Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mad world

Tonight I read this post by Tom Reynolds where he asks the question: where does religion end and madness begin? This sparked a funny conversation between Mr Man and me. He told me that the first time he was admitted into hospital there was a patient who was very religious. He would carry his bible around with him, walk into a room full of people and announce “Right, I’m going to teach you all something now”. He would then proceed to read a portion of the bible out loud and then, looking confused, he would stop and say “What’s that all about then? That doesn’t make any sense to me at all”.

Moving off the subject of religion and talking about madness, I was curious to know if Mr Man thought he was mad, as obviously others regard mental health patients as mad, and sometimes the patients themselves do. He replied with “Yeah, I suppose” and then laughing he continued “I’d forgotten that I used to believe that flies had cameras on them, and when you mentioned it [the other week] I thought “Blimey, I was off my trolley!”” Still laughing he added “When I was in hospital I used to spend all my time saying to people “I’m not mad you know” but really I was, so I suppose I must be a bit”. I’m glad he can see the funny side of it now.

I never thought he was mad though, I just saw him as ill. To me it was no different to having any other kind of illness, he just needed treatment. We joke about other patients now, and say “He was off his rocker” but deep down I don’t really believe that any of them were “mad”. I’ll tell you what mad is: mad is hearing one psychiatric nurse talking to another about the fact that her 8 year old daughters’ hamster had died, and how upset she was, and that she had to buy her a new pet; and then nodding towards the patients on the ward and saying “And these lot think they’ve got problems” as if having to buy a new hamster for a grieving 8 year old somehow compares.

There were many funny characters that we remember with fondness now, like the man who use to stride up and down the corridor calling out “Kirk to Enterprise” and babbling on about Saddam Hussein. He seemed cheerful enough to me, but Mr Man said he used to get a little aggressive at times. There was also a man who used to sit there having a good old chat and a laugh with himself for hours, but if you walked passed and said “Hello” he would stop, return the greeting, and then carry on from where he left off.

For some reason a lot of the patients were quite drawn to Mr Man. There was one girl who thought that he was her twin, and the staff were always telling her to leave him alone. I remember another lady who was obviously very ill, but she was lovely, and she liked talking to Mr Man as well. I don’t know what her diagnosis was but she was very quiet and found it difficult to communicate with people. If you spoke to her she had this “searching” look in her eye, almost as if she thought she had answered you, although she hadn’t, and was waiting for your reply. If she managed to speak it sort of came out in a burst. She would shuffle along the corridor, hunched over and tongue hanging out, and a cup of tea in her hand tilted to one side. I think a lot of the other patients felt protective of her, including Mr Man, and Darren who I mentioned previously would buy her sweets. Mr Man would spend a lot of time in a “quiet room” on his own, or with me when I visited, and she would come in and sit with him, complain for a little while in her own disjointed kind of way, and then leave.

There were these two women in there as well who were joined at the hip. It was so funny to watch them because they were like an old married couple, going everywhere together and yet bickering constantly. I don’t even know how they understood each other because one had a very strong Asian accent, and the other a very strong African accent. One time they actually fell out, and wouldn’t speak to each other. I was visiting Mr Man and we sat together in a quiet room when one of them walked in, sat down, and started telling Mr Man all about this falling out they had had. Mr Man listened very patiently, although like me he couldn’t understand a word she was saying (and when people are excited or upset their accent tends to get even stronger), and seemed to shake his head and tut in all the right places. Happy that she had been heard, she got up and left the room. Two minutes later the other one walked in and did exactly the same thing! All I could do was sit there watching, completely baffled as to why everyone felt the need to come to Mr Man about their problems, when he was a patient too.

The African lady was actually a patient on a different psychiatric ward previously, where Mr Man was as well. The patients had a payphone on the ward that they could use, and relatives could call on that line as well. When the phone rang this lady would always try to answer the phone before anyone else could get to it and then wouldn’t hand it over. She would just talk down the phone in her own language, ignoring whatever the caller was saying to her, until finally whoever had called would get fed up and hang up. It happened to me quite a few times, and when I was visiting I would often hear the phone ring and then people shout out “Abigail* leave the phone alone! It’s not for you!” and she would call back saying “It’s for me!”

Now if you’ve ever wondered about ECT** and it’s affects on people, Barry* is one man who received this treatment. Normally he would sit slumped in his chair, and not really talk very much to people at all apart from the occasional complaint of “There’s nothing in me”; and except for the occasional flashing at female staff members he wouldn’t really do much else. He didn’t look after himself at all, and smelt really badly. But once he had had his ECT he was a different man. After his treatment you couldn’t shut him up! He would talk continuously to whoever would listen, repeating the same stories over and over again, and barely pausing for breath. He would look after himself a lot better too.

They’re the patients that really stood out to me, but there were many others who just kind of blended in and were hardly noticed, although Mr Man would obviously have known them better and probably remembers things about them. I know there was a man who sat in the corridor playing his guitar all the time, and another man who used to actually sleep outside. He was a friendly chap who always used to say hello and ask how I was. There was another man who became friendly with Mr Man for a while, and he seemed “normal” enough. He would talk about how these different people were after him, and I actually believed him until he started saying that one of the other patients was really a spy. That’s when I realised that he was suffering from paranoia.

I tried not to get too involved with the other patients to be honest; I felt I had enough on my plate to deal with as it was. But apart from being unwell in one way or another, they all seemed quite a friendly bunch really.

*Not the persons’ real name.

**ECT – Electroconvulsive therapy is sometimes used in the treatment of very severe depression. The patient is given anaesthetic and muscle relaxant to prevent injury and then a small electrical current is passed through the brain to induce a seizure. Previously these seizures were induced by administering insulin. It is thought to alter the chemical balance in the brain, and as in the case of Barry, sometimes the results are dramatic.


Rhea said...

Hi, I found your page through your comment on Random Acts of Reality.

I've read back through your posts and just wanted to say thank you for sharing your experiences. A relative of mine by marriage has schizophrenia and I've found some of your posts enlightening in terms of the symptoms.

If you don't mind, I would like add a link to your blog?

Mr Mans Wife said...

Thank you Rhea, I'm glad you've found it interesting.

Most people wouldn't normally think "I'm going to go to the library today and get a book about Schizophrenia to read" so I hope this will be a more informal way for people to learn about it.

Of course I don't mind you linking to my blog! I'm new to blogging, so maybe you could tell me, should a person ask before adding a link to another persons site? If so I think I have made quite a few boo boos.

Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

i stand corrected mr man was right when he said this evening that andy rouke was not the drummer in the smiths ,mike joyce was i just remembered . thanks for a lovely evening and a nice meal .from your curly haired friend in your street.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Lol, you're very welcome. And for other readers out there, this curly haired friend is what is technically known as "mad"! But in a lovable way.

Rhea said...

Sorry, had a few PC issues so only just come back.
Very true.
No, I don't think there is any sort of rule about asking beforehand. I just tend to ask as a way of introducing myself and making sure the person knows what I'm doing.

Anonymous said...

I just began reading your blog and I find your writing style studied, precise, and most personable. I also find the fact that, despite your onerous responsibilities, you're able to edify in a somewhat subjective manner and that's most refreshing. A considerable number of the blogs that deal with this painful and upsetting topic tend to be difficult to read and garner information from on a continuum precisely because the writer's emotionality is overwhelming. Kudos to you and I hope that 'blogging' does indeed give you some respite.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Anonymous, thank you very much for your comments, they are very much appreciated. My main reasons for writing this blog were to raise awareness and to encourage other carers. I'm glad you're enjoying reading my blog and I hope I can continue to write in an informative manner. Thanks again.