Monday, 9 July 2018

Heather

The back entrance to Action Ward was through the old front door entrance then turn sharp left 
Into the male dorm 

Today I've been clearing out old cupboards in the living room  and I found an old photo of me and several staff and patients from Acton Ward at the West Cheshire Hospital from my student nurse days. We were all  posing uncomfortably at a table in a cafe near the Delamere Forest . Four of us were raising tea cups , as if they were cocktail glasses.
I had thick brown hair and looked gauche
Even now, 34 years later I can't show the photo here....which is a shame

She'd been in hospital 16 years,
Ever since she was just 17
And she was still unfit to be discharged home
She had been living on action ward for a decade

Her name  was Heather and she wore a purple home knitted cardigan and too much plastic jewellery , the kind little girls wear when they are 5
Her hair was short brown and she had bald spots from rubbing her head on the ward walls.
I was told she was schizo- affective whatever that meant
All I knew was that she a "nasty piece of work"

She was unpredictable, emotionally labile and at times very unsettling  to talk to
I was 21 years old and she had slapped me twice already during the first week of my 12 week placement .
She had slapped me very hard too.
It felt a baptism of fire and I was frightened

One morning she cornered me in the vast  ward kitchen when I was stirring a large metal container full of porridge .
There were no alarm bells back in 1984' you just yelled if you needed help
Heather lent back against the door and purred like a cat
"What would you do if I slapped you again ? "She taunted, confident in her position of power

It was now or never I thought grimly
And I lifted the porridge  covered ladle slowly out of its tin and wagged it until the slops fell on the floor
" Come near me again......... and I'll whack you very hard with this" I told her seriously
And we looked at each other for an absolute age

Finally, Heather smiled and waved a hand encrusted with plastic rings like Henry the VIII at the Royal Court
"you'll do " she sang out with a smile

And she never EVER slapped me again

51 comments:

  1. Sometimes you just need to clarify boundaries. I wonder if she remembers you?

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    1. I'm sure she doesn't . I only remembered her today

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  2. I have become friends with a male nurse and the stories he tells me are unbelievable. He was assaulted two weeks ago and badly hurt by a man with Alzheimer's. I know the man is ill but there has to be better protection for nurses.

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    1. In my 35 year career I couldn't tell you how many times I've been assaulted.....dozens and dozens

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    2. I could never be a nurse John, I am far too fragile.. I hate blood and I hate knees.. but I do support work... and I extensively worked with adults with an intellectual disability. I remember one day a client who was independent ringing the house to make very loud complaints about something, another client was sitting outside next to me overhearing this client. The next thing he turned around and punched me full on in the stomach... I was breathless for a full 3 or 4 minutes... or that was how it seemed. These incident and some like them were common place! I guess it was assault... it wasn't treated as such by our bosses!


      Jo in Auckland, Nz

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  3. I have had similar experiences with bullies. It isn't easy to stand up to them (or I didn't find it so) but it paid dividends for me.
    Heather was right too in her final comment.

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  4. This blogpost puzzled me. One minute you are talking about an old photo you found and then you launch into memories of a former patient. I don't quite get it.

    By the way, did you see Hannah Rarity on Saturday night? I saw her in Newton Stewart on Friday night.

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    1. The photo was of the staff and patients of action ward
      Where I met heather....
      I didn't think it was rocket science x

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    2. And I didn't think you were a rocket scientist but with a white coat on you might pass for one.

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  5. WOW! Heather is a character alright! But I think she respected you because you stood up to her. I lasted two years working as a teacher in a psychiatric hospital for children aged 5 to 16. I worked with the 5 to 10 year olds. It was a very difficult and unpredictable job. This was in the late 70's. I had been bitten in the neck and had to pin down a 12 year old boy who had just ripped the sink right off the classroom wall until help came. Problem was I only managed to pin him 'face up'! So until 'help' came I was drenched with spit. I admire anyone who works with emotionally challenged people. It takes a special human to do so effectively. But 2 years was enough for me.

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    1. Reflecting on what I know now , I suspect she was more a personality disorder ....I remember how sad she was as her rich family more or less dumped her

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  6. What a memory to share. I can totally picture it in my head. I'd like to think you had an impact on her and she probably missed you when you weren't around.

