30 March 2008

Psychiatric Hospital

My next study of speciality was psychiatry: the branch of medicine dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders.

Which meant that I had to go to a mental hospital.

Welcome to the Asylum of the Insane.

The psychiatric hospital which I traveled to was located at the furthest reach of town, at the village of Iskra. This village probably survived on the existance of that hospital alone. I guess they had a reason to build it that far.

Many people cringe at the idea of going to a mental hospital. You may think that that is a place where twisted minds and retards are condemned for life; those who do survive in there are either crazy or maliciously mad, and they behave like trapped monkeys which try to claw their way out at every given opportunity. And if you somehow ended up there, you'd turn into one of those zombies yourself.

If you think that way, you are probably right.

The block where patients lived and were treated.

However, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Psychiatric hospitals house many types of mentally challenged patients; from the insane to the ones born autistic. Patients could have become mentally unstable because of stressed due to the lost of love ones, or simply because they got involved in a traumatic accident which injured their brains. It could also be of disease origin, like Alzheimer's disease or toxic induced, like alcoholic syndrome.

Lesser known to the public about psychiatric hospitals are actually services that these places offer for treatment of milder mental disorders, such as counselling for those who are depressed or disturbed, those who has personality disorders like aneroxia nervosa or simply for those suffering from all kinds of phobias.

Patients of this hospital, like all other psychiatric hospitals, live in sad states of life. Unlike common diseases like pneumonia or hypertension, mental patients are harder to treat because there are no real cures to most of these diseases, diagnosis can sometimes be subjective, and patients are difficult to communicate with and very often they lose their abilities to care for themselves properly. It is because of this, they are sometimes neglected and uncared for emotionally.

Many a times, patients spend many long years here without making encouraging progress – as if they were given a life sentence they did not deserve.

The study and administration building.

Being a staff at the hospital can be challenging as well. Working in a place like this can be depressing at times; doctors and nurses treating these patients must not only conquer the psycho-emotional factor, but also need to tread interpersonal relationship carefully as well. One wrong remark or action can send the patient spiralling down the abyss of depression further, or turn a mild-mannered one aggressive and destructive. Facing those with mental retardation can be frustrating and patience bending.

As a student, I myself had a taste of interacting with mentally disabled patients. Some patients suffered from degenerative cerebral diseases due to old age, where making simplest of decisions and conclusions could be painfully difficult due to the affection of logical reasoning. An old lady thought that the hospital was actually a railway station because we students wore white lab coats, but she could not understand why she thought so.

The humble staff quarters.

Another patient was a adolescent boy whom I painstakingly interviewed for days, because he was mentally retarded with very low IQ. His reactions were slow, his answers uncertain, and he seemed reserved most of the time. A few days later, hospital staff barred me from seeing him again – his mental state had changed; he had become violent, unstable and dangerous.

The most interesting case that I've encounter far thus was an interview with a former army officer who had become schizophrenic due to work stress. He was educated and spoke excellent English, even to the point of discussing Shakespeare. Hallucination is commonly associated with schizophrenia. He spoke of grief about the accidental death of his daughter who mistakenly drank poison, and after her death appeared to him as an image to assure and console him. He was well aware of his ailment, and was open about being admitted into the hospital, because he could tolerate hallucination no longer. He was cooperative and receptive of his diagnosis.

The schizophrenic officer during the interview.

However, it struck me when I referred to his files. The story was deeper and more sinister than I thought: the man was never married, he never had any child. He was hallucinating a complicated mess all along.

Sometimes I feel sad for these people.

This guy had been here almost his entire life.

As we approached the end of our studies there, we left the ward for the last time. The kind warden opened the door for us and bid us a warm goodbye, and behind our backs the metal gates slams shut-tight, punctuated by the heavy clank of the large padlock. For the patients, life was no different than those of criminals in prisons, except with the inclusion of drugs like sedatives and antidepressants for the rest of their lives.


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