I still haven’t had ECT. I haven’t had it because the head anaesthetist at the hospital won’t do the general anaesthetic for it, because he considers it barbaric. He goes to Siberia annually to hunt bear – I am not kidding. Anyway, apparently they can get someone in to do it from the next state hospital in the area. Barbaric my ass. The essence of public healthcare is waiting-flavoured, I’m waiting for a phone call from Shrink Two to let me know when I need to go back into hospital. I’ll be having 12 sessions over six weeks. I’ll blog about it whenever it happens and in the meantime I’ll tell you about my night in the female mental health ward.
Behind eight foot fencing and a padlocked security gate is a small paved area with some benches and an aluminium bucket. To the right of the building’s doorway are a line of caged in toilet cisterns. The business ends of the toilets are, logically enough, inside. If you want to use one, you have to ask one of the two security guards for some toilet paper, which she keeps in her pocket. The toilets are steel, have no seats and they stink of piss. There’s a surprising amount of floor space, which becomes logical first thing in the morning when a nurse puts the light on and walks down the ward yelling crossly, “nge’ was!” (go wash!). You go and collect a plastic basin just big enough to crouch in, add some cold water then go to a nurse for a jug full of hot water to be added. Then you go and plonk your basin on the bathroom floor with some other women and get naked. Personal preferences, body image and gender performance se moer, you just have to get on with it and wash your underwear as well. It’s cold then too, and dark outside.
The first meal of the day is medication, followed by prayer and hymns. I got crapped on mightily for not standing up. I couldn’t have joined in even if I’d wanted to, because it was all in isiXhosa. I am also an atheist, but wasn’t about to make a stand (ha ha) about it and I’ll tell you why. Being the only white person there, I felt I’d just come over as arrogant. “You never, ever, ever sit down while there is praying!” My atheism gave way to my bleeding white liberalness and I immediately stood up. Breakfast is a big bowl of pap and then two slices of plain brown bread and a mug of sweet tea. Then it’s time for the doctors’ ward round, I got a lightning quick face to face with Shrink Two and two interns, after which one of the interns took a blood sample. I swear that hospital has enough of my blood to fill an entire person by now. I have shy veins, blood draws are always something of a mission.
Please note the absence of a cigarette break and the fact that I always smoke before anything. One of the patients, a tall, rail thin old lady who reeked of urine, threw a total hissy fit, wailed that she needed a smoke – and then she punched a security guard, but not very hard. The guard took it with perfect grace. When the security gate between the building and the paved area was unlocked, most of us spilled out into it and most of them asked me for a cigarette. I passed out a few – cigarettes are expensive and I ain’t rich, but you gotta help out where you can, right? I eked the ones I had on me out between everyone while I was there. The tall old lady scavenged the tobacco from stompies and rolled it in newspaper. Somebody asked someone for a skyf and the woman went absolutely batshit, screeching at her to fokof. I smiled inwardly.
From then until lunch, people either sat around on chairs or lay on their beds. I was the only person who read. Lunch was chicken and rice and veg, followed by jelly. I can remember Shrink Two telling me that they run out of food sometimes; I was actually astonished at the sheer amount of food, I couldn’t keep up with it. After lunch there was another cigarette break, fraught with the tension of those without cigarettes. The question I heard a lot was, “and what brings you here? The first two people I asked back both had bipolar. “Congratulations,” quoth I, sardonically. Dinner was rice, chicken livers and gem squash and later, three slices of bread and a mug of sweet tea. See what I mean about the amount of food? After the tea, the obligatory smoke break and then meds.
There are 16 beds in the ward, just your generic old school metal hospital beds, but no pillows. Sleeping with no pillow is a gigantic ass pain (I mean neck pain), especially when the mattress is thin and hard and you’ve only got a sheet and a thin bedspread covering you and you’re tensed against the cold. Everyone except me had extra blankets, I’ll have to try to solve that on my next visit. “How many times have you been baptised?” asked Xoliswa, and when I said once, proudly told me she’d been baptised six times. I had a bottle of (tap) water by my bed; “I tasted your water while you were asleep,” she said. I said, “I don’t care.” And I didn’t – I just wanted to go home.