The same old routine. Eight o’clock and being woken by a nurse — drifting back toward pill-induced sleep, only to be roused once again. This time around forty-five minutes later, and already fifteen minutes late.
“Steven, are you coming to breakfast?”
A familiar line always delivered with the same expectation. The only change would be in the message’s tone, something entirely dependent on the deliverers identity.
Some might think of it as laziness on his part, his father among them. He had spent years of his childhood invading his personal space — every morning he would enter his bedroom and take it upon himself to tear apart the curtains as he spewed a well-thumbed glossary of scathing remarks. Were he still around, he would be surprised to hear it wasn’t plain bone-idleness, and be doubtful it was due both to his son’s mental-health and the medication used to treat its symptoms. No, of his three boys, he was the one he was the most disappointed with, and whatever he did or did not do would always be a self-fulfilling prophecy as far as he was concerned.
It wasn’t easy sleeping in a place like this — there were the thoughts that endlessly spiralled through your head; the hourly checks throughout the night, supposedly for his safety, but the cynic in him thought it was as much about them, as it was about him. Sleep-hygiene was a term, like the medication, freely dispensed, but its practice was another matter entirely. If you ignored the reminder, you would be left to your own devices, and on days where you made it to the dining-room, there would always be some other poor unfortunate to take your place.
Has anybody else noticed that nurses, much like buses, go around in pairs? Each mealtime, you would hear one saying to the other, ‘so and so’ isn’t coming to whatever meal it was on that occasion. The recipient of this nugget of information would have a clipboard, and it was their job to place a mark against the offender’s name. Non-attendance at mealtimes comes back to haunt you when your team discusses you. It sounds like a concentration camp, but of course, it wasn’t — but when you find yourself institutionalised a little rebellion can be a healthy thing.
Another reason to avoid breakfast was the food – not that he could complain about the quality, but with three months spent in the same ward during a previous admission, there was a limit to the amount of Weetabix a body could eat. This time around, he had asked the catering staff to make up a fruit and oatmeal recipe he used at home. It wasn’t complicated to produce, but he had stressed the importance of preparing the mix the night before. Not too difficult, you would have thought, but he had got to see many variations on this particular theme and not all of them were palatable.
After breakfast would come the dispensing of medication — happy pills, as the patients liked to call them; a description I’m sure would be frowned upon by the drug companies and their shareholders. During my previous admission, there had always been two nurses attending the clinic, and they could process all thirty-eight patients at a decent pace. It meant not hanging around for extended periods of time, important if you had an appointment, a program to attend or just needed to catch up on some sleep. But this time around, things had changed dramatically for the worse. Now, there was only a single nurse, who would after asking which patient was next, close the clinic door while preparing your medication, then summon you and behind closed doors administer your treatment, before finally sending you on your way. Some patients – he among them – had to go through this routine four times daily. Part of the reason you had difficulty sleeping at night, was due to a significant portion of the day spent in a coma outside the clinic.
So that morning, Kathryn’s text had come as a welcome surprise. She was on on her way to the hospital and had a couple of hours to kill before she was due at her weekly Schema Therapy Progam, and wondered was he free? Any chance to escape to the outside world was welcome, and if it also gave him an opportunity to spend time with Kathryn, then so much the better.
Manning’s, a coffee-shop on Thomas Street was the venue she suggested — she would be there in thirty minutes. He had a good idea of its location, not too far from the hospital and on a road he frequently walked when he escaped to the city centre. He couldn’t think how it had escaped his notice; he was usually very observant. But when he arrived — some twenty minutes later — the reason became apparent. He used the opposite pavement, and on this section of Thomas Street, the coffee shop was obscured by some market stalls. It was a venue which locals knew well, but an outsider could easily miss. He took out his phone.
“I’ve arrived. I’m a bit early. Are you far?” He texted her.
“That’s quick. I’ve only just left. Sorry. I’ll be twenty minutes.”
“OK. There’s a charity shop opposite. I’m going in to see if they have any decent books. If I’m not in Mannings when you arrive, text me.”
“OK. See you soon.”
Kathryn thought she was a good time-keeper, she wasn’t bad, let’s just say she was at times, inconsistent. He turned, and entered the shop.
Ten minutes later, having purchased four books he hadn’t needed, he crossed to the other side of the street and went into the coffee-shop. He walked up to the counter and joined the queue. He hadn’t heard Kathryn shouting “over here,” as he came through the door, and sure enough looking at the tables, he could see it was as yet a Kathryn free zone.