First of all I want to say a big thank you to Rick and his team at The Book Shop Lee-on-the-Solent for allowing me to do the book signing in the shop on Saturday. It was a great experience and is a lovely little book shop, crammed full of a vast range of books, cards, stationery items, calendars and loads of other stuff. The signing was a success - I enjoy chatting to new people about my novel, I sold 5 in the time I was there and Rick bought another 5 from me to keep in stock, so if you are in the area, drop in and have a look. I guarantee you will love the shop and the people working there. You may even get a choccy biscuit. Oh, and this Saturday Zella Compton is going to be there signing her new novel for young people, The Ten Rules of Skimming so get along there and support another great author - this novel will make a great Christmas gift.
Yesterday I was in the studio recording with Terry Powell for his radio show which is on this evening at 7.00pm. I was interviewed about my life in psychiatric nursing and how I came to reach the point of writing a novel. We talked about many things and, of course, I was able to talk about the book and where people can purchase a copy locally. What I forgot to say on air was that you can also buy it from Amazon, both as a paperback and a Kindle version. It is also available on several other book websites including Completelynovel.com which is the site that I published through. So, if you still haven't got your own copy, now you know where you can get one from.
You can also buy a copy from Waterstones in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, Earl's Coffee Shop in Titchfield, The One Tree Bookshop in Petersfield, The Hayling Island Bookshop, Cafe Flo in Castle Road, Southsea, The Golden Lion, Southwick, Arty's Pizza Bar in Knowle Village and Southwick Village Post Office. Waterstones in Fareham have now booked me to do a signing there on 3rd November, so they will shortly have some in stock too.
In the meantime - here is chapter 23.
It was early afternoon on the ward, a quiet time amongst the chaos of the day with just a few patients either pacing the ward, or wandering about from dining room to lounge in an aimless fashion.
Karen was still reeling from her visit to the doctor that morning, her mind on what she'd say to Peter when she saw him that evening. It was unbelievable that he could have told such lies about her and she was in a turmoil as to how she would be able to deal with it. A certain fear was festering deep inside her. She tried to push thoughts of him from her mind as she drew herself back to the present.
'Come and sit down Kathy,' Karen called across the room.
The dining tables were all clear apart from two which had been pushed together. Karen sat at one, overseeing a small group of the ladies who were gluing coloured shapes of paper onto cardboard sheets which were folded into greetings cards.
Kathy constantly paced the room - a large woman dressed in a too-short, too-tight crimplene dress, with greasy jet-black hair which not only covered her head, but also sprouted from various parts of her face. Her sleeves were rolled up revealing a lattice-work of scars on her arms, her bare feet thundered on the floor as she passed to and fro.
At the tables, Rosie, Annie and Millie sat together, and were working quietly at their tasks, whilst Karen was cutting out shapes for them to glue.
'Steady on with that glue, Rosie,' Karen noticed the porridge-like glue, dropping in great blobs onto the table.
'Sorry nurse,' Rosie said, but carried on as before.
'Kathy, will you come and join us?' Karen called as she stood up and walked towards Kathy. 'Come on, you love making cards.'
'Bugger off, bitch!' Kathy glared at Karen.
'Don't be like that,' Karen said. 'Just come and sit down for a while.'
'I said bugger off!' Kathy's arm swung back. Karen felt the sweep of her arm as a gust of air before Kathy's fist hit her in the face with a thud, lifting Karen from her feet. Time seemed to stand still as Karen flew backwards across the gallery and landed against the opposite wall. She felt herself slide to the floor.
The world was silent for what seemed like an age, Karen lying in a vacuum before all hell was let loose. She felt the sudden weight of Kathy who had leapt across to land on her chest, forcing the air from her lungs. Kathy took hold of Karen's hair and smashed her head backwards onto the floor. Her face was inches from Karen's, spittle spraying from her mouth. She laughed as her arms were gripped from behind by Mike and Andy who hauled her off and threw her to the floor. Mike held her in a headlock - Andy held her legs.
'Oh, my God, Karen, are you alright?' Linda held Karen's head on her lap whilst Dorothy knelt beside her, gripping her hand.
Karen tried to assure them that she was alright, but just a garbled noise came from her throat.
'Get her some water,' Linda shouted to Marion who was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, watching from a distance. Marion turned and ambled back into the kitchen.
