The Purgatory Wing

Prompt Day #21: You are a new doctor at a bizarre institution. You’ve been assigned to work “The Ward of Failed Suicides.” Describe your first day.

This one was pretty fun for me. I could see the movie playing in my head. I would have liked to go further but I really needed to cut it shorter so I could get it posted tonight. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

The Purgatory Wing

“Ah, Dr. Daniels, Welcome to Contrition Asylum. We have been in such need of your services. Please forgive me if I ask you to start immediately and see to some of our most afflicted residents. Perhaps once you’ve finished, I can give you more of a proper tour.” The older gentleman whose white smock read Dr. Philter PhD stood waiting in the lobby area. He extended a hand to Daniels.

Daniels looked around. The Asylum was abysmal and certainly not the position he had imagined when he entered medical school so long ago. But so many things had changed since then, hadn’t they? And here he was not so much by choice but by fate; the blind leading the blind. He was here now though and there was no turning back. He had nowhere else to go. He simply nodded and gestured to Dr. Philter with a “you first” sweep of his arm.

Philter walked him through the dingy maze of the aged building. Daniels heard the disembodied cries of pain, both physical and emotional and he flinched. He saw the rest of his life looming ahead of him like one of the dank charcoal hallways that veered off from this main hall they were currently walking. He wasn’t sure if the gloom he felt was for himself or empathy for those whose cries echoed in the halls. The last hall on the left of the main was closed off with double doors chained closed and held with a padlock. The door held a sign that read:

AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY

FAILED SUICIDE WARD

Philter pulled a ring of keys out of his pocket and unlocked the doors. He took the key off his ring and handed it to Daniels.

“Keep this, you will be the only one with the key so If you lose it, no one will be able to get in or out.” He looked serious but Daniels couldn’t believe it. How did staff members get in or out? Shouldn’t these residents in particular be supervised at all times? He turned back to the door and re-read the sign, perhaps he had misread it. It hadn’t changed. He turned back to ask Philter about it but the man was already hurrying back down the corridor. Daniels took a deep breath, turned back around, and opened the double doors.

He stared at the implausible length of the collection of rooms in front of him. It appeared to go on forever. On the left, the rooms began immediately with room 601 but to the right was a small alcove with a desk, a filing cabinet, an arm chair and a chaise lounge. There was a stack of files on the desk and on top of the stack, a hand written note. Start with these patients first, they are the newest and the most likely to be helped. It would be best to lock the door on this side once you’ve entered. Take a moment to do that. Daniels quickly complied and returned to the note. Room 612 is the first room to your right; it is yours when you need to rest. Everything you need is there. If you have a meal request, send it via note on the dumbwaiter and send it on. Your meal will be delivered thereafter.

Daniels walked over and peaked into the room. It reminded him of the bland call rooms of his residency. He went back to his desk and began to peruse the charts. The charts were brief but the paucity of information made his pre-round preparation quick and efficient. Each chart contained no name or identifying information. Each resident was assigned a number which corresponded to their room number. Beyond this, the background information contained gender, age, number of prior suicide attempts and type of attempt. He decided the easiest approach would be to start at room 601 and work his way around to his own room in 612. He would have lunch and then proceed on to the residents who had been here the longest. He gathered the new patient files and began.

The first few he saw said nothing. They all had attempted suicide by overdose. He spoke softly to them but each sat on the edge of their bed, heads hung. They made no eye contact and spoke no words. He touched each one’s shoulder before he left. None of them reacted. He moved on. The next patient (he reminded himself to think of them as residents instead of patients) was a young female. Room 606. She, at only 17, had attempted suicide multiple times by slitting her wrists. This recent attempt cost her use of her left hand and awarded her with 6 units of blood. How she survived it, he could not imagine. She sat with her left hand, now claw, palm up on the bed. She was not hanging her head; she sat staring at the grey cinderblock wall 6 feet from her bed. He stopped just before blocking her vision of whatever she was imagining she saw on the wall.

“Hello there” He said and held his hand out to her. “I’m Dr. Daniels. What’s your name?” This one actually responded. She looked up at him, surveyed him top to bottom, and then smiled. It was a weak smile; there was more sadness to it than joy.

“Naomi. My name is Naomi. How are you?” She asked politely.

“I’m just fine, Naomi. How are you? How’re your wrists? Are they healing up ok?” He thought he’d start with a basic physical exam. Isn’t that what proper doctors did? Even ones that barely graduated. Ones that couldn’t seem to get a surgical residency position anywhere and finally had to settle for psychiatry because it was the only specialty that would take them? She was staring at him again.

“I wouldn’t say they’ve healed exactly” She said holding her wrists up to him to inspect. She hyperextended both hands so the gaping wounds could easily be seen. They were so deep yet there was no redness around the crevices in the skin. No evidence of any blood existing in the body. No evidence of any healing either. He brought her hands back to a normal anatomical position as if he’d seen everything he needed to.

“How long ago did you do this?” He asked nonchalantly.

“I can’t really remember anymore. It doesn’t matter though, I didn’t do it right and so now I am being punished here.” She said wistfully.

“It’s not a punishment. We all just want to make sure you are well enough to go back out there.” He pointed back towards her door. She laughed silently.

“Is that so? Come with me, Dr. Daniels, please. I want you to meet some people” She took his hand with her still functional right one and led him out of her room and back to the hallway.