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    1. I doubt that , I only met her for three months

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  7. Yeah, I have memories like that, or similar. Fragmented largely. Of patients rearing up and looking at me as I was doing chest compression. Of a medivac trip back from Marble Mountain, 3 critical s on board, trying to get lines in. The pilot started hot shotting, doing nape of the earth shit. I held a M16 next to his head and chambered a round. He looked at me, i made finger pointing up, he complied.
    I remember all the other stuff too, John. We were probably alike in our approach to patients.
    Cheers,
    Mike

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    1. Your memories probably have more of a PTSD ELEMENT TO THEM given your war background, but yes I agree that we may have been similar

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  8. Anonymous12:35 am

    Don’t you find that retirement brings all sorts of memories and emotions to the fore? I do, I have not worked since the end of 2015 and am only now starting to feel sane, or like I was as a child, before all the dreadful compromises of work invaded my psyche.

    Having worked in some strange places with some strange people, nothing criminal just faintly dubious, I feel it more now as I look back on it. At least it means that I have not had a mid life crisis, but possibly I could have been nicer.

    Nice is an undervalued term.

    Charles

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    1. Retirement no, life changing moments? Yes.........I've reviewed and remembered quite a few past moments just recently

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  9. Oh my god, John. That reminds me so much of my patient when I was doing clinicals in the state-run mental hospital here when I was in nursing school. It was scary for all of us at first- doors locked behind us, patients with everything from catatonia to depression to yes, schizophrenia. She'd been in an institution since she was a small child. Her parents didn't want her and she had developmental delays as well. The first day we were there, she jumped on my back and scared the shit out of me. But. I took her on as "my" patient and I will never forget her. She told me, "Mawee, I have pwoblems." I sort of loved her and before it was over, she sort of loved me too and I will always wonder about her. Always feel guilty because I had to leave her behind. She knew nothing about life but what lay behind an institution's doors. Once she got put in four-point restraints because she'd paid a little too much attention to a repair man. I cried. She had no idea what she'd done.
    And yet she was being punished.
    That summer I learned who cruel we can be to those with mental illness and I have never forgotten.

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    1. I nursed in psychiatry just as the asylums were closing...I moved into general nursing in 1989 , six years later

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  10. I lived as a staff child in a Camphill School for mentally handicapped students my last three teenage years [my mom did the three year course of anthroposophical special education they offered then]. When the kids hit puberty it was interesting times to say the least. One of the boys we lived with, probably about 17 or 18, a big strapping lad, used to accost me every school morning as I headed out to catch the bus... he would pull out his substantial sausage and ask if I wanted to feel it, I would be yelling at him to get away etc., till the day I reached into the cutlery drawer and pulled out a butter knife and asked him as evilly as possible if he wanted me to cut it off! After that he would lurk in the hallway and squeal if I looked his way, but still grinning ear to ear..!

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  11. It takes a special kind of person to work with psychiatric patients. I don't think I could do it. I think you standing your ground was probably the best action.

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    1. You needed a tough personality and a sense if humour

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  12. So glad it went that way. One never knows, but you figured that one right.

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  13. No doubt about it . . .
    You stopped that slap stuff!!

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  14. Fire with Fire; it's often the best way.

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  15. Close call, but porridge and a ladle saved the day. Not a good memory.

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  16. What an ordeal! I'm glad you adapted and survived. You figured out a way to stand your ground and end the chaotic violence directed at you. Bless the health care professionals for all the hazards, harm, and hell they endure as they do their best to care for their (sometimes ungrateful, insane, or unstable) ill patients. It does take a special kind of person to work in those hard conditions with difficult people and people who are very ill and injured.

    Here's to hoping we do better when caring for our mentally, emotionally, and psychologically unstable patients. We can't just lock them away. And we need to give those caregivers all the support they need to do their jobs effectively and safely.

    Now I'm curious. Do you eat porridge? And if you do, any particular flavor or toppings?

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  17. Cornered and only a poridge covered ladle as defence sounds funny but, I don't think it was for a 21 year old then. I have great respect for nurses.
    Greetings Maria x

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  18. A porridge spoon for defence is such a good story X

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  19. You have to have conviction, even if you don't use the spoon.

