Lorne Patterson is a Co Longford writer. He is a psychiatric nurse and community educator who has worked in a number of countries, including Britain , the United States and Russia . A past runner-up in the Sean Ó Faoláin short-story competition, he published his first book, Witch, in 2012 to critical acclaim.
THE man his fellow patients call ‘The Professor' has been kept locked up in the high security unit of a mental hospital for a long time. Insane or not – it is hard to tell after all his years of incarceration – The Professor believes a psychiatric hospital should serve the best interests of its constituents. However, he has grown increasingly disturbed by what he sees: shock therapies, psycho-surgery, toxic and addictive medicines, an ever-shifting line on what is illness' and what is ‘treatment' … Seriously disturbed … Something needs to be done and The Professor is just the lunatic to try.
Title Bad Blood
Author Lorne Patterson
Subject classification Fiction
Format/extent 140x216 mm, 124 pp
Publication date December 2013
Price €12-00 PB
"How many did you take?” I ask her.
“The whole bottle.” A pause. “All that was left in it,” she qualifies, her voice muted, flat, stripped of most of its emotion. Valium. Enough for sleepy bye-byes but no adios.
She is not yet able to look at me when we discuss the attempt, her shame at trying still too overwhelming. Or maybe her shame at failing. But that's ok, eye contact will come. For now it is enough that she talks.
I let the silence linger. Time is fluid here in the high-security unit. Measured not by clocks and calendars as in the world Outside, but by the ebb and flow of inner torments, the cadence of meals and medication and case reviews. And the lunar cycle of course, moon madness.
For us patients the full moon is often a monstrous compulsion and driver of mood. Outsiders may not believe in it but the staff here do, and plan around it.
She leans forward, her unkempt hair falling over her face, curtaining it. Smelling of the carbolic soap they issue in hospitals. I think … lavender would be her preferred scent. I see a bruise at the base of her slim neck, an ugly, mottled splash of yellows and blues against her skin. An old bruise. The ones on her arms and swollen face are much more monochrome, the underlying blood still fresh.
“Did it help, what you did?”
Eventually she speaks. “I don't know. It made… things stop for a while.” She lifts her head a fraction to glance up at me. Her one good eye is dark, hollowed with exhaustion, large in her hair-framed face; the other eye still blood-shot and swollen. “I guess I just wanted it to stop for a while.”
Her eye reminds me of a Picasso painting I saw in a magazine that a visitor left on one of the other wards I was on. I try to recall the name, but can't. Hospitals don't approve of Picasso, too disturbed – too disturbing. They usually go for Van Gogh and his flowers or starry nights, not appreciating the irony that madness fuelled his genius. I tilt my head to one side to see if changing perspective sparks recall. Nope, nothing. Her good eye widens in surprise but I am well used to strange looks. Strange is normal where we are.
She had offered me her name, gingerly, as if it might prove a ticket to a worse place than the one she had already found herself in. I like to introduce myself early to new admissions, especially the scared ones. There are a lot of those. Ones like Patricia, still wearing the gown the Accident & Emergency department had given her when they brought her in, thinner than she had a right to be, shrunken into herself as so many of us were, her hair a lank curtain pulled across her thin face. Holding her arms against the pain of her ribs, the padding of the bandage obvious under her gown.
Holding herself too against the fear of this place. Not knowing what to make of it. A small, two-storey orphan, standing on its own amidst the looming presence of the rest of the psychiatric hospital. Those imposing walls the first thing everyone notices, and the high, narrow windows that keep out most daylight but once held in the screaming and pleading of asylum inmates. After all its years, still an implacable edifice of stone and iron - a statement of authority as well as a place for containment and isolation. While we…A modern, brightly-painted facility, with big square windows that from Outside must seem to embrace natural light.
Yet to the rest of the hospital, staff included, the reputation of this secure unit is far darker than their gothic residence. Disturbed. Violent. Punitive. They say you have to be in a bad way - or just bad - to be sent here. That it can be hard to get back out.
And you won't be the same person who went in …
Her first uncertain impressions compounded by Raj's screams bouncing off the walls, making her flinch. “He does it to keep out the silence,” I confided. “The voices don't visit him this early in the day and it leaves a big space in his head. Usually he listens to the Beach Boys but the tape deck was broken in the last fracas we had.” She stared at me wide-eyed before moving sideways towards the hopeful safety of her escorts.
I know what she saw. The other patients here, my friends, have often told me. You come across fine, Professor, they tell me, great smile and all that, but you've still got crazy eyes. Bright eyes, dancing about like you're happy, but we can see other things too. Sometimes there's a strange light in them and then a nerve pulses high on your temple, there, where your hair is white against the black . Brain-fried by the shock-box, they think, and sometimes I believe they're right. Laughing when they say it, their laughter robbing the words of offense. Using my nickname without any of the mockery that some of the nurses take such delight in: “Hey Prof, my kids are giving me real grief about doing their homework. How ‘bout I bring ‘em round and you have a word with them, eh? You straighten them out for me, will you, Prof ?”
Not because I'm an academic or anything like that. Back in my turbulent youth - my inflammable youth - I was an indifferent student, moody, sullen, resentful. But once I'd been hospitalised, I started to pay attention. Started to listen to people, to learn from them. Not to the ones in charge of me, the ones keeping me locked away, but to the others - the patients. I discovered that ill isn't stupid or ignorant, found so many stories, so much caged experience and information. It's amazing what you can learn when you have time and opportunity. And motivation.
I am motivated.
Having been held down, muscles clenched against the injections to come, against the pain of the injections, screams and obscenities wasted.
Motivated by the shock therapy.
It's all frontal lobe and memory they would tell me as they held me down again - you don't get to say no-thanks when you're under Section. One milligram atropine for the secretions, rubber piece in between my teeth, muscle-relaxant and then wham, eighty volts across the temples and pop my lightbulbs.
I don't know if the treatments I was given made me into the new person they desired, or even slowed me down that much. But once the post-shock disorientation lifted it did help me see things clearly.
That treatment wasn't always good.
And it wasn't always right …"
“a real page-turner ... shockingly blunt and honest at times while also lyrical and philosophical … dripping with intrigue and suspense. If you're looking for a short and intriguing read - action packed and tantalising to the end - then Bad Blood will be right up your street.”
Linda O'Reilly The Anglo-Celt
"Haunting and intense, this is a beautifully-written story that remains with you long after you have finished the final chapter."