugh with her—make her believe they were fond of her. She received awards and recognition for her work, but deep down she realized it was all Satan’s hoax. Nothing, but God was real to her. She had a strong faith that kept her alive until she was 87 years old. She believed in God, and God believed in her.