A Rake’s Progress in One or Two Easy Stages Part Two
I was inside a huge bubble that writhed and undulated gently. It was very light and bright. So beautiful. But the amazing thing was that, although it had the appearance of a soft and shimmering inside of a clam shell; a liquid bubble like the nacre of a clam shell’s inside, it was in a colour I had never seen before. It wasn’t a hot colour like an orange or a red or a brown, but somewhere nearer an iridescent blue… but not a blue. It felt so completely safe as if a colour and a texture could be safe. I was floating. Inside a shimmering sphere.
Then the pain of someone trying to scrape and push something up the inside of my nostril. Someone was poking a thick rubber tube up my right nostril and down the back of my throat. I could taste the rubber tube, I could even tell by its taste that it was a dark pink rubber tube… and it was hurting.
I struggled, and the more I struggled the more vague became the bubble that I was wrapped in.
Then the shouting and the slapping.
Someone was shouting my name and slapping me. Shouting my name.
Then a huge wave of sleep smothered me. I struggled briefly to the surface. The wave crashed down on me, filling my ears and nostrils with water and sand. Blackness and quiet.
Why the First Person Plural?
Why is it at that people in the caring professions insist on speaking in the first person plural?
“How are we feeling today?”
I didn’t feel like answering.
“Now what have we been up to? Hmm?”
I felt like saying, “Well you’ve been poking me and shouting at me and sticking things up my nose, but I’ve been lying here with a dreadful headache. Go away.”
I felt like saying all that, but instead I said, “I need to go to the lavatory.”
The nurse pointed to a door opposite my bed. I got up unsteadily. I felt so sick. I opened the door. There was no lock on the inside. I don’t like anybody looking at me when I am in the lavatory, but I felt so rough. I just started to pee into the bowl. Looking up, beside the cistern, there was a small window. It was open.
When I had finished and had come out, I got back into bed.
“There’s an open window in there,” I said, “Anybody could jump out if they wanted to. What floor are we on?”
The nurse looked at me with a fake smile, her head to the side like a disapproving grandmother.
“We’ve been a silly boy, haven’t we?”
A man in rubber soled shoes squeaked his way to my bed; motioned the nurse to draw the curtains around the bed and then sat in the chair beside me. I assumed that he was a doctor. The nurse hovered for a minute or two and then walked away.
“So what’s all this about, then?”
I made an attempt at humour that fell very flat.
“Sewerage pipe,” I said.
He took half a breath, let it out very slowly, and then wrote something in a white foolscap pad he had been carrying. He had the pad balanced on his knee.
I looked at him. He looked at me, and said nothing. I could feel tears of anger burning the back of my eyes.
“The window’s open in the lavatory. Someone could jump out.”
He looked up briefly and wrote something in his pad.
He asked me one or two questions: age, address, education. I answered him briefly and with no elaboration.
He wrote carefully in his pad.
“Well, well, well,” he said.
I turned away from him. I didn’t want him to see me as I felt the tears starting in my eyes once more. I could hear him breathing slowly. There was the silky sound of a pencil traveling over white foolscap paper. Then the sound of a page being turned over. Write, write, write. I think I went to sleep again.
When I woke up the ward was quiet. It was night.
Royal Perth Hospital
During the next couple of days my mother came to see me and sat quietly by my bed. She didn’t speak, but just sat beside me with my hand in hers. She looked pale and very tired. I could tell she had been crying a good deal. She came several times.
On the second day, my father and his wife came to see me. They were both dressed beautifully, as usual, but only stayed for about twenty minutes, as they were going on to a restaurant.
Just as they were leaving, Marie bent over to kiss me and I could smell the expensive scent she wore.
“Silly boy!” she said.
My father looked at me with his head slightly to the side:
“Don’t do this again, please. You really upset Marie and me.”
And they left. The nurse was very impressed, and asked me who they were
The next day I was discharged, but not before I had another visit from the doctor with the squeaky shoes and the white foolscap notepad.
“I think we need to meet again,” he said, “Schizophrenia.”
He held out his hand to shake mine. As I took it in mine, he added, “I’ll send you a letter. Yes.”
On the way home from the Hospital, I sat in the back seat of the taxi that had been ordered for me. The driver whistled “Here Comes Summer” all the way home. I felt the repetition of that song so depressing. I just wanted to tell him to shut up, but I sat quietly and tried to ignore him.
I arrived at the flat to find it quiet and empty. My mother hadn’t been informed that I was coming home so early and was still at work.
It was at that point that it all rushed to the surface, and I sat, looking at my clenched fists, and I cried.
Regardless, and you will laugh at the irony of this very short tale, I received a letter about three weeks later. The letter was from a Doctor whose name I didn’t recognise, but I assumed to be the doctor with the squeaky shoes and the foolscap pad.
I was required to attend the Mental Asylum (That’s correct, they used that term) at Swanbourne.
