Lesson Three – Life on the Ward
Life on the ward is strange and its difficult to get your head round, especially in the beginning. Everything you know, everything you are used to isn’t there anymore. There are rules and routines and restrictions and you are surrounded by strangers. There is no privacy, or freedom, these are things you have to earn. Your rights become privileges. You start to realise all the little things you take for granted everyday such as what time you get up, the choice to just go outside, or seeing the people you love whenever you want. To protect you, to keep you safe, they take everything away, the strip you bare and leave you exposed.
Observations: No one talks about observations. People who have never been in hospital often don’t realise there are levels of observations. They assume just because your in hospital and locked away than your safe. The containment alone is enough to ensure that you and no one else is hurt. This is not true. Level of observations are another thing you have to earn. They determine how much privacy you are allowed. There are the most intense levels. Someone with you at all times, and depending on the risks either within arms length distance or within eyesight distance. Getting used to someone watching you constantly is ridiculously difficult. All those little things we usually do in private, like use the bathroom or getting changed suddenly seems very clinical and you develop a sense of self consciousness that’s on a whole new level. The next levels are someone checking on you every 15 minutes, peering through the window of your bedroom door, it then increases to 30 minutes, than the bliss of General Observations, someone checking in either hourly or every few hours. Once you pass all these you start to get some time unescorted from the ward in the hospital grounds and this can start at 5 minutes and you build up time as you go along. Eventually you get to have leave outside of the hospital grounds and this is the time when things are starting to move towards discharge.
Possessions: You will be searched when you arrive on the ward. All your belongings will be checked, you will be checked, and depending on your risk certain items will be taken from you, whilst others are just plain confiscated until you are ready to be discharged.
The Routine: The routine is something that never changes. The morning starts when the Nurses are ready to dish out the medications. Then you may or may not have a meeting with your doctor (it’s unlikely you will be told until someone knocks on your door and tells you to come to the meeting room) Lunch is at 12, followed by another medication round. There is time for visitors. Then the evening meal will be served at 5, another medication round. Evening visiting and Night Medication Round. For the rest of the time, there may or may not be groups running that you can attend if you feel like it. If your confined to the ward there are communal areas with a TV but its all pretty bleak and monotonous. You might catch up with a member of staff to have a chat about how things are going with you but otherwise it feels like your just sat there waiting continuously till some doctor decides to give you your life back, or you do everything you can to not give them a reason to keep you any longer than they need to. I would like to say that it matters if you genuinely get better, but I don’t think it does. I think it just matters that you live up to the standards of normality that the staff and doctors need you to be.
Discharge: I’ll be honest here I have seen a real mixed bag of reactions when it comes to a person getting discharged. Some are overjoyed, others terrified, and some just downright do not feel ready and don’t want to leave. I’ve seen grown women come out of review meetings furious because they have discharged, screaming and throwing a fit that they were not ready. I think people react in that way because they aren’t better, not by the standards they wanted. They are still struggling, still hurting and like me in the beginning they expected hospital to get them better. Yet the way the inpatient treatment works is not about curing a person, its just about getting them stable enough to re-enter a world without them posing a significant risk to their life or to other people.
© Vanessa Findlay