One thing you could say about the old institutions: they contained some real characters. One man who particularly stands out in my memory was Larry. A resident on one of the long stay wards for many years, Larry like many others suffered from schizophrenia. In a similar pattern to his peers, Larry was over the acute phase of the illness and rarely suffered from severe 'attacks' of psychosis any more.
It was a psychotic episode a few years earlier however, that had left Larry wheelchair bound and provided me with one of the most disturbing sights of my career. It had been one of England's coldest winters and Larry had been out for one of his regular long walks in the hospital grounds. The gardens of many of the big old psychiatric hospitals were often stunning, managed as they were by teams of resident inpatients who maintained the horticultural beauty as part of their occupational therapy. I love walking through the grounds of these old hospitals and imagining all the stories. I think it was a great shame when such tending was deemed to be 'exploitation' and the job was handed over to professional gardeners, often leaving the hospital residents with very little to do.
Being a man of habit, Larry was usually back from his walks for the evening meal, but as tea time came and went, concern mounted and a search was made of the grounds and surrounding area. Unfortunately it gets dark early on the cold winter evenings and our man was nowhere to be found. It was decided that another search be carried out at first light.
The following morning Larry was found face down in a hedge on a perimeter of the hospital, his legs literally dangling in the air. The initial relief in finding him and the comical nature of his predicament were soon replaced with a deeper concern. Considering he'd just spent the night out in the open he was in a bit of a bad shape. The hedge had protected him a little but his legs were badly frost-bitten. No-one could really figure out how he'd got stuck in the hedge, but he was floridly psychotic, talking to hallucinatory voices and unable to recognise any familiar faces.
As it turned out nothing could be done to save Larry's legs and he had to have a bi-lateral below the knee amputation. Although he seemed to adjust to his wheelchair-bound life admirably, Larry never spoke again and would only communicate in grunts and murmurs.
One of the worst things I have ever seen was during a subsequent psychotic episode, years later. He had been unwell for a couple of days, muttering under his breath and staring at the walls. We were all sitting in the lounge one evening after supper when Larry literally jumped out of his wheelchair and ran screaming across the floor on his stumps. We managed to catch up with him and were able to treat his psychosis which soon abated once more, but his legs took months of dressings to heal and must have caused him some shocking pain. But he never complained or winced once.
His nickname? Well amongst his other qualities, as you've probably guessed Larry was rather well endowed..
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]