I have been encouraged by the response to my little stories and character sketches inspired by my stay in the hospital.  In the last week, I have been able to write 8 or 9 more, in preparation for collecting them in book form.  While I don’t expect to publish any more of them here in their entirety, I thought I would give you a taste of what awaits when the book comes out.

Charlie’s Story

            It was sometimes hard to tell the patients from the staff on the psych ward.  The techs were encouraged to dress in street clothes rather than scrubs, and to do their best to fit in with the community; so clothing was not always a clue.  The first night I was there, I was convinced that one of the patients was a tech, and that one of the techs was a patient.  There was also a visitor that I thought was a patient, but then again she probably should have been, so she doesn’t count.

            Some of the others you couldn’t miss.  There were the ladies that shuffled around the ward in hospital gowns and robes.  There was the elderly man with a walker, who wouldn’t speak or even look up when spoken to.  There were the patients who would stand too close and speak too loudly and tell too much of their stories to strangers.  There was one young man who wandered the halls in a daze, day and night.  And then there were the Charles Mansons.

            There were three “Charlies” on our ward.  These were men who had neglected their own physical well-being.  Painfully thin, they looked like they had not eaten in a month or two, and their piercing eyes made you wonder what—or who—they might be hungry for.  With long uncombed hair and bushy beards, they tended to stare at anyone who came near.  One moved a chair into the hall near the nurses’ station, and sat cracking his knuckles and intimidating the visitors (and some of the patients).

            I got to know one of the Charlies as our circumstances drew us together throughout the day.  Though frightening in appearance, he was one of the gentlest and most tragic figures I have ever met.  And his name really was Charlie.

            At 6’4”, he towered over all the other members of the community.  He couldn’t have weighed more than 180 lbs. (160 without the hair and beard), though he told me that just months earlier he had been over 300.  He lay in bed all day and all night, his feet hanging over the edge, and his eyes watching the hall through the doorway.  He said he slept, but if he did, it must have been so lightly that the slightest sound or movement would awaken him.  He told me that he had slept away the past 9 months of his life, and that he might sleep away the rest of it.—he had nothing to wake up for.  I took that remark as an invitation to ask him his story.

            Oh—before I forget—he wore a red union suit.  You know the kind; the one-piece long underwear with the drop-flap in the back?  That’s what he wore, in slightly faded but still devilish red; and that’s all he wore, regardless of how often the techs would bring him other clothes to substitute or put on over his own.  One day he wore a shirt to attend dinner, but I never saw him with pants or shoes.  At least he kept the flap buttoned up.

 

Interested? I’ll let you know when the full version is available.  Sorry, Beth–you’ll have to wait a little longer for Charlie to tell his tale!

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