Friday, August 31, 2012

Nobody Says Hello Afterwards

In a psych ward, you quickly develop strong bonds with your fellow patients. After all, you are there 24/7 - way more than the nurses, cleaning staff, or anyone else. Even though you are trapped, it is your turf - much like a tiger's cage.

All of the pacing was reminiscent of a zoo, too. Up and down the hall, because there is nowhere else to walk. In my ward, they even had a sign on the wall telling you how many lengths equal a kilometer, like we were swimming. Little groups would form, chat,  and dissipate, walking back and forth.

When I got a priviledge, like street clothes or a fresh air break, my friends on the ward would congratulate me with high fives and hugs. When things went badly, I would get visits (usually from the manic patients), to try and cheer me up.

Julia, a 40ish woman who had become a good friend, was being discharged. It was bittersweet - I was happy for her, but would also miss her. I was also jealous that she was being given freedom while I was stuck, not knowing when I would be released.

"Here's my number, Julia. After I'm out, give me a call and we can chat."

Julia gave a wry chuckle.

"Don't bother. You're new at this, but I've been through it a dozen times. Nobody says hello afterwards. We will pass each other in the street, and we won't even make eye contact. It's been great knowing you, but I don't think we will ever speak again unless we end up back here. Take care."

I was dumbfounded.

I was discharged a short while after. I said my goodbyes to everyone on the ward, and exchanged numbers with some. Then I left.

When I came back out into the world, I realized that everything had changed. I had been trapped to be made whole again, and I didn't want to remember anything about time when I was broken.

I met former patients who had been my good buddies only twice after that.

Marie had become a clerk at Zellers. I was there shopping with my wife and son, asked a woman for help, and when she turned around I recognized her. She looked right at my eyes, and recognized me too. There was a brief moment of silent panic, and then it was like we had never known each other. She helped us and we left.

Big Tom, who had watched me do jigsaw puzzles and was my best hospital friend, had been moved into supportive housing near where I lived in the suburbs. I was out with my son when I saw him riding towards me on a bicycle. Again, our eyes met and there was a brief moment of shared panic, then he rode past and neither of us said hello.

It's a cruel regret, needing to leave everything of your hospital experience behind to be well, but losing your friends in the process.

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