Monday, April 14, 2003


We went to visit Jo anyway, a couple of days after she was admitted. In the meantime, I had consulted some other friends about what was the best thing to do. As one put it, I was her friend and had every right to be concerned for her welfare as her family. Visiting friends in hospital - even psychiatric hospitals - was something that friends did. The best thing to do was to check what the hospital's policy was. When I did, I got the impression that they were all in favour of patients getting visits from friends as well as family. It certainly wasn't prohibited as a matter of general hospital policy.

Visiting was a sneaking, underhanded business at first. We were careful to pick times when we didn't expect any family members to be there and for the first couple of visits we were successful. At times Jo's condition was distressing and there were other times when we weren't allowed by the staff to see her at all because she was in the quiet room. The hospital itself was a pleasant place: even the (locked) John Cade ward where Jo stayed for most of her stay there. there were no obvious bars on the windows or doors: instead, the windows were mounted in frames that it would be impossible to squeeze a human body through and the doors into the ward were glazed with heavy perspex rather than wire reinforced glass. At least that's the way I remember it.

Royal Park hospital is closed now - its long-term patients were de-institutionalised during the Kennett years. I sometimes come across de-institutionalised patients or their traces on my weekend walks. A couple used to live rough in Royal Park itself: there's plenty of places there where someone who wants to hide themselves from the world can do it. Another time, it was bedding spread out to dry in the sun in a small park on the banks of the Merri Creek although there was no sign of the owner. Just a couple of institutional blankets and a bedsheet. There's a man who can sometimes be seen in Sydney Road fossicking in rubbish bins (although he usually does that after dark). Like Allan Fels' daughter Isabella, Bea was lucky: when she became suicidally depressed, there was a friend at hand to take care of her and get her into hospital. Jo was lucky too, give or take the ineptitude of a couple of her friends: she became ill when we still had a working mental health system.


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