Welcome to the cupboard of broken toys — part 4


It took me quite a while to get used to being a patient on Ward 9. To start off with I wasn’t sufficiently alert enough to take in things around me. Once I started my recovery I became more aware. I did. I started noticing the other patients. There were about 25 of us, occupying side rooms of four beds each. There was a central lounge seating area next to a table for playing games or eating meals on the ward. The nursing station occupied another room and the doctor’s offices adjoined that. Everything was done in a kind of hush so as not to upset anyone.

I found being a mental patient on a psychiatric ward was a bit hard to accept. That, on top of everything else, made me feel quite depressed. Then there was the young age of some of the other patients. Some of them were as young as sixteen or seventeen and that made me feel depressed. Some of them were quite heavily medicated, I guess they were pretty disturbed and needed strong meds to control their illness.

All-in-all, there were many depressing things. For me, the book experience was probably the most depressing. There wasn’t a single book on the shelves that I could read. They were either crap or damaged.

When Corporal Johnson thought I was well enough to start taking meals in the canteen he nominated one of the other patients to supervise me. He was a young Private named Joe Crabbe. About four years my junior, with a cheerful smile, he was a persistent natterer. That first time going down for breakfast he spent the entire walk pointing out things of interest. Trolleys, fire-extinguishers, other patients, windows, chairs. He actually bounced up and down on one of the chairs before proceeding to sing the Traffic-lights song. I found his company completely exhausting but we actually became really good friends.

Breakfast was a pleasing experience after many weeks on the ward. The canteen was light and airy and decorated with trellises festooned with plastic foliage. We mental patients had an area reserved in a side alcove, presumably so that the other patients wouldn’t get distressed if they saw us weeping into our cornflakes. It was there that I first met Sue Sullivan.

Sue was a WRAC Corporal. She was the first out-lesbian I had ever met. She was very nice to me and invited Joe and I sit at her table. She was lodged on Ward 10 with all the classier mental patients but chose to hang out with us grunts from Ward 9. She once confided to me that she greatly admired Clint Eastwood and wanted to model her life on his ‘Man-with-no-name” persona. I didn’t really know what to do with that information.

During that first breakfast, she insisted that I join in the conversation even though Joe was doing enough talking for everyone. In Joe’s world, the baked beans were just great. “I mean, really great.” And as for the sausages… Well, you would think it was the food of the Gods the way he wittered on.

“Shut up, Joe.” Sue said.

“Okay, Sue. Have you tried this bacon? It’s fantastic!”

She reached over to take my hand and I flinched and recoiled for a second. But then I saw she wanted a look at my wrist-band.

“What does BDR stand for?” she asked.

“Bombardier.” I replied.

“I thought for a second you were a Brigadier.” As if they would put a 22-year old Brigadier on Ward 9.

“This toast is great!”

“Shut up, Joe.”

I’ll say this for Joe, despite obviously being a total bubble-head, he took his supervisory duties seriously. He made sure that I took my plates and crockery to the trolley and the three of us, Joe, Sue and myself, went back to the wards together.

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I had acquired a peer-group of fellow-feeling friends. It actually felt good. For the first time in weeks I didn’t feel quite so bad.

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