Nurses, please intervene

Nurses, male and female, have lightened my life over long periods
of mental illness. They are the people you meet first and if they
are horrible you have a relapse even before you start recovery. We
are such delicate flowers, we nutters – I think I am entitled to
call myself a nutter because that’s who I was for 15 years. The
sane must not call us anything but “people with the syndrome” for
fear of treading on our sensitive corns.

In one hospital we were not called anything. We just heard the
barked order from the nurses “supper!” or “pills!” and obeyed. We
were more than a little like sheep, and with 2,000 colleagues it
was not easy to stand out. I was so lost to the world in the
initial stages that I might have been on another planet.

That is where the helping hand comes in so useful. If a friendly
nurse had picked my brains and found out what my delusions were, I
may have got better much sooner. It is not as if they had many
splints to fix or wounds to dress. All they had to do is lend a
listening ear. As it was, I went on thinking that the lady down the
corridor was the Queen Mother for months. Just as I was sensitive
to folly, I was extremely sensitive to good sense. But it did not
arrive. I wandered on in my madness for a very long time unchecked,
as if it was incurable.

Would you call nurses’ intervention usurping the doctors’
prerogative? I am sure everyone wants to see the patient better and
if it helps to say: “The man you are talking to is not Father
Christmas” then the nurse should surely say so. As Britain’s chief
nurse told me at an Imperial College conference: “The golden rule
is do not encourage the fantasy.” At that conference I had the
great privilege of giving the patient’s point of view. It was
mainly a big thank you to the nurses for all they had done for me
and I received a standing ovation. Funny how good can come out of
evil and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

My memories of nurses are on the whole very good indeed. However,
there are two whom I never wish to meet again. They pinned me down
on the bed with their hands over my mouth and proceeded to rifle
through my pockets. This was particularly annoying because I had
only just got my precious property back from the charge nurse.
These horror stories are few and far between and, on the whole, the
worse horror was in my head.

At one hospital everything was very military. If your bedclothes
were not made perfectly, they were thrown to the floor. It
certainly made me appreciate the gentler atmosphere of other
hospitals. There ought to be a Michelin Guide to Britain’s
psychiatric hospitals – if you are thinking of having a nervous
breakdown, you want to be sure of the best bolthole. Nurses are the
ever-present help in times of trouble, the lifeline to the real
world and the perfect ambassadors of sanity.

Richard Jameson is a mental health service user.

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