It's 1792 and as always this room is cold. The stench of past patients linger. My arms are bound by chains to the wall behind me. The cuts and bruises on my body throb in needle like pain at every breath I take. I almost think the pain is unbearable, but then I remember that another day is waiting for me. Why am I here? What did I do to be accused possessed? The time here at the Bicetre Asylum has made me forget. Even my name nearly slips my mind making me come up with a tune. "Christophe Deschamps! Christophe Deschamps! You are indeed a champion!" I was a champion for making it this far through torture. I was like that rat that actually found something to nimble on this dead fill place.
"Christophe Deschamps?" A gruff voice calls from behind the darkness of my cell.
I greet the voice with a weak "Bonjour" before the door is pushed open, blinding me with sunlight. As I cover my eyes from the blinding light my ears twitch at the sound of boots coming toward me. Was I going to be shown to the public once more? My chains are then unlatched and I'm pulled to my feet. I look at the staff member, who gives me an icy stare, before he began to lead me out of the room.
Immediately I'm greeted by a bunch of other patients, some having big smiles and some with just a nod. "Bonjour. Comment allez-vous?" A patient, who continually kept fiddling with their fingers, asked me how I was.
"Je vais bien." I say 'I'm fine', not sure what really to say. Human interaction rarely happened here, the only interaction you could get was talking to a rat.
The staff member that was leading me, let me go and started down the hallway. "Have you heard with ears of love?" I turned toward a dark-haired patient who was twirling their hair. "Philippe Pinel."
"They say he be mad," added another patient who was breathing deeply with a feverish vibe. "Unchain the insane he told."
A patient who was just let out of his room screamed and the fever patient began to speak again. "We could prove we are sane." Prove we were sane? Maybe they weren't sane, but was I? I've been here for what seemed like forever, so maybe I needed to stay here.
"Bonjour." We all turned toward a rigid looking old man. His face wrinkled, eyes hazel and hair an unkempt white. A new patient? Or perhaps an old one, I have yet to see. "My name is Philippe Pinel."
"Pinel! Pinel!" Cheered some of the patients throwing their arms in the air. "Notre savveus!" They called him their savior and kept cheering adding that he was great, incredible, a true hero. What exactly was he doing to get such cheer? The man seemed just like any other staff, perhaps a bit older.
"Where is the staff?" The "hero" asked looking around us for anyone in clean clothes. Some patients shrugged, while others continued to praise him. He looked to me, I guess noticing that I was staring intently in his direction. "Votre nom?" He asked.
I clinked and looked down, now timid. "Christophe Deschamps."
"Philippe Pinel," he repeated his name giving me a nod. "Are you ready to prove yourself?"
"Myself?" I pointed to myself and he nodded.
"To prove you're not insane, that you're not possessed." Without noticing I nodded and he motioned for me and the others to follow him. We did and soon we were led to a large open room where other patients and staff sat in chairs. What exactly was going on?
"Staff, I want you to have a conversation with any of these fine gentlemen. Be friends. Learn something new." Philippe smiled and turned away. Some staff immediately stood and began to talk to the patients. One staff, the man from this morning to be exact, came to me and tapped my shoulder.
"Comment etes-vous?" He asked a little low and wary.
I walked around him taking a seat and allowing him to take a seat before I spoke. There was a small smile on my face and I now understood how Pinel was hero. "Je suis suine d'esprit." I'm sane.
The conversation between staff and patient went on for weeks. Patient began to act more social and calm; staff less aggressive toward patients. The patients that were once cheering and screaming that day in the hall were now sitting and talking in calm voices. Philippe Pinel made it clear that most of us were actually sane just judged poorly. He gave us that chance to actually prove ourselves without having to be beaten or threaten.
The question that once lingered in my head now had an answer. Was I insane? "Christophe Deschamps!" I was free to go home.