The first few days in the psych ward were a haze. I don’t remember much about them, other than the constant screaming and crying which went all through the night from adjoining rooms. It was impossible to sleep through the night, despite the medication.
V came to visit me regularly, bringing me sweets, newspapers, books and cigarettes.
I was scared of the other person sharing my room. He mumbled constantly and never looked me in the eyes. Later I found he had been receiving electro shock treatment on a weekly basis for the past six weeks.
V spoke to the head nurse and asked that I be moved to another room. She was impeccably dressed as usual, and looked a million dollars. This, in turn, worked in my favour.
At first the nurse explained that she couldn’t play favorites and that everyone was equal within the ward. V stood her ground and said that I was a very different person to the other patients: I wasn’t a drug addict. I’d had a successful career. I had a loving family. I was used to the finer things in life and, despite the fact that I’d always had private health insurance, I’d failed to make the payments in the past few months which was why I was in a public ward. Finally, they agreed to place me in a single room, although they stressed that this was highly unconventional. Usually these rooms were reserved for the hard cases who were often strapped to their beds.
I remember the first afternoon I lay on my new bed. I looked at the walls and ceiling and noticed concentrated splatters of blood on both. Later, when I was packing my underwear and socks in a drawer, I noticed a fine white powder which I assumed to be washing detergent. Mindful that I didn’t want my underwear to be covered in powder, I removed the drawer and emptied the substance. I then thought to taste it and I’m pretty sure it was some sort of narcotic – what, I don’t know.
The rooms themselves were very basic. Linoleum floors, an open wardrobe, a metal bed and no hooks to hang anything on. The communal bathroom was disgusting and the showers were cold (there was a problem with the water heater).
In time, over the following weeks, I developed a great affinity with the other patients. I came to think of them as friends and felt a great deal of compassion for the hard lives they had experienced. Their lives were truly tragic.
For the most part, they were hard core drug addicts, bi-polar, psychotic or a mixture of all three.
They began to confide in me and called me “poppa” due to the fact that I was older than most. They told me their stories and it made me cry.
In fact, just recalling it makes me cry now. I’m finding it very hard to write this blog.
There was Beckie, who was 24 and had five children. Her previous defacto had murdered her eldest child. Her latest boyfriend had kidnapped her for a week, strapped her to the bed, and allowed his friends to use her as they wished. After that she lived on the streets as a prostitute before being admitted to the ward due to a drug and psychotic episode.
There was Dianne who was a 66 year old aboriginal grandmother who’d been admitted 27 times for psychotic behavior. Di loved to swear and every second word started with f. She had a wonderful sense of humour but could become extremely violent at any moment. In fact, on one occasion I played a joke on Di which didn’t go particularly well. “In my room,” said Di, “the fire sprinklers are directly above my bed, whereas in all the other rooms, they’re above the door. Why are the sprinklers in my room above my bed?” “Well,” I said “that’s because they’ve inserted a spy camera in your sprinklers so they can look directly down on you when you’re in bed, so be careful when you masturbate.” The trouble was that Di believed me and was quite agitated for some time afterwards. On another occasion I asked her who she thought would win the next political election. “I’m a fucking schizophrenic so I think they’ll both win,” she said.
There was quiet, lovable Edward who wrote poetry and played the guitar and piano. He’d been there for four months on this occasion and five months the year before.
There was Anne Marie who had been on heroin since the age of 10. Her parents introduced her to it and used her as a guinea pig to see if the drug was OK to inject.
There was Netti who, at 21, was a well known classical pianist who had appeared in concert and on television. She lived for most of her life in institutions. She was very quiet and beautiful.
There were many others, but I won’t bore you here. It’s a sad fact that most people don’t understand mental illness. I certainly didn’t until it was forced on me. Yet if we scratch the surface of those people who outwardly show signs of mental illness, whether it be psychosis, bi-polar, depression or whatever, we often find loving and compassionate individuals who desperately seek to be normal and accepted.
Here ends the sermon for the day!
While in the nut house I was concerned about my business and, of course, my staff. V went to my accountant and it was agreed he would wind the business up and try to salvage whatever he could. Employees received redundancy payments and the business was dissolved. I was now broke and had no income.