Sunday, April 3, 2016

Lost Souls

I read an article in the Hamilton Spectator on Nov. 27/15 which brought a tear to me eye. It was titled 'Remembering Margaret, 20 years later'. The story was about Margaret Jacobson a homeless schizophrenic woman who (as the Spectator put it) refused medication and preferred the streets over psychiatric hospitals. She passed away in 1995 at the age of 51 years old after falling and hitting her head in a 'Mr. Sub' sub sandwich shop on King St. East in Hamilton, Ontario. Margaret was 'finally' taken to a hospital and died. As a child, she was institutionalized. Her family abandoned her and moved away. Supposedly Margaret had a son she gave up for adoption.

Prior to her death, I remember seeing Margaret quite frequently where I worked. She would sit in front of the building admiring the flowers and smoke cigarettes. On a regular basis I would notice her experiencing auditory hallucinations. Sometimes I would try to approach her, offering a cigarette but she would always rapidly walk away like she was fearful and terrified...I genuinely felt sorry for this woman. She reminded me of the poem I had to learn when I was in grade 5 called 'Somebody's Mother' by Mary Dow Brine. I wonder if our education system still has that verse in their curriculum...a very touching and heart-warming piece of writing.

The following information is from the Mayo Clinic. Researchers don't really know what causes schizophrenia. They do believe that a combination of genetics and environment contributes to the development of the disorder. They also state problems with certain naturally occurring brain chemicals including neurotransmitters called dopamine and glutamate may also contribute to schizophrenia.

I had a direct and 'hands on' situation with schizophrenia in 1985. I had a decent job with some good time off (of course you have to put the time in to gain the time off) and was offered a part time position working with a male in his late teens who was schizophrenic. He resided at the old Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital (H.P.H.) at the intersection of West 5th Street and Fennell Ave. West in Hamilton, Ontario. H.P.H. was one of many psychiatric institutions that was fully operated by the provincial government. At one time it was called the Ontario Hospital of better known as the O.H. I will refer to the young teen as my 'Buddy' (not his real name). His ward was called the M.R. Care Unit. It was a back ward, distant from the main entrance and across the hall was the psychogeriatrics unit. Both wards were under lock and key. I was issued a key for my 'Buddy's' wing. Upon ingress into M.R. Care, I found it very dark and dismal and housed approximately twenty patients. There was quite a variety of severe mental health illnesses...and I mean variety and severe. Besides schizophrenic patients there were two young men(in their late twenties or early thirties) who were acutely brain damaged from separate motor vehicle accidents and at a blink of an eye could become drastically violent, a twenty-year-old male with meningitis who would stare at people, run and scream, a forty-year-old female who had her hands tied behind her back (she liked to pull her hair out of her head) walk up and down the ward blowing through her lips...she also liked to bite people. I have only mentioned a few of the disorders that the patients exhibited. Most of them had some sort of aggressive behavior and they could easily become agitated, hostile and forceful...that was the main reason why they were inhabitants in M.R. Care. I never realized human beings like that had to see it to believe it.

I bought and read a book titled 'This Stranger My Son; A Mother's Story' by Louise Wilson, about a mother coping with her schizophrenic son. I wanted to enlighten myself and try to understand and improve my knowledge of the horrendous disease. The true story was extremely sad, agonizing and tragic.

My 'Buddy' liked sports so my therapeutic agenda for him was very simple...sports. Of course I wanted to get him out of the depressing and bleak environment as much as possible...away from that discouraging and gloomy place called his home.

Whenever I arrived at my 'Buddy's' unit some patients would dash towards me, wanting to talk or ask me for cigarettes. The people who smoked were rationed cigarettes, I think one cigarette an hour. The ward had a full-time teacher who taught Activities of Daily Living (A.D.L.) and took some of the patients on field trips.

My 'Buddy" was fit and full of energy. H.P.H. had a large gymnasium used for various sports and social activities for the patients. Once a week the patients from other wards would play ball hockey in the gym and both of us would participate in that event. We would also play badminton against each other. We spent a full day at the Queen Street Mental Health Center in Toronto (a provincial psychiatric hospital) for a 'round robin' softball tournament. I would chaperon him to restaurants for a soda pop and simple chit chat. His father gave me two football tickets to a game between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Rough Riders at Ivor Wynne Stadium, now Tim Horton's Field. We attended the game but it was demanding at times. Quite often he would stand up and go for his walk because of those damn fucking voices inside his mind. If he had to go to the washroom I would have to accompany him and visa-versa. I had to constantly watch him...I couldn't leave him alone. I was secondary coach for the Hamilton Hurricanes Football club and the team designated my 'Buddy' the water and ball boy. My philosophy was I will try anything once, if it works, great, if it doesn't at least I tried. Unfortunately, his new position didn't last long. As usual, it was those damn fucking voices. It was impossible to watch him and concentrate on my practices and especially the games...I had to watch him like a hawk. I felt bad about dismissing him but it was for the better especially for his safety and well-being. I continued to 'work' with my 'Buddy' until he was discharged and that was the last time I ever saw him...I hope he is still with us.

Periodically I will see a young male in his late teens walk up and down my street. Sometimes his walk will be as slow as a turtle and other times he will run the 40-yard dash. On occasion, he will take ten minutes or longer to walk a normal residential block. He will walk then stop and his dam fucking voices will kick into his mind and he has a lengthy, serious and thorough conversation with himself. I get choked up at times because I think if he wasn't 'dealt those cards' he would probably live an ordinary life, same goes for my 'Buddy'.

I have a very good friend of mine who's son was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 17 years old...he is 23 years old now and lives with his father. Sometimes my heart bleeds just as much for the parents as it does for the victims.


Sadly it's not like Ken Navarro's song titled 'Blue Skies, Bright Dreams' for these individuals. I have two wonderful and awesome sons, 26 and 28 years old, and never had to deal with the horrors of schizophrenia...I have been extremely fortunate.

The End
Harvenut Puritan    

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