The Mental Health Ward: First Impressions

The Bastard Noose
The Mental Health Ward: First Impressions

“But you don't [engage with mentally disturbed people], because they seem frightening and irritating, they seem dangerous a lot of the time… and you know if you make eye contact, all those problems in his head will be yours too.”

Doug Stanhope

Doug Stanhope’s words reverberated. I was shell shocked walking out into gen pop tired and without savvy. I didn’t know these humans and frankly, really frankly, I didn’t want to get to know them. The environment was a mystery and after my arrival under darkness these nut nuts, screaming and shouting were not people I wanted to befriend. I didn’t shout. I didn’t kick and scream, I shouldn’t have been there. I didn’t see myself as that ill by comparison.

They all looked at me, the problems in their heads waiting to be mine too. My head is full, no room at the inn.

Without any freedom at all I was fucking miserable. I’m not famous for my patience and understanding and the first day in the ward was no exception. I wanted to go outside. With transport’s “treat it like prison” advice fresh in my mind, it did feel more like a prison than a hospital. I already missed my family, my friends.

Staff were jobsworths (they were also less attractive than the ED bunch but I suppose that’s not really the point). Why were my chargers taken and my shoelaces not? It just seemed like a further point of control to me. I fumed, metaphorically. It all got my back right up.

The new day's light revealed the building, a purpose built mental health unit: wards with long corridors of rooms, each tied to a communal area and nurses station. The unit also boasted a communal square which patients could use at allocated times under supervision. An area thoughtfully created with trees and benches between the different wards that was seemingly never used. I realised later that this was because it is no smoking and patients would rather stand in the car park.

This building was a far cry from what some poor souls end up in. A shame on our government(s).

Before allocating the room they could have handed me a six foot length of rope as they took the phone charger. I’d still be alive and my phone would still be dead.

You couldn't kill yourself in the bedroom if you wanted to. They really had thought of everything. No handles anywhere, a benign bed adorned with a foam mattress exactly the same as the one I enjoyed in Belgravia Police Station though without the stale urine smell. Maybe the lack of stale piss was because there was also a sink... All the higher surfaces were at awkward angles preventing any purchase, like cisterns in clubs. A weird window, which I'll get on to later.
Anything remotely fatal taken from you, with good reason. You realise how much chargers and cyanide pills mattered to you.

The magnetic curtain rail took some getting used to. Purpose built to save light and life at the same time. One incorrect tug on that to close the curtains and the whole thing clattered down on your bonce. Ironically it’s probably the only way you can hurt yourself in the room short of punching yourself in the face.

Signs of past occupants’ struggles were subtle but sadly evident. A dent in the plaster, scratches, tiny specks of blood. These didn't bother me as the room was comfortable mostly, bright and crucially, private. In a room for this purpose it was to be expected and there was a lot less blood than the ED. A lot less. None of it was fresh, either.

I was able to hide from the ward/ world outside in the room. Except when they checked through the window slats, which they did hourly or so. The slats were disguised by a pretty picture on the ward side- mine was The Eiffel Tower and some of the other rooms also featured romantic landmarks you could throw yourself off.

Breakfast was bland and unimaginative as was to be expected. But at least they had toast (not allowed in the ED) and brown bread. I requested Marmite from home, and a proper pillow.

While I understand the paper plates and plastic cutlery, it was utterly infantilising and another thing which was winding me up, along with much more. 

The hot water for drinks is lukewarm, you have to drink improper tea from the polystyrene cup immediately, unless you like cold, shit, tea. The temperature prevented the tea from actually brewing. Apparently anything approaching boiling water became something of a weapon. Reassuring.

Having only showered  once in the preceding eight days I wanted a proper wash. All shower rooms were infused with a toilet. Two had huge spaces, far bigger than even the bedrooms. Two were so inescapably close to the toilet I half expected a cock to come through a hole somewhere. 

Unsurprisingly, the shower rooms where you could be more than twelve inches from a  glory hole Thomas Crapper were the most popular. Day one I was just pleased to get underneath a shower head, and where normally you might spend a few seconds wondering how to work the shower, in the ward there was no need.

The showers had no heat settings, just hit the button. Valuable time saved, because we all had somewhere else to be, locked in the ward. I hit the button and was instantly hosed with water so hot it crème brûléed my back.

I toyed with making my tea using the shower water.

First impressions were not good. I was grumpy and my only joy was taking the piss out of the whole thing in my head. Ha. ha.


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