picture of New York City, ca. 1915
New York City, 1920

A 23-year-old immigrant whose initials were "E.G." was asked to write down a description of his compulsive symptoms. He did so, and his first-person account was reproduced at length in a medical paper published by Dr. F.M. Hallock in 1918. Hallock described E.G. as "physically robust, stout in build, has a ruddy color, but he carries himself like a prisoner under sentence, his head drops and his eyes avoid the examiner" (p. 226). This is an excerpt from the first-person account.

Sometimes while sitting in the subway train it comes to my mind that I must know how many people are going out and coming in the train, especially in the car I am in. One night this week when I was riding home, at a certain station it came to my mind that I must know how many people are going and coming in the car that I was in, so I began to count. I counted the people that came in and forgot to count how many people went out, so I had to get up in a hurry and go outside and look over the platform to try and make out the number of people that left the car, but it was impossible for me because there were so many people. I was standing on the platform thinking and figuring how many people could have gone out of the car but my mind couldn't agree. So I had to take it the best way I could, because the train had gone. Finally, I quieted my mind by thinking that the next night I would pass the same station at the same time and watch how many are going out so I can have a little idea. But, as I continued my journey, to make sure not to forget how many people were leaving and coming in the car at each station I took a pencil and paper and marked it down.

One day last week while going to work I saw a horse lying on the street and people were trying to help it up. Suddenly it came to my mind that I must know how and when they are going to get that horse up. Standing there a while I saw that it was hard for them to get the horse up and I wished they would get it up quick, as I was in a hurry to go to work, and I was in great anxiety. While standing there some people that I know came up and greeted me, but I did not pay any attention to their greetings as I had that horse on my mind. Some of them asked me what I was standing there for, and I gave them all kinds of answers. Sometimes, as soon as I saw them, I made out that I was brushing my clothes or looking for something in my pocket. I could not go away because I was afraid that if I did go away, these things would come upon my mind as they usually do, and I would have to come back and make sure. So in this case I did not want to take any chances, knowing what the result would be, therefore, I stood there until they got the horse up. By that time it was too late for me to go to work, so I stood there until they got everything fixed up, but after I was satisfied with this, something else came to my mind and the longer I stood there the more there was for me to find out, and even then I was not fully satisfied because I did not find out everything. (p. 225)

F.M. Hallock, Social maladjustment: a compulsion neurosis in a young man turning the serious activities of his life into bizarre distortions, Neurological Bulletin: Clinical Studies of Nervous and Mental Diseases in the Neurological Department of Columbia University, 1918, 1:219-227.

NOTE: Dr. Hallock wrote this paper during World War I. He commented about E.G.: "Drafted in the army he is totally unfit for duty, and will without doubt be released when he appears before the medical examiners" (p. 227).


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