Friday, June 9, 2017

A review of The Hospital: How I survived the secret child experiments at Aston Hall

Time for another book review.  It's a doozy!  A couple of weeks ago, I got on a tear and decided to download a bunch of books off of Amazon.  One of the books I bought was Barbara O'Hare's gripping tale, The Hospital: How I survived the secret child experiments at Aston Hall.  Published in February 2017, this is the true story of O'Hare's experiences at Aston Hall, a children's psychiatric hospital in Derbyshire, England.  Aston Hall opened in 1930 and closed in 1993.  O'Hare was admitted there for eight months in 1971, when she was 12 years old.

Barbara O'Hare was born into a troubled home.  Her mother abandoned her when she was a baby and she was partially raised by her father, an abusive man who commonly denigrated her by calling her a filthy, lying Tinker.  When she was about four, her father's girlfriend had a son, whom Barbara's father seemed to care more about than her.  Nevertheless, Barbara loved her brother, Stephen, and wanted to help take care of him.  Her brother's mother barely tolerated her and eventually left with her son.

Barbara's father had trouble maintaining relationships with women.  He was also an irresponsible father and left Barbara and, for a while, Stephen, in the care of a family who rented his house.  The foster family was okay for awhile, but the matriarch turned out to be a mean drunk.  As Barbara grew older, she got into trouble with adults.  Eventually, she found herself in a series of children's homes, from which she'd run away.

One day, a seemingly kindly doctor asked Barbara if she'd like to go into the hospital for awhile.  Thinking that she'd find caring people in the hospital, Barbara consented.  She was taken to Aston Hall.  There, she and other girls found themselves helpless lab rats, experimented on at the whim of Dr. Kenneth Milner, a children's psychiatrist.  Dr. Milner, the seemingly kind doctor who had asked Barbara if she wanted to go into the hospital, turned out to be a monster.  He subjected the girls to "treatments".  They were tied up and injected with sodium amytal (truth serum), a drug that was frequently used in World War II.  It had a sedating effect, which was augmented by Milner's use of ether.  Aside from being drugged, Barbara was also sexually abused.

It's hard to believe something like this was going on in the 1970s.  After all, I was born in 1972 and although I'm getting old, I didn't think I was THAT old.  I have a sister Barbara's age.  It's hard to imagine her in a similar predicament.

Apparently, Barbara went through hell at the hospital, witnessing and experiencing many horrors at the hands of her custodians.  Although Barbara's father maintained contact with her, he was not interested in hearing his daughter's claims of abuse.  He was apparently more interested in maintaining his relationships with women and keeping his daughter out of his hair.  You'd think Barbara's father would want to raise his daughter after she left Aston Hall.  Sadly, that was not the case.  Barbara went to a Catholic home, where she was subjected to more abuse, although none as bad as what she endured at Aston Hall.

The Hospital is very well written.  I found it a page turner, even as I was horrified by the horrors Barbara and other girls endured at the hands of a physician and his coven of nurses from hell.  Barbara O'Hare is likable and sympathetic; I rooted for her.  Aside from that, I am simply shocked that this kind of horrific stuff was going on in the 1970s.  It seems like something out of Auschwitz or a Stephen King novel.

I'm grateful that Barbara O'Hare had the courage to share her story.  Although the subject matter is definitely not happy, it's worthwhile reading for anyone who wants to learn about the history of psychiatry.  I don't mean to imply psychiatry is evil; I am myself a beneficiary of effective psychiatric help.  I simply believe that people should know where they've been so they'll know where they're going.  I feel like my $4.99 was well spent on this book.  I recommend it wholeheartedly.


  1. What a harrowing story! Great review, Knotty.

  2. I'm horrified. It's hard to even imagine that something of that sort could have taken place so recently in, of all places, England.

    1. Yeah. At first, I wondered if I was reading a novel. But it's been widely reported that this shit really happened. Amazing, isn't it?


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