(A dystopic story about the National Health Service’s Mental Health System in Britain)
He came back from his Section 17 of the Mental Health Act leave limping. In his hands he carried printouts of the documents he had taken to the local library on memory stick, as he was intent on representing himself at tribunal, something he never did.
He was limping because of the tumult that occurred upon his detention 3 weeks previously when two heavies dragged him down the corridor of his council block and out into a waiting car, to take him all the way to a Weston-super-mare mental health facility. The two hulks wrestled him face down on the bed with his arm up his back like two bouncers and then they cuffed him, but his lower legs had swelled and a red mottling appeared from his ankles to his knees.
He called the police from the ward phone to no avail and had only a ward solicitor with whom to consult. The pregnant woman proved more concerned with her upcoming maternity leave than his case of assault, even with the visible evidence before her.
Weeks later, when moved to Bath and closer to home he was told that the marks on his legs were an indicator of a mild heart attack and they took him in for a scan then.
It was five minutes to the ward-round meeting so he dropped his library bag (which was thoroughly searched, but not his shoe) in his room and waited in the eatery where there were tables and chairs. Soon the consultant called him into the room.
He greeted the waiting faces and was introduced.
He began. “You don’t take me very seriously, do you?”
He continued: “I invented an artificial kidney that came in pill form. The pharmaceutical components of a pill, taken once a day by those lacking kidneys, fuse with uric acid in the blood forming a substance that is eliminated through the liver. The recipient stops urinating.”
When his psychiatrist smiled, it showed pleasure, not humour, and he did well to remember that. When she smiled, it was with satisfaction.
Humour was obsequious.
He asked: “Why are you smiling?…do you think I am lying? I designed the Personal Environment too while I was there.”
“No, I think you are telling me what you think.”
“You know I was at the University of Bath doing a Ph.D. in Biomimetics…you know that part is true.”
Again, the smile.
“You know what this is about, don’t you?”
“What? Tell me please!”
“Impudence and confidence.”
“Really?” the psychiatrist was State employed by the N.H.S. and obviously not bound to carry a pen to keep notes.
”Yes. I was impudent to take my data off of the University when I cancelled my registration, impudent when I sent blanket, mass e-mails throughout the university addressed to the vice-chancellor, demanding a table discussion, and finally, impudent when I published the three papers as sole author, having been abandoned by my supervisors. Those papers are very important. They prove my hypothesis of twelve years ago. Which you have prevented the publishing of, through your incessant detentions!”
“Suddenly so much makes sense!” he continued sombrely.
He paused again.
The missing logbook, the missing South African passport, the remote plundering of his hard drive, his data and accounts. Someone in town was taking a long risk that the pressure would be insurmountable. The first assault and finally the trashing and then torching of his little metro parked on the street, these were concrete facts.
“Do you know what impudence is, Doctor?”
“What about confidence?” she ignored the question with one of her own. “Where does that come into it?”
“Confidence in my own sanity.”
“So what do you think of your diagnosis now?”
The room was crowded with listeners: two trainee doctors and another consultant taking notes, a nurse and a health-care assistant.
The typing away in the corner was unnerving.
“There is a patent in those papers. It’s the reason for all this. The vice-chancellor is a clinical psychologist by profession and she knows the system.”
He decided he had chosen unwisely to say this openly, from the silence greeting it.
Changing the subject to questions that would not be asked in the tribunal, he said: “I’m diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when I have two previous diagnoses of depression which haven’t been referred to. I have suffered episodes that could be construed as side-effects of the drugs you have me on. Naturally I don’t want to take them. I don’t feel they are doing anything but hindering my recovery from traumas I have endured, including my father’s death.” He wanted to lay it on thick for all of them.
He watched the typing in the corner.
“Where’s the psychologist?”
“She wasn’t invited to the meeting. If you want her to attend, her number is on the bulletin board outside in the corridor.”
“She’s off sick. I tried. She’s been gone three months now and I seem to be the only person who has noticed.”
“Oh, well, there is the art therapist too, you can talk to them, maybe?”
