Nail scissors, nail files, safety razors, penknives, pins, earrings, belts, and cutlery were just some of the objects which, on the ward, were referred to as “sharps” and were taken away from any patient in possession of them. The patients ate with plastic cutlery, as if they were on a “perpetual picnic.” Kaysen recalls that food eaten with plastic utensils somehow tastes different. One month, she remembers, the plastic-utensil delivery was late, and the girls were forced to eat with cardboard utensils. Additionally, in order to shave their legs, Susanna and her fellow patients had to request razor blades from the nurses’ station and then shave under direct supervision, while a nurse sat in a chair beside the bathtub. Susanna writes that there were a lot hairy legs on the ward as a result.
The rules about sharps come as a reminder that the stringent methods of control used on the ward are, more often than not, instituted for the patients’ own safety and well-being. That doesn’t make them any less dehumanizing, though, or any more bizarre, and as Susanna adjusts to life on the ward she must negotiate the tension between the good intentions behind the rules and their unfortunate side effect: total loss of dignity.