Archive for autobiography

Reunion

Posted in Blogging, books, journals and diaries, jobs, careers and work, mental health with tags , on December 2, 2014 by leovineknight

The next day, one of the nurses told me I had some more visitors and I craned my neck with anticipation as the clattering footsteps echoed down the corridor. The hammer came down and my emotions hit the bell, but on seeing three familiar faces from the unit turn the corner, those same emotions crashed to ground with a sickening thud (and kept on going).
“Christ” I said involuntarily.
“Well, that’s a nice greeting” said one of the nursing assistants, cheerfully.
“What brings you here?” I asked knowingly.
“Oh, we felt like a long run out in the car, and this was a good excuse” he answered with disarming honesty.
“We had a dump on the way here” said Sidney.
“Pardon?” I said.
“We had a bump in the car, but no damage done.”
“Oh, good.”
”How are you, Steven?”
“Well, I’m due to go on home leave soon, but my wife’s decided to divorce me so it’s looking a bit awkward.”
“Bloody Hell Steve” he chuckled. “Never mind though, there’s always a bed for you at the unit.”
“That’s reassuring.”
“I thought he looked as shite as a sheet” said Sidney.
“Still, you’re a dark horse really Steve. I never thought you’d screw the system like this.”
“What do you mean?”
“A nice few months on the sick, most of it recuperating in the pub.”
“But this is real sickness.”
“Ha! Ha! That’ll be the day. God, you’re a droll bugger. How do you keep a straight face?”
“Change the subject will you?” I said, feeling a strange anxiety creeping up on me.
“Oh, well, things are pretty much the same at the unit, with plenty of new initiatives, zero movement, lots of sickness and….”
“Are you still doing the charity walks?” I said, noticing for the first time that all the staff were wearing Telly Tubby costumes, beautifully co-ordinated with Pearly King top hats and antique red noses, dating back to the early din period of charity mindlessness.
“Oh, no Steve. Charity walking is so yesterday. We’re into charity hawking now.”
“Hawking?”
“Yes. It’s dead simple. We all dress up and stand around spitting at each other’s boots for an hour while people queue up to watch. It’s an absolute riot of 21st century fun.”
“Ha ha ha ha” we chuckled.
“Well, as long as you’re having fun, that’s the main thing” I said. “And it’s all for charity, of course.”
“Oh… er…..yes…..naturally.”
“Have you heard about Cecilia, by the way?” interrupted the other assistant.
“No?”
“She died in hospital last week.”
“Oh.”
“Yes, she was in a coma you know.”
“No, I didn’t know.”
“There’s one hell of a stink going on about it. But at least you’re well out of it.”
“Yes” said Sid “There’s a big noise coming down from hindquarters…er….headquarters, to sort it out……”
“I need a cigarette now” cut in a familiar voice.

It was indeed a familiar voice with a familiar question, but for some reason it sent a seismic shock wave running up my back. The tribulations of the last few months seemed to hurtle back into full view, and my numbness vanished. The future opened up nightmarishly around me and a sickly phlegm filled my throat. The air crackled and hissed, and an old enemy returned; refreshed.
“I need a cigarette now! Now! Now! Now” Hettie suddenly howled.
“We’d better be off Steve. See you soon. Sorry it’s all a rush.”
“Wanks very much” said Sidney, pointing at me.
“’Bye Sid.”
“We’re buying a new house you know – I can’t wait to put down a deposit.”
(silence).
“Home is where the fart is….”
(silence).
I wasn’t really aware of the squad departing, and after a while I wandered down to my room and sought the refuge of bed. My head hammered, but sleep seemed to arrive instantly, and I twisted away into a dreamscape of schoolyards, fruit machines, sickly sweet smells, and sadness. I saw my mother’s white face accusing me from the shadows, and the sagging shell of our old house with its cluttered rooms and grates with ashes. I ran through endless streets of rain and sorrow, panting and terrified, until at last a yellow light appeared above a varnished door, and I saw my children looking silently down. I shook the bolts, and circled the house, finding a narrow view inside – where familiar thighs gripped a half-known man, and convulsions merged with spider blackness.
Then all around a pink sea span with hypnotic swirls of crimson, and a bright red sunset appeared before me.

Patient Rites

Posted in Biographies and Inside Stories, Blogging, jobs, careers and work, mental health with tags , , on August 27, 2013 by leovineknight

One of the patients asked me for access to his huge stock of sweeties. Although on a diet care plan, he had recently returned from a shopping trip with two large bags of jelly babies, two bags of sugared bon bons, four tubes of mints, two cream cakes, and a lot of receipts for the cash book. He had preceded these purchases with a fish and chip lunch, one can of non-diet coke, and a ‘ninety-nine’ ice cream with extra “sprinkles”. His laboured breathing now followed me down the corridor and after five minutes of key juggling I was able to release the requested items into his sticky grasp. I had a pang of conscience as I observed the folds of his painfully obese form rock and roll back to the lounge, but I knew that to refuse him access to ‘his own property’ would have brought opprobrium down on me from all sides. I was even more regretful that we continued to treat many of the patients like children, and wondered if it was strictly necessary to unload sack loads of sugar and fat on them every week, and then foolishly remark on their disappearing teeth and scale-breaking weight.
As part of this approach, all the patients received a large ‘Walt Disney’ type of birthday cake every year, which was usually so sickly and garish it would have turned the stomach of Billy Bunter. Unfortunately, staff seemed to forget that the recipients of these cakes were often forty to fifty years old, and that the patients were already keen enough to see themselves as life long dependants without the staff reinforcing it with organised puerility. Some of the patients were actually suffering from a psychotic ‘regression’ which had taken them back to their adolescence, and in their cases it was even harder to see how Walt Disney icing was going to reverse the process. Often the patients in question were in need of a new electric razor, a hairbrush or even a basic clock, suggesting perhaps that a more constructive approach to gift selection was well overdue. Anyway, at least I always knew what the key workers wanted for their birthdays; but would it be a cheeky Donald Duck or a cuddly Minnie Mouse this year?

