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Admittance

This is a true story from my memoirs

My admittance to the old mental asylum wasn’t with fanfare, I was sort of sneaked in during the night. No white truck or men in white lab coats – just me the psychiatrist and my wife. He led the way in his car and Daisy drove us close behind. There was a huge oak door that opened on to the ward. When the nurse opened it the squeaking was funny. We could have been in an Edgar Allen Poe story. I kept waiting for Vincent Price to come jumping out at any minute. We walked down a long half lit corridor lined with oak rails and linoleum floors with a black and white checkerboard pattern. We came to a pair of substantial glazed double doors with dirty nylon net curtains hanging limply as if they had been drugged. She led me into the day room, which of course was never used at night. She sat me in a high backed chair. My bottom sank and my knees rose up, it was going to be tough to get out of that chair.

There was a short hushed discussion behind the wire glass window with the blazing fluorescent lights. Daisy came out and came over to say goodnight. We kissed and as she turned and walked away my eyes became loose in their sockets, like they were swimming in a bowl of jelly - slippery. I never felt so alone. The tears began to flow like the water over Victoria Falls. They ran down into my nose and my mouth – I could taste the salt. My body became weak and my joints were sore. It was hard to get my breath. The room was blacker than before and the light from the nurses’ room shot out like a stab of lightning. As I sat there for those few agonizing minutes, I knew total despair. Despair was a word I had often used in the past, but somehow light heartedly. I would never look on despair that way again.

A male nurse was brought down from the upstairs men’s ward. He escorted me up the grand sandstone and marble staircase and along the corridor. The leaded metal windows in their granite casements looked Victorian. The floor was terrazzo with the walls painted a light green. There were a long row of industrial light fixtures that hung like sentinels in the half light. The place had probably been gas lit originally, because all the electrical wiring was surface mounted in metal conduit. The water pipes were also surface mounted feeding the sprinkler heads. The paint was starting to crack and peel and the fourteen foot high ceilings were dark with large old dry brown water leak stains running down the walls. The whole place was dank – smelled of disinfectant or bleach.

The nurse showed me into a long room. There were twenty metal beds on each side in dormitory fashion. All of the thin grey stripped tick mattresses were rolled up and tied with string. We walked to the end of the room. He untied the mattress string on bed number twenty and began making it with sheets and a blanket. I looked out the window onto the court yard below. There was a magnificent tree, maybe a Mulberry. It looked very sculptural with its’ leaves now gone. Solid stone benches surrounded the tree in silent guard posts. The wind whipped up the leaves into a sort of frenzied opera with the tree limbs conducting. Rain began to fall adding to the drama of the piece. Moonlight came and went like stage lights, but there were no actors. Maybe it was a symphony instead.

The nurse pointed to the bed and I asked,

‘Is this were I am going to stay?’

‘Yes sir, for tonight I think - this is the overflow for the mens’ ward.’

I asked him his name and he said to just call him nurse. I thought to myself, what a perfect name for a nurse. He helped me get undressed and gave me a pair of flannel pyjamas. I put them on and he asked if I needed the toilet. I did, but my fear was he would want to help me. I might be mental, but I wasn’t an invalid. He left the room and returned a few seconds later with a porcelain coated bed pan with Forget-me-nots around the edge. He placed what looked like a blue stripped French washing up towel over it and said,

‘I’ll be in the next room. You can see me through the glass window.’

He pointed to the end wall – another wire glass window ominously separated the two rooms.

‘If you need anything just knock on the window.’

I felt like I should give him a tip, but I didn’t have any money. He turned off the light as he left the room. I sat on the bed and heard the large skeleton key turn the massive lock in the door. This was no hotel on the storm washed coast of Brittany.

Rain lashed at the windows and lightning lit up the room until the wee hours of the morning. As the thunder rolled across the countryside I sat with my head in my hands. It felt safe to be inside this monolith of a building while the storms bashed the walls. My fear was internal – had I lost my mind – was I insane. It didn’t feel that way – still, there is no escaping the fear. The psychiatrist hadn’t said ten words to me in our lounge and he decided that I needed to be locked away. No diagnosis and no discussion – that is power over your fellow man. I knew he had done the right thing. By the time the first shards of dawn entered the room I was awake. There could be no telling what was going to happen to me. All I knew was - this was not the end. Anyone who thought that I was just going to roll over – didn’t know Max Moran.
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