Tonight is a music night. I usually listen to music when I’m doing things around the house, and tonight was no exception. Tonight my playlist of choice was my all time favourites. Now, I’m not sure about anyone else, but my all time favourites include a bit of everything; old and new, any genre. The common theme though, I’ve noticed, is that all these songs have a memory attached to them.
Not every song brings back happy memories; it depends on where I was in life at the time I came across a song, as to whether a related memory is positive or not so!
One song came on that triggered a memory from one of many hospital admissions. I felt ok, it didn’t evoke anything too intense, but it got me thinking about those times I went into hospital and the people I met along the way.
There’s one admission that really sticks in my mind at this moment. It was one of my earlier stays in a psychiatric unit, and I’d not really had much experience of clashing with other patients before. There was 1 lady this particular time who I just couldn’t stand to be around. I have no idea why, but looking back maybe it was because I saw some of me in her. As I got to know more about her, mainly when we were outside smoking, the more I empathised with her and warmed to her. I’d never say that we became friends though, we ‘tolerated’ each other.
So I was surprised one day when she knocked on my door and asked if she could talk to me. Not a problem with me. We sat on my bed, and she said she wanted to talk about self-harm; she’d been having urges to hurt herself. We talked a little, but it wasn’t long before I realised what was going on. She began asking me the best way to avoid serious harm; she wanted to hurt herself, but didn’t want to kill herself. I played dumb; I was not going to be the one who gave her that information, because I knew she had been feeling suicidal. She then asked me to hide some blades for her. She explained that one of the other patients who was allowed to the shop alone, had been buying razor blades for her and secretly giving them to her without staff knowing. But now, somebody else had told the staff and they were about to search her room to find them. All that was going through my mind was “shit, I don’t want to hide them for her, but I’m terrified of how she’ll react if I say no’. I was petrified but agreed to take them. I put them in my drawers and she left.
I lay on my bed after that, trying to hide my anxiety, fear, rage. I was SO angry that she had put me in this position. Luckily, she was seen with me and staff asked me if she gave me anything. I handed them in, once again, shitting myself for any potential consequences when she found out. I was told to report any similar things to staff, and I also told them she had been asking questions; like she wanted to know how to cut herself in a potentially very dangerous way.
A couple of days later, a staff member, myself and another patient witnessed somebody passing her a packet of razors. The staff member asked her what she was hiding; and all flustered she lied. We all knew she wasn’t being honest and staff said they’d search her room. They never did. That member of staff never reported what she witnessed because she wasn’t 100% sure and didn’t wanna look “like a tit” if they searched her room and she didn’t have anything. I was so mad. This was negligence surely? She never even told colleagues about her concerns.
Anyway, as the days went on, this lady was becoming obviously more and more anxious and seemed agitated a lot of the time. She started pacing in corridoors and tapping her foot when she was sitting down. She lost weight and became desperate to get hold of blades or tablets from other patients. It was clear to all that her mental health was deteriorating, but it felt like the staff weren’t doing anything to intervene.
I was discharged a few days after all this started. I think it was about 1am that first night home that we heard knocking on the door. Verrrry strange at that time, who could it have been at all? The police. Mum had answered the door, and I heard them mumbling downstairs as I lay in bed trembling. Then mum shouted for me; it was me they wanted to talk to. It turned out this lady had absconded, and the ward staff had told police that we were ‘friendly’. They asked me if I had any idea where she would have gone? I just couldn’t believe it; I despised this woman and felt angry with her even though I also empathised with her and knew she was unwell. I explained to them that we didn’t really talk much; especially not to the point where she would have mentioned anything like this. I felt so fuckin’ useless you know. They said they were desperate for any leads and I wanted to give them what they needed but I didn’t have a clue. They left, once they’d made sure they knew I had nothing to give them. Once they’d explained that this was ‘serious’ and that anything I could tell them could be helpful. That they were ‘concerned for her safety’.
It was so hard to get back to sleep then as I just couldn’t stop thinking everything over, looking for clues, wondering where she was, hoping the staff were right. I’d overheard them talking in the office one day; they were discussing this lady’s level of observations and deciding if she could go to the shop unescorted as she repeatedly demanded. One member of staff came to the conclusion that they were “not increasing her level of obs because that’s what she wants”. And there I was, wishing they were right. I was curious as to how she got off the locked ward in the first instance. My stomach flipped (and is flipping just thinking about it now). Police explained she was being escorted to the shop by a staff member when she “ran away”. Staff were unable to keep up with her.
Once the police had left, I had no way of ever knowing what was happening. I’d kept in touch with somebody else on the ward, who told me the following day that this lady wasn’t back but nobody was saying whether they’d found her.
It was around 48 hours after her disappearance that sadly, she died. I found out about her death about a week later. She had fallen from a multi-storey car park. I later heard people talking about it, people I knew, that had witnessed her fall. They didn’t know that I had ever known this person. And I squirmed as they spoke of details. And THAT is what I now see whenever I think of her. What my imagination created using the details I heard; and it’s not pretty.
I felt so guilty after her death. Had I done enough when I was on the ward? Should I have told staff more times than I’d done, that she was hiding things, talking about suicide etc? Should I have made then listen and take her seriously?
I wrote down the sequence of events in detail and gave it to those who were reviewing the ‘serious incident’. Including about the member of staff who failed to act on her suspicions. And even though her suicide didn’t involve blades, I still felt strongly that this shouldn’t have been ignored. It was yet another important pointer (of which there were many) that she was deteriorating.
But what pisses me off the most, was the conversation I’d overheard about her level of obs. Despite all the signs, the staff still allowed her escorted leave; because they believed she was attention seeking. They thought she had no intentions of killing herself, that she wasn’t at risk of absconding. I’m no mental health nurse but if somebody was behaving the way she did, I wouldn’t have let them off the ward. I was told by a patient that it was a student she went with to the shop. And that added to my anger, frustration and sadness. I couldn’t stop thinking of her family, that poor student; I wonder if she managed to cope with that and finish her degree?
I’m not going to identify the hospital, or anybody involved, because that wouldn’t be fair on anyone, mostly her family. I’ve rarely shared this experience, mostly out of fear I think. I worked through all my feelings eventually, but any future admissions to that ward were a no-go. I had witnessed an unwell, vulnerable lady deteriorate and struggle in her last weeks, without the support she needed. All because somebody/people didn’t ‘believe’ she was genuinely feeling so bad. How the hell could I ever feel safe in that environment? And who the hell were they to judge her and accuse her of being manipulative to get her obs increased!!?
She may have pissed me off, annoyed me, frightened me etc. But I still understood she was just ‘human’ and she was struggling just like me. She still deserved love, care, affection. She needed to be protected. She tried to ask for help in her own way, but her cries were ignored.
RIP ‘M’ ❤️