The Green Corridor
My scrabble partner wears a blue dressing gown with faded gravy stains, remnants of today’s dinner. I place the word ‘gravy’ on the board and mentally thank her for stimulating that suggestion. I score myself fifty points. We’re not even keeping scores. It’s just a tactic to pass the time. I watch as she picks at a mole on her hand, causing it to redden like a cherry tomato, then equally methodically scoop up three tiles from her organised pile. She quickly places these letters above my letter ‘y’ to create the word ‘baby’, and then it happens. I haven’t spoke that word out loud in a long time. It doesn’t fit in my mouth anymore. It makes me cry and that’s what happens. I cry. It’s not long before my cries become hysterical and soon I feel a nurse’s hands grasping my arms. Her face looms in front of me and she shakes me slightly, calling my name, calling me back. I feel the sting of a needle in my arm and let myself be led along the green tiles which bulge and sway, a moving floor, as I’m shepherded through contracting corridors of light. My eyelids drooping, my words slurring, they place me into bed. I can hear them pull across the curtain for privacy, and then the darkness takes me.
I dream I’m back at home. It’s always the same dream. It’s just the two of us. I’m in the kitchen cooking. He’s in the bedroom. I hear his laugh. I smile too. Then there’s the smoke and the dark and it rushes through his room and I can’t get in and I hear him cry and then I wake up. I know the ending because it really happened. He dies. He died. He is dead. I couldn’t save him. I stir in bed. My mouth is dry. My arm throbs. My heart dances to a medicated beat. I can hear a nurse approaching. Her soft shoes sound like wet sponges on glass. She squeaks into the room, shining her flashlight quickly either side, hovering over some patients, listening for breathing. I am not able to pretend to be asleep, especially when someone is standing over me. I half sit up in bed. She shines her light my way,
‘Martha Collins. Trouble sleeping again tonight? At least you got some rest earlier. You’ve had a hard day. Maybe you’d like something to help you sleep now?’
‘No. I have enough in my system.’
‘OK, well just so you know, I’m on the desk all night. in case you change your mind?’
I don’t reply. I hate this system of killing my feelings with medication. They don’t understand. I want to remember my baby even if it upsets me. I love my son even if he’s dead. I’m his mother. That’s what mothers do best. We care for and protect our kids, no matter what. I let him down. I shouldn’t be here.
The room feels very warm. I am stifled by the hot breath of five other women, breathing their troubles into the dark, mumbling in their sleep, lost in their dreams. I don’t know why they’re all here but I think it’s mainly cases of depression, schizophrenia and suicidal ideations. I only know why I’m here. I lost my son, Jack, in a house fire eight months ago. I wasn’t able to cope at home and so they sent me here, to be cared for, until I’m well. They say I had a breakdown. The doctors are optimistic that it won’t be too long more until I’m better. I have an appointment with the doctor and his team tomorrow. Those meetings always scare me, they ask so many probing questions. I drift to sleep despite the buzzer sounding by the front desk.
Today is Thursday. It could be any day. I just know because Philippa has been around to take my bloods and measure my blood pressure. Everything’s normal there, she says. I despise that word. Normal. This place cannot be considered normal. The people I am sharing my room with cannot be considered normal either. Like Mary Rohan, who talks to her carrots. She actually scolds them, like children. I’ve heard her. I’ve even watched her but she just continues, unperturbed. I don’t ever want to be on that much medication.
‘Have you any visitors today?’
I look curiously into Philippa’s eyes. Does she know something? Have the doctors told her about my visitors before they’ve told me?
‘I don’t think so. Why?’
‘Oh I haven’t seen your mother in a while. I was just wondering if she’s OK.’
What a nosey bitch. So yes, my mom hasn’t been to see me in a while. She gets upset seeing me here. I don’t think it’s good for her. And Anthony has never been able to stand hospitals. So he hasn’t visited. I have phoned him before. I think he will be happy to know I can come home soon. But why should she know all this? Bloody cow.
‘Your pressure reading is slightly high. You should probably try to rest today. Other than that, you’re perfectly healthy.’ ‘Right now, Mary Rohan, are you ready for me dear?’
Christ I hate it here. And what’s she talking about rest? Fucking rest? All anybody can do here is rest. And my blood pressure’s still high. I have all day every day to just sit down, stare at telly, eat three meals and walk in circles, from my room, past the desk to the dayroom and back. They take us out for a chaperoned walk three times a week. We just walk around the building, outside, instead of walk around inside. The community board by the desk is sparse, with information on classes to attend and the only ones they seem to favour are deep relaxation and occupational therapy. I’ve been attending these classe for the last eight months and I don’t see how they can improve me. But the doctors have said I am making progress. I think they say that to all the women here.
