Extracts from February 1984

Wednesday 1st February 1984

Got a shock when I walked into the art therapy department this morning .  The damp smell that has been troubling us for a few days was even more pervasive and the cupboard had been moved by the back door.

It was strangely unnerving to come into the department , prepared for a quiet morning as is usual on Wednesday when we are closed to patients ,- to suddenly , without any prior warning ,  see someone rise out  the floor , wet and foul and smelling of sewerage !.

Good thing my heart is fairly sound!

Evidently there is a blockage  in the drains  – certainly the end of the department by the back door (see  photo) and store room have been smelling very damp and the floor in my office is gradually subsiding into the labyrinth of cellars below.

Dudley helped me move the cupboard into the office.  Its a lot better in there anyway and , as he said , it could be to our advantage in the long run  – our floors might finally be seen to !

I have warned people that if I do not emerge after a certain period of time from the office , please explore further , if necessary force your way in , – as I might have disappeared into the  dark maze of subterranean corridors below .  never to be seen or heard of again!  Another one of the unsolved mysteries connected to  Bexley Hospital.

Thursday 2nd February 1984

I think the drain blockage that plagued the department and filled our daily lives with horrible smells is now taken care of – although there are still eerie gurgling sounds from under the floor .  No doubt the water is draining away.

The department is slowly filling up. There are a few familiar faces .  AM muttering and laughing to himself just outside the office and AH saying ‘Sorry Nurse’ and ‘Can I have a cup of tea?’

PH put the kettle on.  This is more or less standard procedure . Hearing these sounds around me is always a reassuring  start to the day .

The department is slowly filling up . E,C,PT, and JPH, G and AM are in.  AM is trying to scrounge cigarettes.

GG is painting well today.  He seems to have found some direction , perhaps the visit to the Tate and BH has done a semi monster in clay , which he says , reminds him of  himself .

The evening session turned out to be quiet.  AG was quite overactive and strange , kept shutting himself in rooms and it necessitated someone following him around most of the time.  He also kept standing on chairs , muttering to himself and cursing .  It provided a surreal backdrop to the pockets of creativity in various corners of the department.  He even tried some clay modelling , which is very unusual  – unheard of really .

SF came down ‘Sorry , I’m late , Britta’ , she said and attempted a drawing .  She kept saying  ‘ Oh I can’t do it, it’s no good , I can’t do it’.  She then disappeared into the next studio and yelled,  ‘Get out of it , you parasite’ – presumably to AG who was still standing on chairs and jumping up and down .

Definitely the syndrome of Bexley Hospital at night again! L came in and he and GG played guitars and sang at the beginning of the evening session , which , despite the strange goings on with AG standing on  and off the chairs  did give the studios a nicely ambient relaxed feel , conducive to spontaneity and creative expression.

Monday 6th February 1984
It was a heavy community group over in Ashdown this morning .  People initially silent and the air full of unspoken anxieties .  There IS something about the groups though.  I have become accustomed to the puzzling silences , the non verbal clues of small almost imperceptible movements , expressions elusive to translation ,  sighs, grunts , groans etc .

I do have bit of a problem with Friday community groups in E1 .  I don’t quite know why  but the overall mood is more active and by the end of the week I am less active and have an added problem of a struggle with sleepiness . I realise it is a clear end of the week syndrome .  Also the trouble is exacerbated by the fact that i am not used to sitting down for protracted periods of time in comfortable chairs .  Sleep begins to drift around me like an alluring blanket and I long to give way to it . !

I did suffer the same tendency in Dr Brough’s ward round  and it’s certainly NOT a lack of interest .  Just the opposite in fact .  Perhaps I have a natural tendency towards narcolepsy?  whatever it is it is very annoying .  Perhaps  strong black coffee and dousing cold water on my face BEFORE I go over to Ashdown next Friday might help .

In this mornings group there was quite a long silence .  Dr M seems to specialise in silences on Monday morning .  Not sure why  – perhaps just because it is Monday.  About 10.50 she might make a remark along the lines of ‘It was a very verbal , noisy group on Friday and yet today nobody has anything to say’.

Mostly there is a long pause before anyone answers and then it is usually along the lines of ‘Well – there’s nothing much to say .  Nothing happened over the weekend .  It was just pretty boring ‘

And the group starts from there – T- a new patient was pretty scathing about everything , the food , the lack of  activities at the weekend.etc.

R didn’t come into the group.  The message was that he hadn’t slept the night before and was very tired .  The rest of the group seemed to feel pretty ambivalent about this  .  He was obviously angry and disturbed  – but arguably this was even more reason to be part of the group.

S voiced the general feeling by saying she often felt she didn’t want to come in to the group ,- nevertheless she did,  so she felt pretty angry about R not coming in.

