The woman who always wore a paint-splotched
boiler suit was screaming. It was a thin lamentable
wail, like she was in acute agony. As usual, the
nurses were utterly indifferent. Heads down,
nothing stopped their obsessive note taking.
I hammered on the desk of their work station,
pointing urgently at the suffering patient.
Frostily, I was instructed to hush up. The crying
got louder. The poor woman had urinated on
the floor. This place was a hell hole. I didn’t think
I could console the lady. So I hurdled a chair,
and went to hide in my room. My nerves were
absolutely frayed. My illness had deepened.
The insufferable bedlam was destroying my soul.
I stepped out of the lift, and nearly trod on a tall
young man. The soles of his feet were immensely
filthy. He lay rigid like a wooden plank. The nurses
were sat at their stations, entirely ignoring him. I
thought it must be some outlandish prank. Until I
sneaked a look into the young man’s eyes. They
were blown, expressing absolute horror. His
beautiful face was smeared with grubby tears.
He couldn’t be much older than me. I wanted to
understand the madness that rioted in his mind.
He fascinated and frightened me. Suddenly a
nurse barked my way. This wasn’t a side show.
At that, I hopped adroitly over the young man’s
legs, and waltzed down the shabby corridor, going
to my room.
I had earned a new privilege. The right to walk
in the enclosed garden. It seemed like a fabulous
freedom. There was a dewy loveliness about the
manicured lawns. Bees hummed among the
foxgloves. You could forget here. However there
were electric fences behind the neat box hedges.
It would be impossible to slip away. One thing
tainted the scene. All the patients smoked like
industrial chimneys. Instead of a beautiful sundial,
there was an ash can spilling stinky butt ends. It
smelt obscene. Briskly, I returned inside. Dr
Strong’s back was hurrying away from me. Some
emergency. I went to fetch a hot chocolate from
the kitchen. I felt relieved. There’d be no tiresome
A nurse chided me. She was an old sour apple.
I should launder my clothes. I must go into the
games room, and socialize. I felt compelled, in
case she reported me. There was a ping-pong
and snooker table. In a threadbare chair a
bedraggled man was painting the black cue ball
white. It was a rebellious statement. Two heavily-
medicated females in their nighties played a
lifeless game of table tennis. Their movements
were rigid and joyless. I felt repulsed. The TV
was blasting. Nobody was even watching it.
Lunch would be coming soon. I could sense it
was on people’s minds. A nurse poked her head
around the door. We were summoned. I heard
the metallic lunch cart trundling down the narrow
corridor. I formed a line with the other slippered
zombies. It was time to dine.
An inept student doctor struggled to find a vein.
Eventually she jabbed the back of my hand, and
drained her phial of blood. She apologized
profusely. She had cold trembling fingers. Then
came the relentless questions. Always probing,
often impertinent. I just wanted this inquisition
to end. I really wasn’t so enthralling. It was not
necessary to compile volumes about me. After a
gruelling hour, I was released. I plonked myself
in the foyer to recuperate. The other crazies
milled around me. Hospital was exhausting.
Dr Strong would be starting his rounds shortly.
More questions. I simply had to get discharged.
Dr Strong put in a brief appearance. He was going
to adjust my medication. There might be some
unwelcome side effects. I should expect to feel
nauseous. I must be prepared to experience
extreme fatigue. I knew I was Dr Strong’s guinea
pig. Clearly he had a powerful professional interest
in my case. I asked if visitors were permitted. He
was categorical. I must allow for some time to
recover without external distractions. It would be
a week before my new regime of medicines kicked
in. Freedom receded into a murky future time.
My restraints, however, would be removed. Dr
Strong made me promise not to take advantage
of these new privileges. He was risking his career.
If I ran amok, his colleagues would slaughter him.
I swore to behave appropriately. Dr Strong smiled
benignly at this. He gave me an appraising look-
over, buttoned his white coat thoughtfully, and
I felt certain that I’d been knocked out for a
considerable time. I wouldn’t have been surprised
if days or weeks had passed. My wrists were red
and sore. I’d thrashed around, until it was clear
there could be no escape. Dr Strong never once
came. Nurses took my vitals. They rarely spoke.
I was ravenous. No meals were delivered. It felt
like I was being punished. I craved for decadent
cream pastries. Uncle would have found me some,
only he hated me now. He’d be nursing Mr
Steinberg’s broken nose. Appalled at the hideous
thing I’d done.
Did I remember how I’d struck my grandfather?
I had broken his nose. Dr Strong adjusted his
spectacles awkwardly. This couldn’t be true. It
was appalling. I hadn’t the foggiest idea why Dr
Strong would tell such whopping lies. Aghast,
the tears flowed down my cheeks. But this would
explain why I’d had no visitors. They were
frightened of my rages and what harm I might do.
I was sobbing hysterically now. Dr Strong was
asking if I’d like a tranquilliser. I just wanted to
dash back to my room and howl. It was the worst
moment of my life. I was a crazed bitch. Everyone
would hate me. Powerful arms were guiding me.
Restraints were being placed on my wrists. The
world swam. A black fog fell out of the sky.
I sought refuge in the TV lounge. It was cheerful
and freshly painted. However an obese scraggy
patient took up the entire sofa. He stank. Drool
hung from his bottom lip. I could tell the man was
on the brink. He was mouthing gibberish and
growing ever louder. He beat his flat palm on the
arm rest to a crazy rhythm. It wasn’t safe here.
I turned on my heel and left the room.
My psychiatrist was stood there smiling. Like
he’d been expecting me. With a beckoning finger,
he summoned me to his consulting room. The
thought of another two-hour long consultation
was unendurable. Nevertheless I followed him
like a lamb. I knew I’d be scolded for my bad
attitude. I was invited to sit and the door clicked
shut behind me.
Dr Strong told me to take my meals in the
communal dining room. I was mostly bilious
from the drugs. Eating was far from my troubled
mind. The other patients were heavily sedated.
None of them spoke. They shuffled to a seat with
their trays, old and insane. Some just stared
emptily, until a nurse brought their food. I wasn’t
allowed visitors. This seemed unnecessarily cruel.
Dr Strong said it would interfere with my recovery.
I didn’t feel mad anymore. I would plead to be
released. Surely I couldn’t be forcibly kept. A
bespectacled nurse came over to me. I should
eat at least a little of my custard tart, she urged.
I barked no. She backed away. Instinctively I knew
this would be held against me. Notes would be