Sitting in the staff room on a hot Summer's evening shift. No air conditioning at The House. The foetid miasma from the local abattoir wafted hotly in through the open window, competing with the local stench of residential bodily emanations and cheap microwaved lasagne. Andy drifted in and out of consciousness. Risking brain damage, he kept his nose out the window and found himself drifting back 20 years and to thoughts of cooler climes..
It was 1984, a significant time for classic sci-fi fans. However instead of George Orwell and a doublethink culture, we had Boy George and Culture Club. No-one saw that one coming. Doubleplusgood indeed..
On his 21st birthday Andy had made the switch from being a cheeky, spotty young suit working in a bank in England, to a cheeky, spotty young student nurse with a shiny, new career of helping people with severe mental health problems. As he entered the Broadland School of Nursing that Winter he reflected that it might not be all that different. The pressures in the world of Banking could be brutal - especially for those higher up, but Andy knew he wasn't destined for the fiscal echelons. Interestingly at his level, the pay was the same..
The second nursing school clinical placement was Psychogeriatrics (as it was known then) - not a place for the faint-hearted or the nasally sensitive. Andy was currently enjoying one of the traditional welcoming rituals of the ward, from outside the ward. Actually, from outside one of the windows of the ward. To be more exact, from the inside of a soaking wet laundry bag which was suspended from the ledge of said window.
"We'll haul you up in ten minutes.." the deep Wurzelly (as in Gummidge) voice of the burly Charge Nurse boomed out of the window, "That's if you don't manage to escape all on your own. Or fall.." he added with a snigger. Big Ivan was the the nurse-in-charge and Andy had been no match at the hands of Ivan-The-Terrible and his equally wrestler-esque Nursing Assistant, Marauding Mike.
The laundry bag creaked a bit at the seams as the rope tying it to a radiator inside gave a little; but it held strong. Andy shivered from the bath (fully clothed of course) he had received prior to being stuffed into the bag, carried up the stairs and rolled out the window ledge. Apparently the exercise was a Test Of Character. A 'survive or die' kind of thing. If you passed, you were in (and presumably cured of any latent claustrophobic, hydrophobic and acrophobic tendencies in the process). Efficient and cost-effective. Nothing like a bit of 'Implosion Therapy' to start the day..
Andy reflected on his time on the ward as his laundry bag gently swayed in the breeze. By its very nature the work was very, well manual as only a fully-occupied twenty five bed psychogeriatric ward with an incontinence rate of 85% can be. Lots of mouths to feed, arses to polish and piss to squeegee.
Naturally a clean set of overalls was essential and Andy had already suffered the ignominy of arriving at work and donning his white nurse's coat, only to find the arm sleeves sewn up or the pockets full of wet talcum powder or the buttons all cut off. And being tied to a wheelchair for a speedy blindfolded two-wheeled 'ride of death' through the wards had been an unspeakable thrill which left one lost for words.
The bag lurched, pulling Andy from his reverie. He thought he heard the sounds of muffled sniggers above and then the rope gave way and the laundry bag plummeted..
..about twelve inches and landed on the grass.
Andy fought against the severed bag ties and jumped out. As the bag fell from around him he stood and found himself face-to-face with the window and the grins of Big Ivan and Mike beaming back at him. The "let's get you up the stairs" bit had been a bluff and he was still on the ground floor.
The lesson-for-the-day: This is what it's like to shit your pants. Remember how it feels, when you're wiping someone's arse. A brutal if memorable lesson in humility and empathy..
(Ah, so it had all been a lesson; a carefully constructed pedagogy. What fun! Funny however, how words like sadistic and psychopaths and f**king tended to spring to mind..)
Further writings on a theme..
I See Dead People
And there it is. The table. A table with the white sheet over it. Slightly familiar ripples in the cloth hint at what might lie below.. [link]
However, contrary to popular belief, the operation was not only used on psychiatric patients.. [link]
The nurses and doctors just sit down, but the patient puts a newspaper down first and then sits down.. [link]
Drayton Olde Lodge
In June 1469, King Edward IV rode from Norwich to Walsingham and cast a lofty eye across the ruined lodge.. [link]