Continued from "One Flesh"
"First Admission" by Philippa King
For so long I had been used to barely leaving the house for fear of Mr Man harming himself without me there to protect him. Now suddenly there was nothing to stay home for. The house was so empty and quiet. It wasn’t a home anymore, only a house. I couldn’t bear to be there so each day I would get up and go out and stay out for as long as I could. I would do anything: window shop, visit friends or family, or just drink coffee on my own in a café. Most times I stayed out all day until it was time to go to bed. The rest of the house was hardly used and most of the time I ate out or bought ready made sandwiches to eat in the car on the way to the hospital. There were times when I felt that I really needed to be alone and yet the house was just too lonely. I suppose I didn’t really want to be alone, I just got tired of talking about the situation all the time with other people. I know people cared about Mr Mans progress, how I felt, and how I was coping, but I didn’t want to keep talking about it all the time. I wanted to talk about “normal” things. I needed a break from the reality of the situation. That sounds really selfish now; after all, what break was there for Mr Man? But these were the times when I would buy myself a microwave meal on the way home from the hospital and pick up a DVD from the video shop and just “switch off” for the evening. These times were the longest periods I spent in the house, but I spent them “somewhere else”, not wanting to think about the fact that I was alone, or why.
After 3 hospital admissions I can now say from experience that the first 3 weeks after admission and the first 3 weeks after discharge are always the worst - yes, even after discharge. Each time there is a complete change in routine and that can be so hard to get used to.
Back at the hospital Mr Man was having to get used to a new routine of his own. Whereas I was having to get used to being alone, Mr Man was having to get used to the constant company of strangers, which in itself brings a different kind of loneliness. He was used to me always being there for him, but now I could only visit for a few hours in the evening*. There were activities on the ward each day organised by the Occupational Therapists and he was encouraged to take part. This was a big change to hiding away in bed for 18 hours a day. I think most of the activities seemed tedious to him but he played along thinking that he would get into trouble for not trying to help himself if he didn’t. Also he thought that by doing as he was told he could be discharged sooner. The meals were good and he got to choose what he wanted from a menu the day before.
The ward was a mixed sex ward and the patients were quite varied – different ages, different races, different psychiatric problems – but they all had one thing in common: they all seemed to feel secure in the knowledge that everyone around them was just like them – broken in some way – and no one would judge them. There was a strong feeling of community and understanding between the patients, and the staff interacted very well with them. Often it was hard to tell who was the patient and who was the nurse as the nurses didn’t wear a uniform and there didn’t seem to be any air of superiority from them. They would sit and play board games with the patients, or chat and laugh with them.
There were a few patients who seemed “strange” but mostly they were all very “normal” and friendly – perhaps not what people would expect to find on a Psychiatric ward. Actually, I’m not sure what people expect to find on a Psychiatric ward. Most patients suffer some kind of depressive illness, and yet the atmosphere wasn’t depressing. People played CD’s, chatted, played pool and watched TV. The ones who obviously needed some time alone were left to be alone, and yet would occasionally receive an “are you ok mate?” from another patient. Together they seemed to have a strong community, but individually they were all suffering inside.
*Visiting times were different to the other wards in the hospital. There was a short visiting period at lunch time, and then from 6 pm – 10 pm in the evening.
Next: "The First Three Weeks"