“In this room there is Maggie. She hung herself.” Naomi opened the door and they walked in to see a chubby, middle aged woman, lying on her bed. She won’t talk to you, she can’t. See how her tongue is all swelled up and purple? If she opened her eyes, you’d see they are all bruised too. Can you fix that doctor?” She took him back out and into the next room; Naomi left the door to Maggie’s room open. Maggie never moved.

“Here is Ivan. Ivan jumped off his apartment building. He crushed the bones in both legs and one of his arms was torn off on his way down when, by instinct, he reached out to try to grab a window ledge on the way down.” They walked in to see a man who immediately brought to Daniels’s mind an illustration from a children’s book his grandmother read to him. It was a rhyme about a crooked man who lived in a crooked house and had crooked pets and so on and so on. This crooked man named Ivan certainly didn’t look as spritely as the man in his nursery rhymes.

“Oh God.” Daniels gasped. There were still shreds of skin hanging from his shoulder where an arm used to be. His legs were swollen and mottled and amorphous. The man was a monstrosity and it was evident, even to a medical school flunkee that this man had not received the appropriate medical attention before being shipped here. He opened Ivan’s chart and made a note to order a medical exam and narcotic pain medications. He also made a mental note to have a serious conversation with Dr. Philter about this as soon as he had seen all of his residents. Naomi watched him curiously. Ivan only glanced over at the two and then back to the wall. Daniels made another note: posters, radios, televisions?

“Ready?” Naomi asked. He swallowed. He was not really. He was completely overwhelmed. He told himself he would see one more and then he would excuse himself back to his “call room” to make some notes. Imagining that he would be able to see all these patients/residents in one day was a rookie mistake, he realized. He would do his charting, go home and unpack his textbooks. He’d take them to the local pub and study. He would not fail this time. He nodded.

“Ok, one more.” He said. She led him further down the hall. Room 632.

“Now, before we go in, you must prepare yourself. I think you’ve seen what you needed to in order to understand what you’ve got here, but this one, I think will make it perfectly clear. When you’re ready, I’ll help you back to your room. You’ll need to rest.” She said kindly, as if she were the doctor and he the patient (resident). He nodded assent.

“This is Mike. He had a fight with his girlfriend, and all he could think about was hurting her. But what he really wanted was for her to see how badly she was hurting him. So he took out a rifle and he put it in his mouth and he pulled the trigger. She pushed the door and let it swing open on its own allowing the visage to come into view slowly.

The thing that sat on the bed had the body of a man. A big man. But where the man’s head should be, was a black-red crevice, frayed edges of the crevice curled outward. Bits of flesh and tissue moved with the air currents and grey matter dripped from time to time running down to mingle with the saliva that ran freely from where teeth and lips once dammed it up. One eye ball rolled frantically in its socket trying to focus on the two standing in the doorway. His voice box and tongue still complete and intact worked to speak to them although no other accoutrements of speech were in place to assist. What came out sounded like a man who’d been given far too much Novocain at the dentist’s office. Naomi sat down and put her hand on the man’s. She shushed him.

“It’s ok. You don’t have to say anything. Dr. Daniels came today. He is new and I was just introducing him to everyone.” She looked to Daniels: “Do you see?” She asked.

“How is he here? This man should be in the hospital! This man should be dead! I can see his brain! He blew his head apart. Oh My God, what is this place?” He fell to his knees, head in his hands. He couldn’t look at the pitiful creature sitting in front of him. This is why. This is why he wasn’t cut out to be a doctor. Not even a psychiatrist. He knew this the first day of class but his father and grandfather and every male in his family as long as the records went back had been a physician and there simply was no other option for Philip Daniels IV. He only graduated because his family had been benefactors to the school since the thing was built and it was done as a favor to the Daniels (and surely to continue the generous annual donations). There was no way out. He heard himself sobbing and it made him sick. All this pain and suffering around him and here he was lamenting his high paying career. He stood up quickly and wiped the tears away.

“I’m very sorry, Michael. Naomi, I need to go to my room, now. I need to rest a moment. Will you excuse me?” She smiled that empathetic smile at him again and nodded. Still holding onto Mike’s hand.

Daniels stepped out with as much professional aplomb as he could muster and shut the door. He ran to his room and fell on the bed, releasing his sobs yet again. He cried himself to sleep.

When he awoke, his throat was quite raw and sore. He rubbed it, it was sore to the touch as well. There were no mirrors on the ward (broken glass is a cutting hazard). He thought it might have been from all the crying. The lights in his room were on, he checked his watch. Eight O’clock. He needed to go. He hadn’t eaten dinner and he really wanted to get into those textbooks. He reached into his pockets but the key wasn’t there. He must have left it on the desk, it was the last place he’d had it out. Yes. He’d left it on the desk. He put his coat back on and pulled at the door to his room. Locked. How was it locked? He banged his fist on the door.

“Hello? Naomi? Naomi, can you let me out of my room? I seemed to have locked myself in?” He shouted as loudly as his throat (Yes very sore indeed) would let him. He listened. He heard footsteps coming to the door. Thank God. Keys jingled and the door swung open. A young man in a white coat stood there with a folder.

“Hello there.” He said. “How are we feeling today?”

Daniels stepped back. “I’m no patient, I mean resident, I’m the doctor here. Dr. Daniels. Where is Dr. Philter? He’ll tell you.”

“Yes, Philip. You remember me. I am Dr. Philter. How is your throat today? Nasty belt burn you got there. The physical pain will fade in time, and when you’re ready, all the pain will be gone and you will be released.”

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