Often when I was updating the medical notes on the long-stay wards, I would look back to see the circumstances surrounding the patient's original admission. A sad fact of the times is that many of the people on the wards had been there for most of their lives.

In the bad old days up to the mid-20th Century, people were sometimes locked up for the merest peccadillo such as stealing a loaf of bread and often remained there until they died. The British had a great system of dealing with their undesirables through a system of removal: 'criminals' got transportation to the Australian colonies and the 'insane' got locked away in the asylums, often some distance from the major towns.

One such fellow was Kenny. An inpatient from his teens, he was now in his mid-fifties; a tall, thin, wiry man with a sharp beak of a nose and wild, staring eyes. He had originally been removed from his house for stealing from the neighbours.

However because of his slightly odd demeanour and the fact that he claimed to hear voices telling him to do stuff, Kenny was incarcerated in the local bin which just happened to be a couple of miles up the road from his house. As time went on, Kenny had gotten sicker and his place was eventually sold and the money put in a trust fund for him.

Poor Kenny never could completely come to terms with being in hospital and across the decades, his mental state varied like that of his peers. He had a bit of a short fuse at times and it wasn't unusual for Ken to get into fights with other patients on the ward. During periods of extreme psychosis, Kenny would sometimes abscond from the ward and run off down the road.

Onlookers would watch in shock as Kenny fanged down the main street at full pelt, hair streaming, institution trousers riding up his calves and a mad look in his eye. Close behind would (usually) be a couple of male RNs, white coats streaming in the breeze, pelting along in hot pursuit. People knew the hospital and knew what it was for and it sort of helped to keep up appearances every once in a while. Good training for the nurses too.

The real problem was when we didn't notice that he'd slipped away. Given the time and the opportunity, Kenny would occasionally actually return to his old house and knock on the door and insist on being allowed back into 'his' place. When the owner refused, Ken would usually resort to some minor form of violence such as punching out the owner.

It wasn't unusual for the hospital to get a call from the distraught householder, saying that Kenny was bashing on his front door or trying to poke things through the keyhole and could we come and please pick him up.

The last time I looked I think the count stood at seven for the number of tenants who had vacated the place somewhat hurriedly, after sustaining broken noses and cut lips from one of Kenny's 'housecalls'.