Key Themes: novel, psychiatry, family, relationships, mental health
This was often the first question asked by patients and their families when we visited, because Community Psychiatric Nurses did not wear the traditional navy blue uniform associated with the nursing profession.
The answer we gave, “I’m from the hospital, or the health centre,” could make the difference between receiving a warm welcome or the door being slammed in our faces. In certain quarters, being involved with ‘The Social’ carried an unwarranted stigma that a nurse visiting did not.
This is a novel written in the first person by the fictitious ‘Sister Maud’ following the daily activities of a Community Psychiatric Nurse during the nineteen eighties when many of the huge asylums were being closed down.
The towns and villages of the county of Wyndhamshire, doctors and nurses and the colourful characters Sister Maud encounters are all imaginary, but she weaves a tapestry of anecdotes and legends gleaned from the ‘myths of the asylum’ that every nurse will recognise because we all have a wealth of similar stories to tell.
Sister Maud does not delve into the realms of diagnoses, drug regimes and psychoanalysis; instead she demonstrates to the reader how health professionals use humour rather than heavy handed authority to deal with a multiplicity of situations faced every day by nurse and patient.
It is understood that the serious nature of mental illness can never be underestimated, but it is not all doom and gloom. People with mental health issues can and do lead useful and fulfilled lives.
About the Author
Lorraine has been married to David for 45 years. They have two married sons and seven wonderful grandchildren.
Brought up in the era of post-war rationing and make do and mend, self confidence and ambition were not qualities to be admired. Respectability was of paramount importance within the family.
The deaths of the three most important men in their world, a beloved grandfather, father, and an uncle within the space of a few months, cast a dark shadow on the young lives of Lorraine, her sister and brother. Religion and duty were the bywords and they were not allowed to mourn. It was with hindsight that she realised that her teenage years were spent in a haze of undiagnosed depression.
Lorraine went on to become a Registered Mental Nurse and gained the Community Psychiatric Nursing Certificate. She worked as a Community Sister with patients in their own homes until a change in her job description meant that she was dealing with an increased number of cases of depression and bereavement without peer group support. All the repressed grief came to the surface and Lorraine suffered from ‘burn out’ which resulted in an episode of clinical depression that lasted for several years, which she manages to control thanks to an understanding G.P.
Having always written stories since childhood, Lorraine invented ‘Sister Maud’ in order to show to the world that mental illness is not the end, it can be the beginning.
“In at the deep end”
Freddie’s front door had been welded shut by years of diligent spinning by generations of undisturbed spiders, so I struggled through vicious nettles and ragwort to the tradesman’s entrance. Brambles snaked along the crumbling path and grabbed around my ankles. Just what I needed; ripped tights. Not a promising image as ‘Sister Efficiency’ on my first venture out alone as a Community Psychiatric Nurse.
For many years Freddie lived with an aunt who had recently passed away. Freddie was seen by Doctor Elms, the Consultant Psychiatrist, and it was agreed that he was mentally well enough to continue living independently with support. Unfortunately there was to be another upheaval for Freddie; Nurse Thomas, who had been looking after him for several years, was now moving to another area.
“Once you’ve been and tackled Freddie you’ll be ready for anything,” Nurse Thomas had informed me. “The other ninety nine will be a doddle.”
Did I imagine it, or had I detected a fleeting smirk as he handed over the nursing notes?
“Go there first thing in the morning; Freddie’s all right but he doesn’t like change to his routine and if he wants to go to the bookie’s he won’t wait for you and you’ll be chasing round after him for half a day.”
So here I was, bright and early, beating my way through the shrubbery towards this curious house. Barely visible from the street behind a rampant privet hedge, this edifice looked strangely out of place wedged between a short terrace of two up two down cottages, the murky weed infested canal and the dilapidated sheds of a sprawling old mill. It would appear from the height and shape that an ambitious Victorian landowner had started to build a pair of imposing villas, then either lost heart or lost money and abandoned the project half way through.
The outer door had been left ajar.
“Hello, Freddie, are you there?” I called as I tapped lightly on the frame, not daring to touch the frosted glass panels which looked so fragile, as if the merest glance with a knuckle would send them crashing to smithereens. A bill for broken windows was the last thing I needed.
This side of Freddie’s house overlooking the canal had six tall bay windows to match those facing the street. At the corners there were tiny arched windows set into the roof which gave the place the lop-sided appearance of a knobbly nub end cut off a cob loaf.
“Come straight in,” a disembodied voice shouted, “dunner bother knocking.”
He was waiting for me; a good sign I hoped.
I took a deep breath. “Hello, Freddie, do you remember me? I’m Sister Maud, your new nurse,” I called out with false confidence before stepping gingerly on to the porch. Behind the door a fusty mop leaned against a rotting yard brush, abandoned many moons ago. Was I mad, walking into this spooky place?
Freddie appeared by the inner door. He didn’t speak.
“I’m here in place of Nurse Thomas.” I waved my shiny new identification card in his direction.
He still said nothing and my stomach started to churn. ‘Pull yourself together.’ I wasn’t some whey-faced damsel running breathless about the woods of Ruritania in a white nightdress in the dead of night, I was a professional, on duty, in my smart navy blue skirt and sensible lace up shoes, and laddered tights.
This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 19 May, 2011.