Ergo ego

Posted in Blogging, jobs, careers and work, mental health with tags , , on July 4, 2013 by leovineknight

The ‘let’s introduce ourselves’ ritual started, even though the identities of 90% of those present were always well known, and personal information of this sort was invariably irrelevant to the content of the meeting anyway. This ritual was, of course, always suggested by one of the managers, and I suspected strongly that the real reason for ‘introductions’ was that it gave managers the repeated opportunity to announce their messianic job titles to everyone else present. Certainly, their decorous false modesty, well-rehearsed phrases and patronising smiles towards less grand individuals, was enough to fill a sick bucket. I looked across at the senior manager, who was quickly reasserting his smug, unctuous charm, and I wished I was the scarred boss of SPECTRE who would stroke his white cat, press a secret button under his desk, and say:
“Goodbye, Meeester Manager”, releasing the protesting panjandrum through a trapdoor, down a stainless steel tube, and into the jaws of five waiting sharks.
“Shall we introduce ourselves?” the sharks would ask.

Posted in Biographies and Inside Stories, Blogging, jobs, careers and work, mental health with tags , on May 5, 2013 by leovineknight

The clock was always ticking on a psychiatric nurse, as you wished your life away in the tick tock world of stress and release. Anticipating the end of a shift, craving days off, booking holidays with the drooling relish of a mad dog waiting for the final kick, and absolutely dreaming of retirement. Cottages in Wales, cruises in the Caribbean, fawn jackets and bowling woods, illness and death. A lager at the end of the desert crawl.

Zenith

Posted in Biographies and Inside Stories, Blogging, jobs, careers and work, mental health with tags , , on February 17, 2013 by leovineknight

A number of residents had crept back to bed after lunch, and I had to brave a battery of objections and excuses before they would reluctantly agree to pay lip service to their care plans, even if these only recommended socialising in the T.V. lounge. Checking inside the wardrobes and beneath the beds for those who were astute enough to play hide and seek, I reflected on how much easier it was to let the residents have their own way. They were extremely persistent in their evasive tactics, and could be both manipulative and aggressive in the pursuit of their objectives. Small wonder, therefore, that the staff often played into their hands by actively colluding with the patients’ hedonistic tendencies. Visits to seaside ice cream parlours and fish and chip restaurants, for example, were usually very popular, even though some of the patients were massively overweight and had diet care plans, while ‘social evenings’ with plentifully flowing wine and lager were equally popular for comparable reasons. Similarly, the daily fixation with television was rarely challenged because staff also liked to spend their time watching football and soap operas, as well as endlessly prattling undercover of repeat films and newscasts. Even when the patients remained square-eyed in front of children’s television, this would still be perceived as a useful distraction from more disruptive activities.
Conversely, when social skills, domestic skills, gardening or personal hygiene interventions were suggested to the residents, these were almost invariably greeted with sabotaging tantrums, increased ‘delusions’ or mute unresponsiveness; so it was not entirely surprising when staff started to take the easy options themselves. This was the point that the unit had reached meltdown; where the day-to-day collusion, the mirror-like reflection of staff-patient lethargy and self-interest, and the obscuring of all things with worthless paper work, had murdered the unit stone dead.

Not What the Doctor Ordered….

Posted in Biographies and Inside Stories, Blogging, books, journals and diaries, jobs, careers and work, mental health with tags , , on January 27, 2013 by leovineknight

Although some of our patients were too fragmented by their illnesses to be seriously interested in personalising their rooms, others took it to the opposite extreme by filling their personal space with shed loads of jumble, clothes, toys, pot plants, and entertainment systems. They were possibly the true products of modern community mental health care, because they had quickly become ‘empowered’ individual consumers, without being remotely interested in the other aspects of capitalist society; individual effort, competition, productivity and wealth creation. This was perfectly understandable, of course, because they were terminally de-motivated by receiving lifelong state benefits, and generally ill-equipped to compete in the open job market.
In effect, care in the community had completely distorted the patients lives by exposing them to an inappropriate and mystifying system, and by leaving them with little choice but to engage in self indulgent ‘retail therapy’, or to sink into a continuous vegetative state. One patient had literally filled their room from floor to ceiling with white elephants of one form or another, eventually needing a further room to store the excess, until fire regulations were employed to authorise a clear out. Within weeks the mountain was reappearing, and the patient was seen depositing a perfectly good hi fi system in a nearby skip, so that he had a ‘good reason’ to buy another. He invariably went shopping by taxi, and sometimes asked the drivers to collect items he had bought earlier, including on one occasion a stuffed moose head and a gigantic doll. These arrived at the unit during one of our official inspections, sat together on the back seat of the cab (total fare £9.50).

Heresy?

Posted in Biographies and Inside Stories, Blogging, jobs, careers and work, mental health with tags , , on November 11, 2012 by leovineknight

“You’ll be telling me you’re in favour of euthanasia for the mentally ill next, Steve.”
“Under certain strict conditions, I’m in favour of euthanasia for anybody who’s enduring a legalised torture chamber. But that’s a red herring – the vast majority of mentally disordered people can certainly lead a positive life, if only we’d stop being ‘saints’ and genuinely encourage them.”
“By ‘encourage’ them, I suppose you mean force them to work at something.”
“The only force necessary to get most people to work in a decent society is to give them a conscience, show them a useful goal, and withhold the soft options.”
“We’re never going to agree on this Steve. You just come across as being heartless.”
(silence).
That was a terminal indictment of a lover.

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