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    1. I would never have hit anyone, with anything back then, but even in those salad says I knew I couldn't of backed down

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  20. I have a young (male) relative who, when a care assistant in a home for young adults, had to be taken to casualty several times after a resident attacked him. Once, his arm was broken. He still went back to work, quite happily, saying "He couldn't help it. He didn't mean to do it." As others have said, it takes a very special person to do that sort of work, and I'm very proud of him.

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  21. Don’t know that I could keep my sanity if full time job caring for mental patients as you describe. Nurses really take brunt in most settings. Providing rehab, brain injury or other neurological issues with no impulse control, and/or just physically, verbally abusive types plus with judgment and memory issues I encountered some, could be emotionally draining over time. Recall young student in my work stymied with what to do when male patient unexpectedly nude greeted her — she could only make a hasty retreat.

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  22. My Aunt worked in a state mental hospital serving food. I remember hearing the story as a youngster about how she got cornered by a patient and had no way to call for help. They have all closed down and now and the people that need help roam the streets until they break the law and end up in prison. Sad situation.

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  23. Anonymous11:57 am

    Could you cut out the others from the photo (digitally), so we could see the young you?
    Elsewhere from amsterdam

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    1. I will send you a link to one

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    2. See
      https://disasterfilm.blogspot.com/2009/03/inspirational-people-1-leslie-brint-and.html

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    3. Anonymous5:45 pm

      Thanks! Same lovely smile. I would have recognized you in a second. (i misunderstood and thought you weren't allowed to show the picture, privacy wise)
      And what a sweet post... You have such endearing memories. X
      Elsewhere from amsterdam

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    4. Anonymous5:49 pm

      Ps, geez, I'm dim.... This is a different photo but does show the young you. Okay, I'm with it again, and it's a great photo!
      Elsewhere

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  24. She realised she had met her match! I thought you were going to say you dropped a ladle-full of porridge over her head....

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  25. You don't need the mentally ill to present a challenge.

    During the Sweden English match the police moved in (I hasten to add that I do live in an upmarket if lively at night street of many a restaurant and one of the most famed pubs in England). Should England make it to the finals I will go downstairs and recommend (to the police) to employ porridge - on good authority. May the punters skid.

    U

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  26. Haha good on you! I have got quite a few similar tales of my time in special education over the years. I always said that I should write a book!
    One springs to mind regarding food. One lunchtime one of our older lads with challenging behaviour had refused to stay in the classroom for a member of staff who needed to speak to him about an incident during the lesson. He was just in the queue for lunch when the deputy head came into the dining hall and demanded that he go back to the classroom. He ignored her as did most of the students and not surprisingly a percentage of the staff most of the time! This pleading took place as he moved along the queue filling his tray and then stood by a table just about to sit down. At this point the deputy caught hold of the tray to take it away from him. There was a Mexican stand off until suddenly he let go of the tray and its entire contents catapulted over said deputy. She was covered from head to foot. All over her designer suit and very shiny shoes!! The student then shouted several expletives and stormed out. I went after him and managed to track him down at the top of the fields. I was in charge of offsite PE and he was a keen footballer so had quite a good relationship with him. I said you do realise that she won't let you go on the football trip on Wednesday now don't you? He just replied well it was worth it. I had to laugh at it too and later in the staff room everyone was laughing and saying that it had been a stroke of genius on the lads part and if only he applied that much effort to his work he'd be great! Happy days

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    1. Just deserts ! A wonderful story x

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  27. I too spent a few years in what used to be called 'Special Education' and there were plenty of tales to tell. One had to learn to treat each case in aa different way, depending on their traits and personalities. After a few months you learned - in the meantime there were plenty of 'incidents'. Those were the days.

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    1. I bet you could write a book too weave x

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  28. When I was a patient in a psychiatric hospital one lady was throwing plates over our heads at the wall-I was very nervous in there.I made friends with another girl my age & a very nice teacher.My neighbour has- as the police said to me got "anger issues''-I avoid her x

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  29. I was a invigilator during exams and occasionally in a room with students who had problem behaviour or been expelled-some threw chairs,a table,various missiles. I was told to ignore them after telling one time and if necessary call for security.I learnt to be quite nimble and duck x

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  30. The little town I live in is famous for two things...a steel mill and a state-run facility for the criminally insane. My brother in law has worked at the facility for almost twenty years. He's had both arms and legs broken, as well as both shoulder blades dislocated, both wrists and elbow, and his nose. I stood up to a bully in high school, which sounds pretty unimportant now.

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