My afternoons with Aubrey-the monster, the madness that was Dr Levin

Someone gasped.

The fat doctor sitting in the big office in the mental institution had just said something disturbing.

Dr Aubrey Levin, who one day would be caught on spy cam sexually assaulting a patient, had just finished telling us a story.

Aubrey Levin

Aubrey Levin

Levin’s story that afternoon went like this.

As head of psychiatry in the apartheid South African Defence force he had been tasked to go and collect a soldier who had experienced a psychotic episode on Marion island.

A ship was dispatched and the plan, he explained, was for a helicopter to pick the soldier up and then lower him by winch onto the ship.

The problem, the weather was lousy. The poor man kept being dunked in the sea,” I recalled him saying.

By the time we got him on board, the psychosis had gone. He was normal.” I remember him laughing.

And that is why electro shock therapy sometimes helps.”

Stunned silence.

For two years, we had heard of how electro shock therapy had turned patients into gibbering zombies, destroyed lives, and was outlawed torture.

One of our lecturers Anthony Collins had told us of how the idea of electro shock therapy had come about from electrocuting pigs.

Fort England

Fort England

Rhodes university’s psychology department at the time leant towards the teachings of RD Laing, the one time leader of the anti-psychiatry movement.

We learnt of holotropic breath-work, transcendental psychology and re-birthing. And in between all this trippy stuff, we had to complete a module on mental disorders. So that is how we met the Doctor.

On Thursday afternoons we would be bussed into the Fort England mental institution and ushered into Levin’s office where the doctor would be sitting at his desk.

He had a huge round egg cup waist line like Mr Wobbly Man in Noddy but he didn’t look like the monster we would one day learn he was.

An orderly would bring in a patient. How it worked is that we’d interview the patient, using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders  as our guide.

We would be looking for clues in the patient’s behaviour that might point to his mental illness. The patient had a disorder, we just had to pick away until we found it.

Thinking back, it was cruel.

Dr Aubrey Levin, when he was still in the army

Dr Aubrey Levin, when he was still in the army

One patient was an old white woman, who when she saw one of the black students broke into fluent Xhosa. But she didn’t know her own name or where she was.

Her eyes widened with fear, when she suddenly asked who we were. By then we knew her illness and the poor confused lady was led away back to her ward. Dementia we ticked.

Some of the patients hid their illness far better.

One woman in her 20s told us her story about hitch hiking across the country, of her drug use and her many boyfriends.

Only when she told us of how angels came down from heaven to touch her face, did we realise we were on to something. Tactile hallucinations. “Yes you are right, she is suffering from psychosis,” said the Doctor, before she too was led away.

Then we had the ice cream seller.

He gave nothing away. The black man probably in his early 20s, kept pleading for food. “They don’t feed me here, give me some bread misses,” he said, singling out a female student.

It became uncomfortable.

Why has this man not got food? One of the group asked.

He is manipulating you,” Dr Levin shot back.

We couldn’t crack the ice cream seller.

He had antisocial personality disorder, Levin had to explain. The man had a history of petty crime, and what is worse as an ice cream seller he came into contact with children, said Levin.

The course lasted a couple of weeks, and after that we never saw Dr Levin again.

Dr Aubrey Levin heading to court with his Zimmer Frame

Dr Aubrey Levin heading to court with his Zimmer Frame

The rest I know is from what I read.

In 1995 Levin abruptly left Fort England, so quickly they say he didn’t even pack up his office. His secrets were chasing him.

He resurfaced in Canada but by then those secrets were tumbling out in news print. Stories of how while in the army Levin had introduced a programme where gay soldiers were given electro shock therapy to “correct” them.

The worst had yet to come.

In Canada a patient decided to expose the sexual molestation he received at the hands of Dr Levin. A Calgary court watched the video the patient recorded on a watch spy cam. It showed Dr Levin undoing his jeans and fondling him. 

The court handed Levin a five year sentence, where he now sits.

From the photographs taken outside of court, Levin doesn’t have the presence he once commanded. The Mr Wobbly Man waist line is gone and he uses a wheeled Zimmer frame.

But what worries me is the Dr Levin of the past and what he might have done to a university colleague of mine. He had a mental breakdown and ended up in Fort England, at a time when Levin still ruled over the institution. What happened to him, I don’t know. But I hope he got out, with his sanity intact.

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About Shaun Smillie

Journalist, with a love of bones, fossils and other things dug up. Fisherman and occasional beer maker.
This entry was posted in artefacts from the attic, Media, stories behind the news and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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