'For God's sake, Marion!' Linda shouted after her. 'Bloody woman,' she said, under her breath.
'I'm alright,' Karen managed to whisper. 'Just help me up.' She tried to struggle to her feet, leaning on Linda and Dorothy. Her legs gave way under her as she stood and they helped her to a nearby chair.
'Dorothy, get over here and give us a hand,' Mike called, as he and Andy still struggled on the floor with Kathy, her legs kicking out at them. Dorothy sat on the floor next to Kathy and took hold of her arms from behind.
'Wait there,' Mike said. 'I'll get some Largactil and give her a jab.' He ran down the wide corridor to the clinic room. Soon he returned with a syringe filled with the tranquilliser. He thrust the needle into Kathy's thigh and administered the drug without further ceremony.
'Now we need to get her to her room,' Mike said. 'Take this.' He handed the syringe to Dorothy, and the two men pulled Kathy up to a standing position and marched her between them along the corridor. They pushed her through the open door and hastily closed it behind her, turning the key in the lock.
'Now Karen,' Mike called as he marched back towards the dining area. 'Let's have a look at your face.' Karen held onto Linda as they walked to the clinic room, Karen stumbling, feeling dizzy with shock and stupidity. Mike pulled a chair into the middle of the room and Karen sat down gratefully. She felt sick to the core.
'You're going to have a nice shiner there,' Mike said. 'We need to put something cool on it to stop the swelling.' He busied himself with a dressing pack, soaking the lint under the cold water tap. 'Here, put this on it.'
Karen took the wet pad and placed it over her cheek.
'Luckily the skin wasn't broken,' Mike added. He probed the back of her skull gently with his fingertips.
'Ouch, that's sore,' Karen complained as he reached the tender spot where her head had made contact with the floor.
'Sorry, but I have to make sure there's no cuts. How's your chest? Any broken ribs?'
'I just feel bruised,' Karen grimaced. 'And totally stupid, letting it happen.'
'You never know with Kathy,' Mike said. 'She can be fine for weeks, and then suddenly she'll just snap, for no real reason. It's not your fault. Just remember that you always have to be on your toes in this place.'
'I'll remember that in future,' Karen smiled. 'Don't worry.'
'Well, it looks like you'll live, but you'd better be careful over the next few hours. You should go home.'
'I don't think I can,' Karen said, wondering how she was going to manage the two buses home on her own.
'What about your husband?' Mike asked. 'Could you phone him and get him to pick you up?'
'No! It’s nothing,' said Karen. Disturbing Peter was the last thing she needed. It would only give him more fuel to the argument of her giving up the job. 'I'll be alright in a while,' she went on. 'Just let me sit quietly for a bit.'
'Well you'd better stay in the office then,' Mike agreed. 'Put your feet up on the coffee table and rest until you feel well enough to go home.
'I'll get you a cup of tea,' suggested Dorothy, always ready with the answer to all ills.
'Thanks Dorothy.' Karen smiled.
Karen sat and pondered on the morning's events. Her heart was racing and she felt an excitement bubbling. 'It must be the adrenaline rush,' she thought, realising that she liked the feeling. Not knowing what each day would bring, living on the edge, in constant danger. She knew she could never give it up.
Karen was still in the office an hour later when the door opened and John pushed his way into the room.
'Hello, Karen,' he began. 'Oh my God, are you alright?' He sat on the chair beside her and took her hand. 'You look awful.'
'I'm alright,' Karen insisted.
'That bloody Kathy! She's so unpredictable - they should sort out her medication.’
'She had some Largactil. She's sleeping it off now.' Karen looked at the floor.
'I mean, something to stop her kicking off in the first place.' He stood up.
'I should have been ready for her.' Karen was embarrassed. 'Everyone kept warning me about her.'
'But she's been alright for the past couple of months.' He was looking through the glass window into the ward. 'You just don't expect it when it happens. It's not your fault.' He turned and smiled at Karen.
'What are you doing here, anyway?' Karen changed the subject.
'Mike rang and asked me to work - so you could go home.'
'Thanks. But I'll be alright.'
'Yeah, but you might as well get home,' he said. 'No point in staying here if you don't have to.'
'What exactly is wrong with her?' Karen asked.
