J was a friend of mine on the ward. We were both very different people, from very different walks of life, but got on surprisingly well. He had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was admitted to hospital around the same time as me. We both loved playing pool and we shared a love of sitting outside smoking and sharing stories about how crazy we could be.
To some people, J could appear to be quite threatening. He was very tall, of stocky build with a shaved head and several missing teeth, but I only saw how kind and gentle he was. He frequently made me tea, gave great hugs and was always there to listen when I was having a hard day.
It took just 24 hours for that all to change.
It was breakfast time when I overheard the nurses talking about a bed shortage at a neighbouring hospital, which meant three patients were due to be transferred to our ward. This wasn’t completely out of the ordinary and I didn’t really give it a second thought as I quietly went about my morning. It was only a couple of hours later, when I walked outside for my mid-morning fag, that realised there was going to be a problem.
J was sitting on the bench in the courtyard, joined by three, twenty year-old-something girls who were laughing and joking. As these were obviously the new patients, I reluctantly walked over to introduce myself. An elated J jumped up and said ‘this is V ! V, I knew these girls from another hospital!’ I instantly felt that I was not going to be accepted into their clique. Hostility was oozing from their eyes as J excitedly introduced me. None the less, I responded politely with a quiet ‘hello’ but swiftly made my exit.
For most of the afternoon, I whiled the time away reading a Ruth Rendell book I found in the activities room. After a while, I decided to brave it and go back and go back outside but as I approached the courtyard door, I could hear shouting. I continued to walk outside, where I found J and a few other patients with the new trio, chanting and singing. Sometimes we had a friendly sing-song outside, but this was different, this felt antagonistic.
I spotted a couple of nurse leaning on the wall outside, seemingly monitoring the unruly group. I quickly finished my cigarette and went back inside to my crime novel. As the afternoon hours melted away, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Maybe it was the lack of nurse checks at my end of the ward or the eery silence that lingered throughout the corridors.
At 6pm I headed down to the dining room for dinner. When I entered the room, I saw J sat around our usual table with the new girls. He looked up, but instead of calling me over, as he usually would, he turned away, continuing to laugh and joke with his new-found friends. I took my soggy rissole and sat down on a neighbouring table. Before I could tuck in to my not-so delicious meal, angry shouts and a crash of doors broke the silence. The words “Get the fuck off me!” bellowed from the hallway.
We all looked up to see four burly policemen scramble past the dining room door carrying A, a patient who had been discharged a week ago. A flurry of nurses and doctors led the officers and A through the ward towards the PICU (Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit). His anguished cries echoed the halls, eventually leaving behind an uncomfortable silence that resonated throughout the dining room.
The silence was interrupted by one of the new girls.
“That’s fucking wrong.” she spluttered in a thick Welsh accent
Her crass words stirred something in all of us, but unlike many of the others, I knew that my feelings of empathy were distorting my perspective. I knew A wasn’t well and possibly a danger to himself – that’s what mattered. I abandoned my meal and headed back to my dorm, leaving the others to their angry whisperings.
At 10pm (and right on cue) one of the nurse’s shouted ‘meds!’ from the other end of the ward. I pulled a jumper over my pyjama top and clumsily threw on some slippers, before walking down the long corridor towards the dining area and nurse’s station. As I got closer, one of the health care assistants signalled for me to go straight in to the dining room.
‘What’s going on?’ I whispered.
He ignored my hushed question and gestured me towards the dining room once more. But just before I obediently complied, I heard a shout come from the courtyard. Through the glass doors on the opposite side of the corridor, I could see a large group of staff nervously standing outside. Under the orange glow of the courtyard’s security lights, I could also see that the staff were actually observing J, the three new girls and a couple of other patents, who had gathered around one of the benches outside.
After I was given my medication I was quickly ushered back to the dorm, where I got ready for bed. It was just myself and an older lady in the four-bed dormitory that night, so I had nothing to do but let the sleeping tablet take effect and drift off to sleep.
I must have slept for at least two hours before something woke me. Without moving, I opened my eyes and listened intently to the shouts coming from the far end of the hallway. I peered up at the doors leading into the dorm, watching the light from the hallway trickle through it’s frosted glass. My older dorm-mate continued to snore as I quietly pushed back my sheets and crept out of bed. A sudden crash of doors and more shouts from the far end of the corridor cut through the night-time silence and I jumped back.
I held my breath, frozen in the darkness. My curiosity urged me forward and I placed a hand on the wooden swing door, before cautiously pushing it open a crack. I poked my head into the corridor and checked for any staff. It was deserted at our end of the hallway, so I silently tip-toed though the door, keeping my back to the wall. As I shuffled further down the corridor, the shouts became louder and I could see fast-moving shadows at the far-end of the ward near the doors leading outside into the courtyard.
As I passed the neighbouring dorms, I could see a couple of other patients peering through the windows in the doors. I found safety behind a corner in the corridor, where I slumped to the floor and stared in disbelief at the carnage that was unfolding at this end of the ward.
About twenty feet away from where I hid, I watched two policemen pull a man through the courtyard doors back onto the ward. I winced at the sound of crashing bins and two more police officers dashed outside, followed by a few members of staff who barked threats at the clamorous collective who had obviously taken control of the courtyard. Some of the chants outside were almost certainly that of the new girls… and J.
Two police officers pulled one of the screaming girls through the doors. An out-of-breath nurse followed them inside, but just before he chased them down the hall, he turned and caught my eye. I sprinted back up the other end of corridor and darted into my dorm. My hands were shaking and breathing was heavy, but I found safety under my bed sheets. I continued to listen to the distant shouts, before drifting back to sleep.
The sunlight streaming through the windows woke me from my drug-induced slumber. As I opened my eyes, I remembered the night before and I felt a surge of anger well up within me. The anger churned inside and I thought about how much I hated J for getting involved with those girls – they ruined everything.
But when I looked at my phone and saw two messages from J, the jealousy disappeared and my heart sank;
“Got kicked off ward. Won’t let me back”
“Dunno what to do.”
J was feeling as broken I was, but out there, alone.