I walk towards the canteen. It’s an orchestra of falling cutlery and jumbled conversations. They spin together in my mind. I take my tray filled with a hot dinner, glass of milk and bowl of jelly to a table furthest from the noise. I stare at the telly on the back wall as I attempt to digest my food while being observed by eight nurses. I finally understand why primates get so upset when we stare at them in the zoo. I feel like flinging this jelly at them all and watch them try to scatter as I bare my teeth and rip them apart. And then I’m looking at my plate again. The gravy has lumps which cling to the beef like brown, liquid warts and I squash them with my fork. Then I rake it through the mash, creating neat patterns. I’m aware they’re watching me. They’re probably taking notes for the team meeting after dinner. Here comes one now. I’ve been summoned to the office. I stand up and walk stiffly from the room. The loudness that is lunchtime falls away as I pull open the door and enter the corridor. The green tiles lead me to the last, little door on the left. I walk along softly in my socks. I notice that I now, have a spot of gravy on my shirt. I dab at it before I tap on the door. A voice inside calls me in and I am faced with seven heads looking in my direction.
‘Martha, come in. This is Dr. Allen, Dr. Tanner, your community nurses, Mary Hennessy and Tom Firkin, social worker Tonya Hayes and her trainee associate Ciara Lyne and our Occupational Therapist Angela Grimes.’
There are more people here today than ever. I recognise only three faces. Their heads bob at me as I look at each in turn as my doctor calls their names. Suddenly I want to run away. It’s hard enough for me in these meetings when it’s just me and my doctor.
‘Now there’s no need to be nervous. We’re all here to help you and we will need to learn more about you in order to do that. OK? That’s why they will be taking notes today too.’
I shrug at him. I don’t know what else to say. I am on display here.
‘So how’s your sleeping? Have the pills been helping with that at all? If not we can always increase the dose of your medication.’
I force my hands together to stop them shaking. I brace my knees together to do the same. I imagine that my nervousness is obvious to everyone here. I open my mouth to talk but when I speak it does not sound like my voice. It is thick and slow. The words take time to form. They taste like medication. I need water.
‘It’s been alright I think. They help, yes. No, no, I don’t need anymore for now. Thank you.’
I leave out the part about the nightmares. I would have told him today but I can’t with all these others here. I feel naked. They stare openly at me.
‘So Martha, the first thing we need to establish is if you understand why you’re here?’
‘Oh, sure, it’s because I lost my baby boy in an accident at home…’
‘And what happened? Take as long as you need to explain.’
‘Well, I, it was a fire. I think it started in the kitchen. And you see Jack’s room is beside the kitchen. And… and…’
The doctor hands me a tissue as I break down. I am conscious of their pens scribbling on the pads. It sounds like tiny hands scratching at a coffin lid. I try to compose myself. I keep remembering the sound of the flames cracking as I tried to get inside his room. The smoke overtook me then. I still smelled of smoke three days later. It started in the kitchen but I survived and I couldn’t save him. That memory will always haunt me.
‘Martha, sorry to have to put you through this. But it’s very important we all understand what happened. So we can help you.’
‘Oh I know. I want you to help me. I want to get better again. So I can go home and be with my family.’
‘Martha, you have been suffering from an episode of psychosis. We have been unable to detect precisely when it began but it appears it may have been triggered after the birth.’
‘What is that?’
‘Well, it can typically include changes in personality, impaired functioning, hallucinations and hearing voices…’’
‘I’m not schizophrenic! If that’s what you mean?’
‘No. No. This can have elements of schizophrenic disorder but it is a separate illness in itself.’
‘How did it happen?’
‘It may have been brought about due to the hormonal changes which occurred during pregnancy.’
‘I felt fine when I was pregnant. Maybe this happened after Jack died?’
‘Well what you are experiencing now is an episode of major depression. We have had you on a course of Seroquel to combat the psychosis issues and Lithium to counteract the depression. You should be feeling your mood start to stabilise.’
‘Did you ever experience any hallucinations after your pregnancy or hear any voices?’
‘What?? NO! I told you. I’m not schizophrenic.’
‘We’re only trying to establish a pattern of your behaviour for our records. It’s all in your best interests remember.’
I can feel my temper rising to the surface. These fucking people and their questions. They didn’t even ask if I miss Jack or how I feel about his death. No, just a load of mental health questions, going nowhere. I need to get out of this room. I can’t breathe properly. I just want to hold my son again and take it all back.
‘I think that’s enough for today Martha. But I’ll be on the ward until 4pm should you have any questions.’
I stand up slowly. I want to evaporate. Their eyes burn me. I turn my back without saying goodbye. I mumble thanks and close the door.
‘Well, that was Martha Collins. She is our prime example of psychosis on this ward. Her file is here for you all to brief, in order to get a better understanding of this particular case. Any questions?’
‘Just one, I guess. I’ve been dealing with Martha the past six months but, Doctor? Would you say the psychosis was the primary reason for the infanticide or was it triggered after that?’
‘That is the very nut we are trying to crack. But as you can see, she has delusional ideas and memories. She has retreated into herself. She has done no wrong in her mind. Read over her file. We’ll meet here again next Thursday for a briefing before we talk to her.’
I sit alone on my narrow bed and stare at my surroundings. The cream walls loom in on me, the flecked ceiling panels press down on me, the neighbouring beds with their curious inhabitants close in on me too. The view of the outside world does little to console me, a blue sky with cotton clouds. Somewhere out there a bird calls. It sounds like a baby crying. I say the word ‘baby’ and repeat it. And repeat it. And repeat.