The letter explained that I had an appointment with a doctor, and his colleagues, who were going to finish assessing me. The assessment having commenced when I was taken into the Royal Perth Hospital after the incident of the fifteen white tablets.
The word “Schizophrenia” was used a couple of times in the letter, but also the term “your condition” was used several more times. Apparently, the plan was to admit me, or not, depending on his evaluation.
A date had been arranged for me to attend Swanbourne Mental Asylum.
The day of the appointment started bright, sunny and blisteringly hot. I travelled to Swanbourne by a bus which seemed to take hours.
I was wearing a pair of black, skin tight trousers, a white shirt, and a narrow black tie. The bus wasn’t crowded, and I managed to sit out of the sun, but somehow the black trousers seemed to attract the heat. As we travelled, I gazed out at a parched succession of suburban houses, peppermint trees, karri and vacant lots with dry and overgrown brush in the afternoon glare. Even the trees looked pissed off.
When the bus arrived at Swanbourne Hospital, the driver called out that we had arrived. I walked to the front, taking care not to hang onto the leather straps. I have never liked the idea of holding on to leather straps on buses. I felt I would be touching something had been held onto by too many people.
I descended the three steep steps of the bus, into a dusty street; very close to a set of large iron gates. A man on the other side of the gates asked my business, and then let me in. He looked at me in a very casual manner and told me to pass through.
Then I walked up the long drive to the front doors of a large Colonial building, shaded on one side by a massive jarrah tree. Its grey-green leaves hanging listlessly in the baking sun.
Walking, walking, walking.
During that long walk I saw what was my first experience of people with mental illness severe enough to be incarcerated.
There is a walk, a stride. A way of marching along that I have only seen when viewing the mentally disturbed. So many people walking, walking, walking. Purposeful. Their hands not swinging, but straight down by their sides. It was sad and disturbing in a way that imprinted itself on my mind, and there it remains, ever since that day. Ever since.
When I entered the building, I asked a man standing at the foot of a flight of stairs if he could direct me to the room printed on my information letter. He looked carefully at the letter, and pointed down a long corridor. I was about to thank him, when he put his finger to his lips, and smiled conspiratorially. Then he walked away, with a long loping stride, his head bent almost to his chest.
Eventually I found another person; a woman in a white nurse’s uniform, and asked her. She took me to a door leading off the corridor, opened the door, and ushered me in.
I was shown into a large room. I sat in an armchair on one side of the room and on the other, at a large desk… a huge desk, sat three people. One of them, a man, sitting in the middle, was the doctor who was examining me. Doctor White-Foolscap-Pad. He asked my name, and certain details, birth date, address, my place of education, and mentioned my reason for being there. These details, I could remember quite clearly, and could recount them to him without a fault. He sat looking at me with his fountain pen held in both hands, held just by the tips of his fingers. He held the pen parallel to his mouth, and just below it. His elbows on the table.
Nobody spoke. The three behind the large desk gazed at me and said nothing.
I gazed at them and said nothing.
The beautiful flute-like call of a magpie floated in through the window. The heat seemed to be pushing down physically on the building; crushing it. The smell of dust was in my nostrils, like the smell of stale pepper.
The doctor in the centre referred to his notes. He put down his fountain pen and picked up a pencil.
One of the other two people, a lady, coughed gently.
The Doctor tapped his teeth with the pencil.
I felt that there was the smell of stale pepper in my nostrils, like the smell of acrid dust.
Silence for at least a minute – maybe more – maybe more.
“And how are we feeling now?” he asked me.
“I’m better” I said.
The magpie’s call once more. Clear and sweet as running water.
The lady coughed again. Gently.
“Sorry” she said, and I noticed that she rocked forwards gently. Almost imperceptibly rocking forwards and backwards.
The doctor put his pen down, carefully, on the table. He gathered his papers together. He closed the file. He looked to his right. He looked to his left. All three stood.
“You may go,” he said.
I was OK.
I left and went home. And that was the sum total of my dance with Schizophrenia.
No tests, no questions.
And they took my word for it.
Weeks later, my mother was helping me to tidy my room. She picked up a book. I sheet from a notebook fluttered out and landed at her feet. She bent and retrieved it.
A few words were written on it in pencil:
‘Don’t blame me. Blame the system’
“Is this important?” she asked, holding it over the mouth of the rubbish basket.
“It’s not important,” I said.
This Part Two. If you missed Part One, please look for it here.
- A Rake's Progress in One or Two Easy Stages: Part One
Due to a rash act of mine, I was diagnosed as being Schizophrenic. That worried me, & I wondered what would be the result if it were true. A step by step retelling of that night & its consequences.
A bit of background information that is relevant to the story.
- On A Suicide
Does what it says on the lid. A poem concerned with an attempted suicide. Whether successful or not, you must decide.