'Kathy? Haven't you read her notes?' John asked. 'She's a schizophrenic. When she came in she was violently mad. She tried to throttle her husband and she used to cut herself all the time.'
Karen remembered the scars criss-crossing Kathy's arms. 'I don't understand really. What makes people like that?'
'It's an illness,' John said. 'Not much you can do about it, apart from taking strong sedatives. You know, like Largactil, or Melleril. And now there’s depot drugs like Modicate. They're supposed to stop the voices,' he added.
'Does Kathy hear voices?'
'Haven't you heard her talking to them?'
'I've seen her talking to herself,' Karen said. 'Doesn't everyone?'
'She's not talking to herself,' he replied. 'Just listen next time.'
'Is it like being depressed?' Karen asked.
'Nothing like it,' John said. 'Mostly you can cure depression, but you can't cure schizophrenia. You just damp it down.' He laughed.
'What's so funny?' Karen asked.
'Nothing. Sorry.' John paused. 'They used to do leucotomies on patients to try and cure them when they were really mad in the old days. Some of our worst patients are ones where it went wrong.'
'What the hell is a leucotomy?' Karen had heard the word before, but had no idea what it meant.
'They cut into the brain, hoping to stop violent behaviour and to make them normal again. It’s a bit hit and miss and when it goes wrong you end up with people like Gloria who have nothing left. They're just like animals.' He sighed. 'Then we have to teach them how to do everything, like washing, dressing, using knives and forks. They're totally brain-damaged. You’ll learn all about it in training.'
'I'm glad they don't do that anymore,' Karen said. 'ECT was bad enough.'
'Oh, they do still use it at times,' John said. 'This bloke on Spencer Ward, he'd stuck an axe through his own head. Had loads of ECT after he recovered from the axe. Nothing worked, so they carted him off to do the leucotomy.'
'But he got better,' John added. 'The last time I saw him, he was smiling and laughing. So it was a great success, apparently. Of course you have to remember that most of the women on this ward have been here for years, and surgery was much more hit and miss even only ten years ago.'
'I wouldn't want to have that done to me, even now,' Karen said.
'That won't happen to you.' He smiled. 'Are you feeling better now?'
'Much better, thanks.' She returned his smile. 'I haven't seen you for a while. How's things?'
'Great,' he answered. 'We should get together again sometime.'
'I'd like that,' Karen hesitated. 'Could we meet up tomorrow after the shift?'
'Sorry, can't do tomorrow. I'm off home for a few days.'
'Home?' Karen wondered. 'Where's that?'
'My parents live in Southampton. I'm meeting up with some of my old mates. It's a twenty-first birthday party. Sorry.'
'Don't worry.' Karen felt the smile fix on her face whilst her heart sank a little.
'Yeah, well, I'd better get on with some work.' John opened the door. 'Take care of yourself.'
He was half way down the ward before Karen's heart stopped its loud thumping. She had a slightly hollow feeing inside as she realised that John had just let her down gently. 'What an idiot,' she told herself. What to her had been a special moment was probably just another fling to him. Linda had warned her not to take anything too seriously but she'd thought she knew better. Her head was spinning with a muddle of thoughts as she walked to the staff locker room and gathered her bag.
'You off then?' Mike popped his head around the open door.
'I think I need to get home if that's alright.' She swallowed down her disappointment and glanced up at him. 'I'm feeling better now.'
'Take time off tomorrow,' said Mike. 'Those bruises will be coming out by then.'
'Thanks.' She pulled on her jacket, took up her bag and walked to the ward door. Linda came out of the kitchen wheeling a trolley just as she reached the door.
'You alright now?' Linda stopped to talk to Karen.
'I'm fine,' Karen assured her. 'Thanks for taking care of me earlier. You're a good friend.'
'As long as you're alright. Have you spoken to John?' Linda asked. 'I saw him coming out of the office.'
'We had a bit of a chat,' Karen blushed. 'I don't think anything will come of that.'
'It's probably just as well. He's lovely, but doesn't take anything seriously.'
'Anyway, I'm married,' said Karen. 'I've just got to get on with it, haven't I?'
She unlocked the door and turned back to Linda. 'See you in a couple of days. Mike's given me tomorrow off.'
'Take care,' said Linda.
'I always do. See you later.' The door slammed behind Karen and she limped down the stairs, flinching with pain as each step jolted her still sore ribs.