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Freed from shackles, mental illness sufferer and mother of three to finally receive treatment

Markus Makur

The Jakarta Post

East Manggarai, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara  /  Sun, February 10, 2019  /  04:04 pm
Freed from shackles, mental illness sufferer and mother of three to finally receive treatment

Maksimilianus Gano recounted, upon seeing the symptoms of a violent outburst suffered by his wife Elisabeth Koja, the family and locals decided to shackle her inside the house. (Shutterstock/File)

Elisabeth Koja, 33, a housewife and mother of three in Mbapo village in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, has suffered from mental illness since 2006. 

Elsa, as she is called by her husband Maksimilianus Gano, began suffering the illness after giving birth to her first child Bela. Now Bela is in fifth grade at Rende state elementary school (SDN) in the village.

Elsa also has two sons with Gano, one in third grade at the same school and another in early childhood education (PAUD).

Gano said his wife fell ill 13 years ago. Since then, her mental condition would experience ups and downs. Sometimes she has bad phases, while other times she gets better herself.

When Elsa relapses, she chases people around the house, especially the children, throwing things and breaking the walls.

Gano recounted, upon seeing the symptoms of the disease, the family and locals decided to shackle her inside the house. His wife has been shackled inside the house four times. On the fifth time, he said, Elsa was shackled in a cocoa plantation hut behind their home. 

Since December, Elsa has relapsed again. This time it was more severe. In January she threatened to burn down the house. Her family and the locals decided to tie Elsa down in a 3 by 2.5 meter hut with a tin roof behind the house, where her feet were tightly locked by a wooden block.

"I am very sad that my wife has a mental illness. Sometimes it is better and sometimes she relapses. Four times, my family and the residents decided to shackle her in the house to allow us to take care of her," Gano said. 

"The sign that Elsa has recovered is when she falls silent, no more rampaging. When I see the sign, I dismantle the fitting beam. However, when Elsa relapses, she often damages the walls of the house, rebels, chases the children around the house and speaks to herself. If my family and I see the symptoms again, we take the solution to put her in shackles in the house," he added.

Gano said sometimes his wife would be shackled in the house for three to four months. While Elsa was relapsing, he said he would split his time between taking care of the three children and  working in the plantation. In addition, Gano's parents would also help cook rice and other necessities for the children and his wife.

"I have been looking for a way to treat my wife’s mental disorder for a long time. Because, as a husband, I can't bear to see my wife experience this kind of illness," Gano said.

He said that a few days ago a medical officer from the Rende Assistant Health Center (Pustu), Adrys Harapan, had come to register the ill for the Healthy Indonesia Card (KIS) program.

"At that time, the officer saw the condition of my wife who was shackled in the hut and informed me that there was an institution that deals specifically with mental disorders in Ende and East Manggarai regencies. The name of the institution was Kasih Insanis Group (KKI) in Ende, led by Pastor Avent Saur and a number of volunteers on Flores island," Gano said.

The officer had asked to take pictures to inform the institution in Ende, and asked whether the family was able to bring Elsa to the KKI to be treated at the Panti Mose Ruteng Renceng institution in Manggarai regency.

"At that time I said that my family and I were ready to bring my wife to the panti [institution]. Then within the next three days, the officer informed me that there was a room in the panti to care for her along with patients from Ende regency," he explained.

Gano said he had always taken care of his wife when she was shackled, bringing her food and drink. He said sometimes his wife would even ask for water at night that he would attend to. In addition, he also installed mosquito nets so that she would not be bitten by mosquitoes.

Read also: Less than 1,000 psychiatrists for 260 million Indonesians

Uninstalling the shackling block

On Feb. 2, Avent arrived in the village, where dozens of locals had also waited to witness Elsa’s unshackling. 

Once the pastor arrived, he went straight to the hut to talk with Elsa. Everyone was puzzled and surprised to see the way the pastor greeted the shackled psychiatric patient; many whispering that the pastor held a special charisma to free the person in shackles.

The pastor has never been afraid of dealing with people who suffer from psychiatric disorders.

Avent explained that people with psychiatric disorders throughout Flores could recover with regular medication. He said people with psychiatric disorders could cured by taking routine medication, not by other means — hinting at fears mental illness was caused by the supernatural. 

"Patients with psychiatric disorders experience disruption in the brain, not because of spirits, as has been perceived by the people of Flores," Avent said. 

"If we experience a disturbance in a part of the brain, emotions and everything else is disturbed. For this reason, if there are families and residents who experience symptoms such as talking to themselves, singing alone, rebelling and chasing people or throwing things at houses, immediately inform the health agency or local medical staff to get treatment," he added. (liz/kes)