I walk through the hospital’s dizzying corridors. I’ve been seeing mother for the past four days. She was diagnosed with late-onset schizophrenia. The doctors are giving her anti-psychotic drugs, under observation. They will release her once they are confident her prescription is working. I’m only glad there is treatment for her condition.
I see Nurse Doris up ahead—the psychiatric ward sentinel.
“Hello William,” she says as I reach her counter.
She sports an ostentatious smile, like a salesperson.
She is giving me this look. It’s not a sympathetic look; I’ve had enough of those to know this is not it. It is more a questioning stare. She has been eyeing me like this in the last couple of visits.
“Hello Nurse Doris,” I respond with a forced smile.
“You are here to see your mother.”
“Before you go in, I was wondering if we could have a small chat.”
Small chat? She must think I’m six. I’m in no mood to talk to suspicious nurses.
She leans in on her counter.
“How old are you, by the way?”
Her unsettling, fake smile is still plastered on her face.
“I see,” she says with a head nod.
“And you told Doctor Lanely that you were staying with your uncle?”
Actually, I told him that I could stay with my uncle.
“I told Doctor Lanely?” I fake annoyance.
“Are you suggesting that I was lying?”
“No, I am trying to understand the situation.”
“Well, I have never seen your uncle and you always come here alone.”
“Why is that?” she asks with a frown and cocked head.
Her talents are wasted in a hospital. Playacting is her true calling.
“The school bus drops me off near the hospital. I come here directly before I get to my uncle’s house.”
She leans in closer. I can see the dark bags under her eyes.
“But I think I saw you on the weekend. Again, you were alone.”
I hesitate. Bad move.
“Mother had just been admitted. I had not moved in with my uncle yet.”
She knits her brow. I need to play another card—the sympathy card.
“I couldn’t think about anything else just after the ambulance took mom away. I only called my uncle when I was certain that she was alright.”
Her face softens.
“Oh, of course.”
She looks at me like I’m a lost puppy.
“You must understand why I’m asking all this. I’m worried about you. I need to know that you are well taken care off.”
You don’t need to worry. I’m doing just fine on my own.
“Ok, you can go see your mother now.”
I maintain my sad face until I am facing the corridor. Though relieved to have escaped the interrogation, I’m not sure if I convinced Doris. She doesn’t seem like the type to be swayed easily. I never thought I would ever wish to be an adult. Nowadays, that is all I wish.
When I get into mother’s room, she is sitting in her chair, reading a book. When she sees me, she puts her book on her lap and smiles up at me. She is now a shadow of her former, vibrant self.
“How are you feeling today?” I ask her.
“Better, now that you are here.”
Her smile fades.
“I’m the one being taken care of. We should be worrying about you.”
“We went through this mom. I’m fine. I use your bank card to get all my meals and the bus takes me to school every day. I don’t need to be taken care of. Besides, you will be back home soon.”
She looks at her book.
“I won’t be able to take care of you,” she says quietly.
“I may need someone to take care of me.”
“I will take care of you. I will take care of both of us.”
She shakes her head.
“No. You need to live your life as a teenager.”
“Maybe you will have to live with your uncle,” she forces the words out.
“No. I won’t live with him.”
I barely know him.
“Let me take care of us. We have enough money from father’s and your savings and Cerecon to last us until I finish college. I have already done the math. We can do this.”
“There is the matter of you being a minor.”
“But you are an adult,” I say desperately.
“Just barely,” she says rolling her eyes.
“OK, let’s not talk about this anymore. Tell me about your day. How was school?”
We talk about school and then the book she’s reading. It’s a memoir by Lorraine Marches, a woman who was diagnosed with ALS.
Lorraine had to come to terms with her diagnosis and the knowledge that her condition would only get worse. Her career as a physiotherapist would end, she would eventually lose all body function, rely completely on a caregiver and would probably die before her parents. Although faced with all this, Lorraine decided to live every day like it was her last. She finally left her loveless marriage and visited all the places she always wanted to go—Switzerland, the Seychelles, South Africa and Taiwan. When death would come for her, she would be ready.
Mother says she is inspired by Lorraine, who got one of the worst possible diagnoses but was brave to the very end. I am glad that she is beginning to derive normalcy from the abnormal situation.
I only leave the hospital when the visiting hours have passed.
The next morning, I go through my normal routine—take a shower, sit down for my cereal and get ready to catch the bus. Just as I’m packing my books into my backpack, there is a knock at the door. I cannot fathom who could be at the door this early in the morning.
I open the door to see a woman standing there. She is dressed in a grey suit, probably early forties and she is holding a file.
“Hello,” she says with a smile.
“Are you William Bain?”
I hesitate. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her before.
“Yes,” I reply cautiously.
“Good. I’m Gladys Parks. I’m a Social Worker. I was assigned to your case. Is your uncle here?”
She flashes her annoying smile again.