“I don’t think so. And another thing, why am I straight on a section 3 when you stopped treating me and tied up my files six months ago? I should be on 28 days observation, not six months! And more importantly, able to appeal faster.”
“It doesn’t work that way. You come in this time for six months.”
The University didn’t get many patents. There was gold in that intellectual property.
He realised he had lost all evidence of his original experimentation and more importantly almost, the dates, to resist a challenge to his conclusions, success and patent.
He stood up. He was finished.
His property had been taken by the Queen, in the form of the Earl and Dame who ruled the proximity to the University with such a firm hand.
“Will that be all?” he asked.
He wasn’t waiting for an answer. His hand slipped into his coat pocket as he turned to the door and he felt the limp rolled spliff there.
There was movement in the room from the others as the psychiatrist said; “Yes, okay thank-you Eric. We’ll see you next week.”
Eric made his way down the corridor to the nurses’ station. He saw Leslie through the perspex window, pinned with notices telling service users “not to hang around the nurses’ station”.
“Can I go spend half and hour in the O.T. garden?”
“Yes, sure Eric.” Leslie looked. “Where is your armband?”
Eric had been trying to hide his bare arm from the nurse’s view.
“I get treated weirdly when I go to the library, so I took it off.”
“Here” she said. “Put this one on” – and handed over a thin yellow rubber bracelet. “Put it over your wrist, let me see now! And give me the other one back, please!”
He waved the proof before her and headed out the doors once Leslie had released the lock with her key. He looked down at his arm, at the bracelet on his wrist. It was new. He had been six times on the ward previously and these identifiers had not been produced. Now, this symbol was to be worn everywhere in public. His last one, which he had just handed in, was white.
It reminded him of the bracelets worn by the Make Poverty History supporters of 2004, in Edinburgh. Another symbol of insanity. But these were thicker and held a kind of sparkle to the light, an oily iridescence. It was a new drug delivery system and kept his blood topped up with anti-psychotics via the hydrogel from which it was composed, this he knew from his own research.
If he loved himself, Eric would have plenty of woes, but he didn’t.
Instead he took things on as if it was his duty to be there and not try to escape the duty of complaining to all and sundry.
He lit the spliff once seated on the bench behind the lodge, which was situated upon a coppice. The plain trees towered and leaves covered the paved courtyard. Soon he was in St Croix again, newly disembarked from the eighty-five foot ketch he had crewed down from Fort Lauderdale, the Evening Star, a Palmer Johnston steel hulled motor sailor he remembered well. He wondered what would have happened if he had stuck to that life.
Suddenly, Eric felt queasy. His heart started flipping back and forth as he leaned forward in his seated position to ease the sudden nausea he felt in the pit of his stomach. Heart butterflies occupied his attention as Leslie joined him on the bench. The smoking joint fell to the ground.
He thought suddenly “I won’t see the minutes!” Not until he was freed from hospital would he be able to request them.
He passed out, slumping forward on his knees. Leslie pulled out her mobile phone.
“Hello? This is Leslie, Sycamore ward, Hillview Lodge at the R.U.H. You can come and collect him now. Salisbury PICU. Clozapine. One bag.” She answered a series of questions. “Yes, he is sedated. Bye!”
Eric awoke and was immediately struck by the warmth and staleness of the air. His vision was obscured by a wire mesh barrier that reached the ceiling and surrounded the bed, with a wire mesh door which must have been how he got in there.
He looked down, aware of his state of undress. He was in his t-shirt and underwear. Folded at the end of the cot under his feet was a fluorescent green pile of clothing.
The cot was low to the floor and little more than a door on short metal stubby legs. The mattress a six foot slab of foam, the bedding a grey blanket. There was no other furniture in the pale green room.
The door to the room, in the corner, had the reinforced look of trouble. Centred in the middle of the door was a narrow vertical window with a blind to block light behind it.
Ten minutes later, Eric was sat up, blearily trying to collect his thoughts through the molasses of his mind. The door opened and three men in blue shirts came in, one of them afro-caribean from the look of him.