The general consensus of opinion was that R seemed pretty withdrawn AND disturbed and maybe he wasn’t getting the right sort of attention , i.e. he wasn’t getting enough attention from the staff – particularly from his key worker DM.

Right at the end of the meeting BH pushed in a little remark in the very effective way he has at times.  And of course it landed with power and impact – i.e. it was a pity DM couldn’t be bothered to put in the same amount of time he had put in with JP who had left the previous Friday.

DM didn’t rise to this – but nevertheless did look quite annoyed.  I do understand his enthusiasm for some people and his indifference to others but it doesn’t always enhance the model of good practice – at least most health professionals might  TRY and maintain an overall sense of fairness ,  I did feel that BH’s remark was valid and justified .

Back in the art therapy department I brought JT into the session from the Cedars Day Centre next door .  I am still trying to get her to speak to me and she does respond very positively non verbally , which is a good beginning, i.e. she stands up as soon as she sees me enter the Cedars and then moves forward with a grimly determined air and we walk in to the art therapy department together .  I am very encouraged .

Sometimes she does quite rich and beautiful drawings  – usually of a building within a building  within a building  – the boundaries of each layer being worked on until a rich effect is achieved .  On a good day , she writes her name  , loosely and largely in one corner of the paper .  This is something that has an universal feel.  We arrive in the world and are given a name  –  an affirmation of existence

I went up to E1 for half an hour .  As always , there are some lonely lost souls  up there .  LD has been admitted .  We first met when I was art therapist at Joyce Green Hospital in Dartford. Working in a large hospital like Bexley is very different from working in a small unit like the one at Joyce Green .  On the whole though , I love working here, the challenges , the aliveness , the raw aspects of life uncovered , the struggle against institutionalisation .  And sometimes , paradoxically the unexpected contentment of giving over to it  , where repetition and routine are like a soothing antidote to the pressures of the world outside .  Although , often life within these walls is very sad .  I don’t love the sadness as such but acknowledge that it is a part of life – an essential and integral part of life inside or outside the hospital.

Occasionally  though , I look at the piece of graffiti in the middle studio which reads “I wish I was who I was when I wished I was who I am today’ (!)

When I first arrived on E1 .  LD and I looked at each other.  LD recognised me first and I did immediately think that there was something familiar about her face – but my memory of her was with long hair  – a careful strange face  , rather lovely in its way , with broad cheekbones and regular features , but often expressionless and impassive , with eyes that looked out  at you and the world  coldly behind large spectacles .  But here was somebody  – about the same age as myself , perhaps a little younger .  No glasses and her hair was short and sticking up in a very modern punk like style .  It was that I think that initially floored me .  LD and a punk hairdo didn’t  mesh in my mind at first .  It took time to acclimatise myself to the change .

She apologised for not coming down to the art therapy department  – I remembered at Joyce Green , her art work had been very striking  , restrained yet with an exciting depth of colour .She had liked art therapy. She explained further that she had not been able to find the department .

I sympathised . I had had the same problem upon my arrival at the hospital a decade or so earlier .  All the corridors seemed so similar .  It was like traversing a labyrinth.

She spoke very softly and quickly at the table and we looked at each other over pieces of paper .  I said as a sort of introduction to the session .  ‘Are you LD?’ and she said ‘Yes’

PW also joined us – he is quite mad at the moment and full of anger, intelligence and cunning .  He kept asking me my political affiliations and said his father used to belong to the Communist Party  of Great Britain and they used to meet in his front room in Woolwich. I remembered his passion for uniforms and security guards and keys .  He said to me  ;’Did your husband ever work in Securicor?’

I went over to the staff meeting in Ashdown  – they had started discussing the mornings group and I suppose I felt bit of an intruder .  The meeting was supposed to start at 11.30 but they were still discussing the mornings group so maybe I should rethink my policy of trying to attend the odd staff meeting over in the unit – a lot of it may be inappropriate  for me

Dr M was in the middle of talking of the way staff treat patients, the old us and them thing , of course  I must have missed a great chunk of it – so maybe what I heard was taken a bit out of original context.  She suggested that if staff felt a little mad themselves they would compensate for this by treating the patients like 2nd class citizens   Though sometimes if they tried to treat patient as individuals they might still end up treating them as 2nd class citizens .  We should always be aware that , yes , of course we were human beings with weaknesses and that we or our children could be just as susceptible to drug abuse as the addicts themselves .  nevertheless there WAS a difference between us and we should remember that and not lay ourselves open to being manipulated and used by the patients.  She mentioned the ‘leaks’ from the office  – patients often seemed to know what was being said by staff, implying that they had been told by members of staff  – this was a windup which could be avoided .
















Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s