As I enter the Acute Medical Unit a strong urine smell combined with chlorine hit me…almost suffocating me. The reason of my visit there is a whole different story and will be discussed at a different instance… The temperature in the room must be around 21 degrees if not higher, which makes the smell stronger… I walk past the reception… there are three nurses there happily chatting away with a huge box of Thornton’s chocolates (somebody’s birthday?) and who seem to be dissociated by the environment to such an extent that makes you wonder or they have been doing this for so long that it’s ‘just another day in the office’ for them?

I keep walking and the thing that stands out immediately is that nurses and doctors are sat or standing in front of computers, discussing or typing away. It resembles more like a science fiction scene rather than a hospital. The various noises from the monitors can drive you mad if you concentrate long enough. Nursing or looking after patients has taken on a completely different form and ‘caring’ is not a personal-contact matter, it’s a matter of reading a screen correctly and interpreting the data. There are windows, not visible though, you actually have to look for them and they are covered with shatters, so the minute you enter in this ward you lose sense of time, which adds to the whole confusing ambience…

The beds are full of severe cases… and there’s Eddie. He is probably in his 50s. “No fucker listens to me…” he keeps saying… walking up and down the ward… you can’t ignore him… he tries to have a conversation with anyone who makes eye contact with him… yet I notice how everyone avoids him, and more so the nurses and they even say to the patients ‘’not to encourage him” (!!!) Not to encourage what?! Human interaction?? Eddie gets even more annoyed by the lack of attention… he suddenly starts crawling on the floor looking for his sunglasses… he gets frustrated and he is shouting and swearing because he can’t find them. The nurses try to calm him down in the most inappropriate way…they threaten him to bring somebody, I couldn’t hear well…but it really sounded threatening. Makes you wonder, don’t they get some basic mental health training?! Why is Eddie in the Acute Medical Unit in the first place? Apparently there were no beds available in the Psychiatric Unit, so he ended up there. Suddenly two 6 feet tall plus security guards arrive… I could not believe what I was witnessing. The nurses called them to calm Eddie down because he was ‘upsetting’ the rest of the patients! Needless to say there was no evidence of any training in handling cases like Eddie. He became even more upset, he insisted on asking for their ID numbers so that he can report them. They leave… I can hear Eddie crying on his bed like a 5-year old… holding his teddy… None of the nurses pay attention to him… only an auxiliary nurse who happens to arrive with her trolley of tea and individually packaged digestives takes the time and sits on the bed with Eddie. She listens to him… and Eddie responds… he is calm now… they are having a normal conversation.

This is a real event that took place in April 2019 yet it has elements of “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” which was about the life in a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s. The way Eddie was being treated was not any different to how the patients were treated in the film. Eddie’s statement “no fucker listens to me’’ says it all, it’s ‘’us’’ versus ‘’them’’, our inability, stigma, resistance (and probably fear?) to really make the effort to understand the world from a different point of view, from the view of somebody who is suffering some kind of trauma… seeing the world through their own eyes, their own reality, sitting WITH them in their fears, sadness, dark holes… and not trying to exorcise the ‘evil’ because WE are afraid of what WE don’t understand. How much has REALLY changed since the time when influential doctors believed that the once new science of photography could help diagnose mental illness by capturing what keen photographer Dr Hugh Diamond called the ‘exact point that had been reached in the scale of unhappiness’.

The idea that your face could be used to read your mind – and that how you looked in a photo could determine your fate scares me equally to how Eddie is being treated this day and age.

 

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