All were over two hundred pounds, from the look of them. Shaved heads and tattoos seemed a theme and the expressions were grim.
“Good morning Eric!” said one, obviously the one in charge. “Did you sleep well?”
“Where am I?”
“Salisbury psychiatric intensive care unit, mate. You arrived yesterday afternoon.”
Eric was stunned at this news. “What? Why was I brought here?”
The lead man replied, as the other two stood back against the wall.
“’Seems you have not been responding to treatment, so you have been brought here. You’re seeing the doctor this afternoon. He’ll answer your questions.” He produced a set of keys from his belt and started to unlock the wire door to Eric’s cage. “Medication time, Eric! We’re told you have refused medication in the past, and hurt a member of staff. How are you feeling now?”
Suddenly the attention of all three was focussed upon Eric. Eric noticed a paper cup in lead man’s paw. He gazed once more around the room and made a snap decision.
“What?” he said. “I don’t even know who you are! That’s not true! I haven’t hurt anyone! I’m non-violent!”
“Oh, sorry!” said lead man. He pointed to his name tag. “I’m Steve, this is Mark and that’s Kofi. We’re the ward Control and Restraint Team.” The door swung open.
“What are you giving me?”
“Doctor’s orders, Eric. Two hundred milligrams of Rispirodone to help calm you down.”
Mark and Kofi moved forward behind Steve and it was clear they meant to enter the cage with him.
Eric tried again. “I want to speak to a solicitor! Where’s my phone?”
The men were grouped in the doorway in a knot as Eric sat near naked, looking up at Steve in the doorway. He said: “You aren’t allowed a camera on the ward, Eric, so your mobile phone is with your other possessions in the nurse’s station. You’ll be allowed to use the ward phone in a couple of days.”
“So what’s it to be, Eric? Will you take you pill or will we have to come back with a depo?”
“Forget it!” said Eric. “I want to see the doctor now!”
Steve didn’t look disappointed. Nor did the other two. Steve closed the door with a clang and started relocking it as he said: “Don’t worry, Eric, we’ll come back with a depo injection which will see you right!” Through the mesh he continued: “Look mate, you don’t have to sit there near naked. There are some pajama’s there” nodding towards the fluorescent green clothing on his bed “for you to put on. You hungry? We’ll bring you a tray and some tea.” The three men filed out the room and the door shut behind them.
Alone, Eric sat in a near stupor. He dragged the green clothing onto his lap. A top and baggy trousers with elastic instead of a pull-string. Across the back of the top it said: “Salisbury: P.I.C.U.” in black lettering. He put them on. There was a pair of grey plastic sandals on the floor too and he slipped in his feet.
He stood up. There wasn’t much room to move, just a metre by three next to the cot where he could pace.
Five minutes later the three men were back, this time with two trays, one of which was placed on the floor, loaded with a plate and a paper cup. Steve gave the other tray to Kofi to hold and got busy, Eric watching in dismay, manipulating the ampoule of drug and a syringe. Eric watched the serum bubble from the needle tip as Steve pressed the plunger, holding it for him to see.
“Okay, Eric” said Steve, “we’re coming in.”
With that, Mark with the keys this time, they opened the mesh door. Eric stood back, with his back to the wall to the side of the bed, but Kofi and Mark soon had him face down on the bed with an arm up his spine, helpless, with well trained ferocity.
The controlled violence took Eric’s breath away. He felt the irrepressible strength of the two body builders and he shouted: “No! Look, it’s alright, you don’t have to do it this way! I won’t struggle! Ow! My arm!” but they were deaf to his words.
Steve grabbed the back of his pants and pulled them down a few inches. Eric felt a stab of pain as the syringe went into his gluteous maximus. Then it was done.
Steve stepped away with a grunt: “There!”
Suddenly the grips on Eric were released and as he turned over they were already locking the door to the cage, leaving the tray with a cup of tea and what looked like scrambled eggs and toast on the plate on his bed next to him.
As they disappeared out the heavy door he caught a glimpse of the corridor beyond. Someone else went passed dressed in green, shuffling in his sandals. Then the door swung shut.