I can remember so well the day, it started like any other day in hospital I had woken after a night of poor sleep in my small clinical room. A room that contained just a bed and a wardrobe, and a crate of art things and personal possessions. I listened to my radio as usual, this had become part of my daily routine as a long term hospital patient. I was called to get my medication that morning and despite speaking to a number of staff, no one said this was to be my last day close to home.
My room was at the far end of a corridor and I recall walking up into the main ward many times that day. Talk on the ward between the patients was about Christmas, who was likely to get home and which of us would have to stay. I knew I was going nowhere, I’d be staying in hospital after all my Section 3 had only been in place a short while, but everyone including me believed I’d be close to my family.
The staff didn’t give any glue to the changes that were about to happen, in fact they talked as if I would be there over the festive period. Looking back now no one from the hospital team was honest to me, no one told me I was about to face turmoil, chaos and changes I couldn’t imagine. Perhaps they were worried about how I would react, yet in truth the surprise element only made things worse for me and my family.
I was aware that the doctors had spoken about moving me but no final decision had been taken or so I was led to believe. They had kept saying a move to a trauma centre would be a safe way to deal with trauma work and would be faster than doing it as an out patient. I had no clear understanding of the type of place they were thinking of, nor do I believe had my family. I do know we were assured of lots of things, none of which turned out to be true.
Looking back I’m not even sure that the staff making the decisions knew about secure services, nor did they really understand the nature of the place they were thinking of sending me. A private institution that supposedly could cater for people with a trauma history, that focused upon the control and restrictions it could place upon patients rather than relational security. Intensive trauma work should have meant numerous therapy sessions each week, with a raft of other groups and activities designed to aid recovery. That was the kind of care I was told I needed but it wasn’t how this place operated, though given it was 200 plus miles away how could those tasked with making a decision really know.
That day progressed like many before it, medication, meals and some Occupational Therapy too, speaking to the staff was limited as they hid as usual behind the office door, failing to interact with the patients. In the late afternoon I recall the doctor visited briefly, I was huddled into a small room to be told the news.
In that moment life changed the staff informed me that I was being relocated, relocated from an open unlocked NHS ward to a forensic medium secure privately run facility, not a specialist trauma centre. I can recall it wasn’t a great conversation, it lacked much clarity or detail there were just simple facts. My family who had been informed with as limited a time as possible would visit that evening, I would leave at the crack of dawn the next day and a nurse would travel with me. I had no rights to challenge or question this decision and I certainly couldn’t say no to their plans to transfer me.
I felt bewildered, frightened and confused beyond words, I had so many questions so much fear and yet they told me it was the best place for me. I recall feeling as if the hospital managers just wanted to rid themselves of me, that they really didn’t care about what was best for me or my family. Looking back my views haven’t changed, the move was based purely on financial reasons this certainly wasn’t a clinical decision, not was it based upon risk. I had no criminal history, had only absconded; whilst detained under the Mental Health Act, once and was willing to work at trauma therapy.
When I ask my family about their recollections, the one issue that they recall is the limited amount of notice they were given. My daughter who was my nearest relative was informed late afternoon too, she and her Dad then tasked with trying to organise a visit that included my two sons. My ex spoke with me on the phone, he was concerned with what was happening and he was frustrated at the lack of understanding by hospital staff. He had wanted to take me out for tea, one last family meal before the move and yet the hospital managers wouldn’t allow it. I was being observed and monitored perhaps they thought things wouldn’t be too stable in my last few hours on their ward.
That family meal didn’t happen in the way he or the children had hoped, but defying hospital rules he and the children arrived laden with McDonalds take out. We would have a family meal even if it was different, we would have time as a family one last time, they would say goodbye properly.
Food wasn’t allowed on the ward, so the staff ushered us into a side room, squashed in this tiny room we had our meal. We enjoyed hugs and a few tears, my sons and daughter gave me something to remind me of them. A photo was one memento I had to have, alongside a number of small hastily grabbed trinkets from home that the children felt signified them. One son gave me a toy model of a dragon, he was really interested in them at the time and there was also a soft cute little monkey that really summed my youngest. Each gift was treasured as I knew that the children had thought carefully about them and they didn’t want me to forget them.
They also brought a small case for me to pack some things in and they took home all my art things as I had been advised these wouldn’t be allowed in my new hospital. My daughter was allowed into my hospital room for a few minutes to help me pack, it gave us time to briefly talk away from her brothers. As the oldest I needed her to lookout for them and more than ever act as a surrogate mum, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that for a while.
There was lots of reassurance on both sides, the children promising to visit and write and call. I promised to keep in touch and think of them every day and I really wanted them to know that I would miss them. By the time it came to say goodbye there were tears, lots of them, because despite my mental health issues, despite my past, despite me at times wanting to die, we are a really close family. This move would impact all of us for many years to come, I wonder if the hospital managers realised how much grief and pain, how much stress and worry their decision to relocate me caused. I very much doubt it.
Looking back at that time in my life still hurts, I will forever remember the nightmare journey of those years, the nightmare of secure services. The nightmare of being uprooted and taken from my family, and the anguish I felt not just then but in the years that followed.
Seven years on despite it still hurting, I need to focus not on the past but on the future and to remember the positives that came from that time, for out of the darkest of times came hope. My family and I realised if we ever needed to the value of family, the bond we all share and the separation well it strengthened us all to cherish one another. We have grown together not apart because of that time, and I know my children truly love me despite everything and they know I love them more than words could ever say. I guess facing what we did means today we can be assured that no matter what we will always be there for each other.
Copyright DID Dispatches 2014