continued from previous post ...
Why the behaviour ward? I think, in all honesty, it was because I was (am) big. All the male staff were huge hulking men ... all the female staff were the kind of women that you'd have expected to be female pilots in WWII, no shrinking violets these. The ward was odd, it was a place of violent behaviour and violent controls, yet it was painted with cartoon characters all over the walls. It was a bit disconserting watching one of the clients attempt to smash a staffs skull up against Mickey or Minnie. It was even more disconserting to watch the staff establish control over and over again. No matter how often they tried, they always, in the end failed.
What struck me as particularly interesting was John. He was a lean man with a shock of red brown hair and a wallet crammed with photo after photo he'd cut from magazines. If you took the time to let him show you the pictures, he'd tell you that they were pictures of friends and family. He'd look hard at your face to see if you believed him, it was as if our belief would make it real. John was probably the most dangerous on the ward. He was receiving electroshock therapy and would be taken to the Mental Health Centre to receive the treatments.
I went with him once, he knew what was going to happen and he was afraid. He looked at the pictures in his wallet the whole way there (he didn't remember he had a wallet on the way back) and he spoke to the photos in a low chant - begging them to stop what was going to happen. I was new, I didn't know. They strapped him down, shot him with a drug that rendered his limbs useless - then they ran currents of electricty through is body.
After a time, I rode with him back to the ward. He wasn't just subdued, he was absent. All of us on the ward were fearful of him. His reputation was that just shy of iconic. Yet, now for the first time ever, I realize that I'd never seen him act out. Never get violent. Never live down to his reputation. But nevertheless I, like everyone else, feared him.
Until one morning.
The cleaner had come on to the ward somewhere around 4:00 am. I was working the overnight and I was astonished to see John peek out of his ward bedroom and look to see where the cleaner was. It wasn't hard to spot, or hear, the cleaner who was using a huge industrial machine to wash and wax the floor. John waved to the cleaner who waved back and smiled. Then John came out and walked with him. They chatted as the machine made its way back and forth across the floor. Neither of them realized I was watching.
There was a calmness about John that I'd never seen before. His wallet, which he was never without during the day, was left behind. It took almost an hour for the floor to be done and for the entire time they walked together. Casually spending time together.
As the cleaner let himself out of the ward, John made his way back to bed and I called to the janitor. I asked if John did this regularly and was told that every time the floor is waxed, John came and walked with the cleaner and chatted. I asked what John had talked about and was looked at like the gestapo asking a priest about confessional. I dropped the question. The cleaner said, "I don't know why he's here, I've never met a more gentle man."
And he was gone.
He met John where John was and John became who John was. This man, a staff like me, established rapport easily. He never abused the power that the keys gave him. He showed me where the line was ... and in his way ... dared me to stay on the right side of it.