Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tuesday 14th September 1943

Now that OT is closed I spend the day within the barbed wire compound. There are many things liable to make one's mind anything but at rest. I had become accustomed to the ward MO. Somehow, one could trust him... But now a new officer is in charge, the Major who interviewed me, quite uselessly, last month. He sent for me yesterday and asked me various odd questions. I say “odd” because he had asked them all before and also because the manner in which he received the information was peculiar – a sort of pooh-pooh effect, always accompanied by a side-long, significant smile at the Sister. He concluded by saying, “You're improving now, you think?” “Certainly sir, until I came here.” “Pooh-pooh! Ha! Of course not.”

Naturally, no reason for the questions was given me. This officer gives me the impression that he thinks I – and all “other ranks” - something sub-human, a mass of animal instincts devoid of intellect or intelligence.

I get so easily upset. This brief interview worried me and I later asked the Sister if there was any reason for my apprehension. She agreed that the gallant Major is a very different sort to Captain Miller and “takes a lot of getting used to,” and kindly said there was no cause for alarm. “I think myself that someone – perhaps your unit OC – has been making inquiries into your welfare,” she said.

While I was still feeling a bit agitated, a new patient who sleeps in the opposite bed to me – an arrogant-faced RAF sergeant – came up to me and exhibited what seemed like schizophrenic symptoms. “Will you kindly tell me the meaning of all this play acting? What are – these people – trying to signal to me?” I looked wearily away from his angry, flashing eyes and saw half a dozen patients sitting in the sunshine reading, and a couple pacing up and down.

“What are they doing, then?” “You know! Anyway, I'd be obliged if they'd come and tell me what they want plainly instead of running about signalling, and leaping over invisible barriers.” “Do you think I'm play-acting?” I asked. “Oh no,” he said in a quiet, normal manner, “You're just taking exercise, aren't you?”

That was last evening. This afternoon, when several people were dozing, a youth who felt restive, annoyed everyone by walking about, talking in a silly manner, and finally by singing in a monotonous, moaning way. Like everyone else, I resented him and felt pleased when the orderly decided to put him under the showers.

The orderly – Moseley – had a typical criminal physignomy and is said to have some trouble at home. That maybe so but he should not vent his anger on helpless patients. Somehow, whenever he grapples with a man it becomes bullying and punishment instead of the scientific arm locks etc. which one usually associates with mental nurses, and which the night orderly demonstrated admirably on the razor slasher soon after I came to this ward.

When we saw him dealing with the annoying youth today, our gloating turned to sympathy for he was rushing him through the sand pretty brutally, towards the showers. Just then Moseley slipped on one knee. Furious at the indignity, he jumped up quickly seized the victim's arm and with his free hand savagely twisted his left ear. There were loud cries of pain and excitement from the powerless youth (his other arm was being held by a stooge patient). His language wasn't pretty as the ear twisting and dragging continued. (One sample was, “Don't break my fucking ear drum! Let go my fucking ear!”)

The scene was all the more disgusting as a Sister stood nearby, smiling in amusement and apparently equally unaffected by the bad language or the unnecessary pain which was being inflicted. The cries became screams and – I'll pay one tribute! - the Sister of ward 4, which is just outside the wire, heard the noise and insisted on coming inside to see just what was going on. By that time it was all over however, so doubtless the orderly told her a good story.

Well, there are a few unhappy pages! However, there are some nice things about this ward. There are the books I read in between all these episodes. (Still concentrating on the “heavy” novels, I'm now reading Scott's “Ivanhoe” - excellent escapism).
And, above all, there is the quiet, sensible company and conversation of my group of friends. These are “Jock” Hart – a last war veteran with fierce moustaches, MacKay, a slow-speaking Cumbrian with sun-wrinkled face and washed blue eyes, and Staff Sergeant Joe Meek who formerly lived in ward 37 at Sarafend. These three have all been ill and are now recovered; they are all over the age of 35; and they are all quiet and pleasant and serene.

At night we pace around the compound. I am usually with MacKay and he loves to talk about the quaint country customs and sports, and the “rare characters” who seem to be typical of the world's end town of Silloth (population 2,500) from where he comes.
Thank God for books and friends!

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