At 4 AM, as I walk down the same hallway that I have walked up and down thousands of times, my mind's eye begins to think about the many events that have taken place on this ward.
The seclusion room… Each area of the hall has an event that took place that reminded me of the good and the bad. The room that is rarely used anymore, called the "seclusion room", sits quickly with the door shut and locked. The bare mattress without a sheet or bed spread leans alone against the wall, cold and uninviting. The mirror that hangs in the top corner of the room, next to the ceiling, no longer looks over someone standing on the inside, peering out through the peep hole in the 4 inch thick wooden door. When I look at the door, I can hear voices of the past screaming and cursing. The pounding sounds on the door scream of anger and confusion from the illness that captured the person.
The porch… The "back porch", known as the smoking area, is no longer used for smoking. This was the area where conversations took place over morning coffee, watching the sun rise for the day. Not every morning was quiet – not every cigarette smoked was enjoyed. The porch was a place where fights would begin for those that did not have cigarettes and wanted to smoke, but could not. The porch was a place people met to exchange sexual favors, pills not swallowed, and money for contraband items.
The shower room… Passing by the shower room reminds me of the many patients that used their private time not just to shower and refresh the soul, but to place harm on themselves thinking that staff were not looking. The young lady who took the inside of an ink pen and began threading it under her skin, or the young lady who ran a full tub of water in the claw feet shaped tub with plans to submerge herself too far. But the staff was watching over her and removed her from the tub safely. The tubs are no longer used and the knobs that turn the water on have been removed for safety after one patient successful drown; whether she did it on her own or another patient did the deed for her, no one will ever know.
The TV room… The recreation area or "the TV room" has held lots of laughter and smiles over the years. In this room we have sung Christmas carols with churches that have come to visit during the holiday season, we’ve laughed over funny movies watched with popcorn and juices, and it’s been a place to sit and fill the empty stomachs with three meals a day.
When I stepped on these floors for the very first time, I was 23 years old. I had my own issues of being freshly divorced, biter at the hand that life had handed me…or that I had dealt myself. Young and wet behind the ears, as a nurse, I walked like I was six feet tall; in reality only 5'7 (and ½; don't forget the half!) I was body building at the time and thought physical strength was all that I needed to work in this environment. I have learned so much from the mentally ill, and now I have more to offer the world than I ever would have without them. I healed along with them – I grew up – I became a nurse that listened with compassion was able to feel their pain and see the anger in their faces.
The walls hold the memories for thousands of patients and past employees…if only they could talk. What would they say? Would they laugh, cry, be angry for the things that happened inside their corners? The memories fade fast for some, but not for the ones that once walked under this roof.