Trying to break free


On the 7th floor of South Street Hospital was the general psych ward.  It was a long hallway with patient rooms along it and about 3/4 of the way down, the nursing station.  Across from the nursing station was the psychiatric intensive care unit, a 4 bed unit for patients in the most acute crisis where they were observed constantly.  That unit had 2 windows, one one either side, and sometimes the patients would press their faces up against them looking out at us.  We were prisoners too, but must have looked free as birds to them, allowed to walk around and even go outside to the courtyard below.  Just past the nursing station were the showers. At the farthest end of the hall was a lounge with a television and two pay phones.

At the entrance to the 7th floor, 7East as it was called, there was a sign in desk with an orderly.  Patients could not enter or leave the unit without signing in and out.  At night the door was locked and patients had to be buzzed in and out from the nursing station.  The door was metal, a fire safety door with a glass window in it.  The window had reinforced glass, little metal lines criss-crossing through it.   It was a strong door.

I made quite a few friends during my various stays at South Street.  It was afternoon that day, I was colouring in the room of a young woman I’d become close with.  Colouring was a favourite hospital pass time of mine.  We were sitting together on her bed, chatting and trying to relax.  There were many of these “normal” moments of human interaction, friendships formed and even laughter in dark moments.

Suddenly, the colouring was disrupted by a man’s voice:  yelling, screaming, panicked and angry.  We heard banging and we ran out into the hall.  The door to the unit was closed, as it was sometimes even during the day when patients were unsettled or considered a “flight risk.”  The agitated man was banging his arms as hard as he could, with seemingly superhuman strength against the glass.  I can’t remember now if his words made sense or if he was just shouting, but it was clear he wanted to get out.  Now.  Almost before we realized the danger, the inevitable happened: his bare arm slipped through the tempered glass.  At this point my friend and I began screaming as loudly as we could “Nurse! Nurse! Nurse!”  We were panicking as this out of control figure began staggering around the hall, as massive, seemingly impossibly large amounts of blood gushed out of his arm, dangerously close to his neck.   We grabbed a towel and threw it towards him, as if it could have been possible to stop the bleeding on a moving, raging target.  First aid was not going to be an option.

It was probably only seconds later that security officers arrived.  Grabbed the man and whisked him away, presumably downstairs to the Emergency Room.  It seems like hours.

The next day a new door arrived.  Solid metal, impenetrable.

The staff spent days trying to scrub the bloodstains from the carpet. They brought in giant fans to dry the water after the unsuccessful cleaning attempt was finished.  I had to walk past the dull red mark daily each time I was admitted to the floor after that day.

We heard that the man survived.  He never came back to 7E.

It’s probably been about 15 years and I remember it like yesterday.


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