The Brooke

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The hospital was a bleak Victorian building set at the top of a gradual incline in a vast garden. The estate that contained it had once belonged to the landed gentry but the original family had long since died out. However, not before one philanthropist in the family had bequeathed the house (as it was then) to the city. The only condition attached to the legacy was that it would become and remain a hospital for the lunatic poor and mentally deficient.

A complete century and a half later the building still stood and although understanding of mental illness and political correctness had changed its name, by and large the use was the same.

The house itself was initially divided into large wards but over the years these too had been changed, the building re-fitted and rather clumsily extended to provide individual rooms for those 80 patients nursed within. The sexes were housed in separate wings with only the most ‘manageable’ ever destined to meet in a community room.

A dedicated staff tended to the needs of those patients day and night. No Nurse Ratchets here, just regular nursing staff trained to deal with those special patients that society liked not to think about. The patients themselves were mostly docile either through institutionalisation, medication or both but their mood was always prone to change. When the mood on the wards changed it was usually swift and startling. Some staff believed that the mood swings matched the waxing and waning of the moon.

I myself didn’t buy into that particular theory, at least not at first.

I did notice on occasion that with a full moon some of the patients became more antsy but there was nothing scientific about it just a feeling that there was usually some incident or other at around that time, no biggie!

Anyway, after about six months working in The Brooke I started to keep my own diary, again nothing scientific, just a record that could be reviewed after a period and may or may not have contained some useful insight into patient care or the like. Life on the wards was remarkably rhythmic but for staff it was like walking a tightrope. Any wrong move, sideways glance or phrase that was considered inappropriate by any of the patients could result in mayhem and madness. Well, I say mayhem and madness, perhaps that should be 'insanity' to differentiate between the happy level of normal mayhem and madness that was my working day.

I was on the women’s ward and have of course changed the names of patients to protect their identity. This is an excerpt from my diary on the crucial days leading up to the Hunter’s Moon:

Today Marlene was Marilyn Munroe. She was dressed in an ill-fitting white dress with her white hair all curled and preened courtesy of SN Martin. Marlene’s lips were no more like Marilyn’s than her dress was but she was happy to pout about the place from dawn to dusk. Marlene was 50-something with hair as white as snow reportedly due to some event in her past. Today her form was good and she showed genuine affection for her movie idol. She argued with Carla and Shirley who mocked her attempts at homage to the movie great.

I was in the community room this afternoon and there was quite a rumpus going on. The alarm was sounding on my arrival as Jarrett was trading punches with Michael or at least trying to. The fracas was being tended to by just about every nurse on the ward. I couldn’t help other than to make sure that the place was locked down and that the ladies in the room were safe. It was quite funny at the time because Jarrett was dressed in his John Wayne outfit and had it not been for the uniforms of the staff it did have the look of a bar-room brawl from one of Big John’s movies. The patients were separated, medications were administered and calm was restored while the nurses counted their bruises and mused at the speed in which such things happen.

I don’t want to give the impression that all of the patients like to dress up but there are at least two male and a female patient that do. This is sometimes cute, scary or funny but it generally keeps them happy and happy patients make for happy staff.

Today we had a quiet day. We watched a Daniel O’Donnell video and attempted to play some board games. Marlene was Dorothy today, from the Wizard of Oz, her gingham dress was a little war torn and her pigtails a little short but she carried around a small stuffed monkey which was sometimes a baby, a doll, a fairy or as it was today; Toto. She was happy in Oz and sang out a snippet from Over the Rainbow when the notion took her. She accompanied me for a time in the community lounge but lewd behaviour from Harvey meant the lounge had to close early and everyone return to their wards.

Tonight we’re happily preparing for the Halloween party. We’ve made decorations (with shapes previously cut out) and have cobwebby stuff to drape around the ward. SN Mitchell is going to bring apples for dunking and if all the staff bring something then tomorrow we’ll have a fancy dress party in the community room. The men have been working on their own plans for party. It’ll be good fun if everyone remembers their manners.

What a party! Even the non-dress-upers were encouraged to get into the swing of things this evening. It began well enough. There were a few ‘doctors’, a ‘nurse’, Jarrett had come as Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker ‘– that was cool and he'd made a great job of his make-up. Mickey was Gene Simmons and was a sight to behold, if he kept his tongue in his mouth! Marlene was Queen Victoria or it might have been Alfred Hitchcock in a frock – it was difficult to tell really but she usually dresses to her own sex. There were ‘farm hands’ and a really irritating ‘Marty McFly’ in a red body-warmer shouting about gigawatts or something every 5 mins.

Things were going along quite nicely until one of the ‘doctors’ decided to attempt to drown a ‘fairy’ in the apple dunking bowl. There was barely enough water to float an apple but there was clearly enough to choke a ‘fairy’. The 'fairy's' face turned purple as he tried to catch his breath while expelling water from his lungs. He was then sick down his tutu. This made him angry and he made a lunge for the 'doctor'. The ‘Joker’ laughed like a maniac until ‘Gene Simmons’ tried to throttle him. The pair rolled the floor creating a scene only fit for a Hollywood film set. ‘Marty McFly chose that exact moment to scream ‘You’re the Doc, Doc’ repeatedly at which point I’d had enough.

I sounded the alarm and the all door and windows locked. Staff were appearing from every corner of the building but with the costumes it was difficult to tell staff from patient in some of the corners.

The 'Joker' and 'Gene' were restrained by two burly med. The 'fairy' was crying in a pool of his own vomit. The 'doctor' was swatting at 'Marty McFly' who was still bouncing up and down in circles around him 'You're the Doc, Doc', 'You're the Doc, Doc' ... How irritating was that? We were trying to restore calm when I left my seat. I'd always suspected that 'Marty' was a wind-up merchant so with a surprising turn of strength I lifted him by his body-warmer and pinned him to the wall.

The lovely Hunter’s Moon was high in the sky when I lifted little ‘Marty’ off the floor. He was just so irritating. I didn’t really mean to bite a hole in his cheek but I just hoped to get him to shut the **** up. The staff were trying hard to bring things under control and random shouting wasn't helping.

Anyhow, that’s how I got to be sitting alone in my room dressed as Hannibal Lecter complete with Panama hat, wondering why I didn’t go to the party as Little Bo Peep as originally planned. Damn that Hunter’s Moon – isn't it sometimes called a Blood Moon? I’m sure it was something to do with that!

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