A short while ago I was given the opportunity to be a trainee for a day as part of my psychology internship while on leave from my job as a psychiatric nurse. I accompanied a judge, a representative from the medical organization and a representative from SIND (middle of the road mental health charity) to meet with four psychiatric patients who had all filed a complaint against forced treatment or incarceration. The purpose of this meeting was for the Judge to assess whether the psychiatric hospital had followed the rules. Not the grievance of the patient who filed the complaint which is what most people believe happens. Needless to say the psychiatric patients rarely win unless there is a procedural mistake and even then the psychiatric wards are often given a time leeway to fix the situation. It turned out that I had met the Judge shortly before when I was on the other side of the table supporting a woman who had filed a complaint against her forced treatment and incarceration. He had no recollection of me at all. I also had the shocking experience of meeting a former patient from many years ago when she was still a child and seeing how she was now. So destroyed, a horrifying experience and to think for a short while I had been a part of it.
That is why I wrote this piece.
The Judge and the Jury
My day of judgment has arrived or at least so it felt for I was bidden to preside as the grand witness to the crimes of the mad yet what I witnessed was the injustice of a system sworn to protect the weak yet colluding with the strong.
A passing comment on the way out, thrown carelessly over my shoulder “perhaps I will meet someone I know” I say, but little did I know what was waiting, what was in store, what a joke, a farce a “I hereby condemn you to a lifetime of madness, oops no I meant treatment, help…”
“You mock me! My gown of respectability, my curly little wig telling the world that I am judge and in this case jury too, well YOU” and the finger is pointed and its pointing at me “are part of the plan for you are as guilty as guilty as me” and under his breath he utters “as are the rest of us.”
I shake my head for now I am here and the Judge and the Jury are waiting impatiently for I am late the taxi meter is ticking, but its only money, not minutes, hours, days or weeks just the quiet tick of… ah you thought I would say tock but so predictable I am not. In I get and deja vue for the Judge and the Jury is the same as before when I was with ‘Joan’ fighting for her right to say no, no to forced medication and lonely seclusion but she is another story and not for now.
It’s him but he sees me not, “who are you” he asks and I wonder, speculate is he playing games or has he really forgotten? I jog his memory but it remains stubbornly forgetful and I leave it, shrug my shoulders and sit beside him the Judge and the Jury, pretending the wrong is right and memories are forgetful.
Four cases are my privilege to witness, four cases too many for all are doomed yet the pseudo exists to play the charade a charade of “we truly are listening to you”, “you have a chance” but us in the know recognize the sham, the empty words reverberating and echoing merging with the system so that silence pervades. I am given some notes, documentation it’s called, but I don’t care for I have seen a name long forgotten of a girl I once knew when she was 13 going on 14 the “most schizophrenic child” they said “in the whole of Denmark, oh, she is so ill” they said “a hopeless case.” “Only those staff who have experience, great experience in the knowledge of the mad are allowed near this crazy girl and that my dear is not you” so I was told all those years so long ago.
She was small and round, black, black hair and dark brown eyes, she rarely talked and looking back I realize why, for words were wasted, there were no ears only fears, she was scared but so were they, of her, this little girl who wandered the corridor back and forth, back and forth. Other memories come rushing back, the anger expressed by Morten or was it Torben, anonymous men who didn’t care, employed to share their kindness, their professional knowledge, the so called specialists yet men who screamed and shouted at this little girl. Once I caught a carer, big and strong, screaming and shouting at the little girl trapped in a corner unable to escape for his arms were firmly planted on the wall, and she, she was stuck between those limbs. No running for that little girl. Oh how he hated me, for I stepped between them, sent him away and away he went, for I never saw him not on my shift, for such a bitch as me he did not want to see, but as for her she had him all those seconds, minutes, hours and shifts when I was away and he could stay.
Those many years so long ago I believed in the system I thought it wrong but not in treatment, I thought the drugs, the help was based on knowledge sound and so she got her medicine and I am sad to say she too got it from me in the every day. Many a day I came and she never complaining but her eyes gone only the whites as the side effects turned and twisted making her blind for as we all know eyes turned upwards do not make a vision clear. “She is doing this on purpose” was a comment often heard, so suffer she must. Oh God, at least I can with a small semblance of, I like to think humanity didn’t believe that, pardon me, crap, and so on my shift her eyes were brown, not white with the brown twisted and gone.
Four patients I saw and she was the last, oh my Gosh what a shock. They always said she was a chronic, a chronic schizophrenic only she, unlike me, has had no breaks and when she last saw me I was a nurse a psychiatric nurse and now once again she meets me just like before, a psychiatric nurse only now I too have been mad, been labeled and negated, told I was a chronic, a chronic schizophrenic. But I have escaped, gotten out, recovered and now there I am, I sit before her as if nothing changed, happened, the tick tock of time stood still.
For there she is coming in the door tiny and frail, every bone to be seen supported by a nurse, a helper, a who knows what she probably doesn’t care, slobbering and drooling her words lost in her mumbling made inarticulate by the drugs. Oh Lord, then there’s her hair or what’s left for there is so little of what once was a thick black mane, I can see her skull through the wisps and my chest contracts.
I suck in the well-known smell of the psychiatric wards a smell of old, of unwashed bodies that musty stench of those who have ceased to care, the shock of seeing what once was, reduced to an animal screaming for her words cannot be heard through all the drooling, the slobbering the inarticulateness of words yet still she fights. For constantly I am told, this Judge and Jury is brought to here, not there but here. “I want to be out there” she screams in primordial animal language “for I am a person, a human being, I want to be free”.
Her right to rights, to freedom expressed through starvation for here and only here she has control and they foolishly, oh so foolishly think she just wants to die. Die! No she wants to go yet here she is sitting scarecrowed on a chair, so once again the Judge and Jury parody a trial saying “we are truly ensuring justice is served”. And as we leave the Judge and Jury sigh “back next week” he mutters “…again” sigh, “to ensure justice is served, for this poor creature truly is delusional she needs help she just doesn’t know it.”
And as for me struggling to comprehend, I face the shared recognition of ignorance for no one knows why she is here and humbled and ashamed I find myself facing my past through the present for I too was like them ignoring life and story and thereby, in my ignorance, condemning.