What you see above is an entry for a patient in a hospital ledger. But it's not from just any old hospital -- it's from a mental hospital.
The ledger entry is part of an album of materials and paperwork from the now-shuttered Central Islip Psychiatric Center on Long Island. The album is currently in the hands of a PermaRec reader, who took the photo you see above. The reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, is sending me the entire album so I can have a closer look at it. (The story of how he obtained it in the first place is interesting, but I'll save that for another time.)
I'm excited about being able to see the album, which I'm sure will be fascinating, but I'm also a bit uneasy about it. And I'm especially uneasy about the prospect of writing about it. I've wrestled with lots of privacy concerns -- some legal, some ethical -- while telling the stories of the Manhattan Trade School report cards (I addressed some of those concerns here), but medical records strike me as being a lot dicier than report cards. And psychiatric records seem diciest of all.
My general feeling is that old documents always have valuable things to teach us and compelling stories to tell. But if I end up telling those stories, I want to do so in a way that respects the dignity of the people and families involved. For now, as you may have noticed at the top of the page, I've dealt with this by blurring out the patient's surname in the ledger photo. What do you think of that -- was it the right thing to do? Should I have left the surname alone? Or should I not have posted this photo at all, in any form?
I'll have more to say about all of this once I receive the hospital album in the mail. For now, though, it's good food for thought.