Friday, July 14, 2006

Good news at last!

I heard joy in the voice of someone I love tonight and it dried my sodden spirits like the roasting sun.

(I have nearly finished reading ‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen and it has dawned on me that I have not the faintest inkling of how to put together words)

This particular story started 3 years, 7 months and 3 days ago with a phone call from the police. I had only been in my job for 2 months when my mobile rang that morning. I knew they were going round to section him the night before, this wasn’t the first time and I never slept when it happened. I always feared the worst, but this was beyond my darkest imaginings. ‘We’ve got someone here you know’ he said ‘can you guess who?’. Well that set me off on the wrong foot for a start. How many sectionable friends, who were likely to have had their front door smashed down by the police that night, did he think I knew? My first thought was for my friend, what had happened to him, what had they done? It didn’t enter my head for an instant that this gentle, caring, loving, but very sick, man might have done something to them.

‘Is he ok?’ I asked in a panic. ‘He’s fine’ he replied (he was lying).

’ Why is he there? What has he done? Has he got a solicitor?’

‘I can’t tell you that I’m afraid’ (why not?!)’ There’s a duty solicitor here, don’t worry’.

Well this was all new to me but it didn’t sound right at all. He can’t tell me? A duty solicitor? No, I need to get on the case. Years before he had been sectioned and I had met his solicitor. I couldn’t find his name in my head. I started, frantically searching the internet ‘mental health lawyers’ and such forth. I couldn’t call his mum, couldn’t break the news until I knew the facts. Finally a familiar name appeared and I picked up the phone. It was still early and he had just arrived in the office. I gave him the sketchy facts I knew and already I sensed trouble ahead. ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked. ‘It’s probably a coincidence’ he said ‘but I heard a story on the radio as I drove in this morning, something about a mental health patient attacking a policeman, It’s probably not him though’. The moment he uttered those words I knew it was. His life is over I thought.

Immediately I evacuated my desk and rushed across London to the police station. I called his family, the solicitor was already there. We all sat and waited. I will not and cannot describe those painful hours, but I have made myself remember them today. Eventually they let me see him. It was like an illusion. My darling friend broken and babbling. Pacing around a cell in a torn white paper suit with stitches in his shaven head and bruises across his beautiful face. I held him tight and tried to let him feel the comfort of human warmth. But he was in another world, the shock and the trauma of what had happened the night before had taken him away from me.

To tell the tale since those beginnings would take a book, and a pretty miserable one at that. Suffice to say that after a short stay in prison, a few, incomprehensible, appearances in court he was transferred to a secure psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with schizophrenia. I promised him, that day at the police station, that I would not desert him, and I have kept to my word. He feels he has been a burden, but it has been a pleasure to support him through his years of solitude. It doesn’t take much to be a voice from the outside world every day, to give him a home to visit when he was eventually allowed leave. For the little it took from me, the help and security it gave to him was exponential.

I don’t know how he has got through his lonely days. But there has never been a word of complaint, a moment of self pity, or a feeling of despair. He has knuckled down and, as only he is able, got on with the job. He has been a role model in that ward of his. When I visit I am struck by his quiet assurance amongst the drugged up existences surrounding him. He writes the most startling poetry and is doing a journalism course in which he excelling. His memory is beyond the sanest of imaginations.

Today, his exemplary attitude and patient perseverance has finally been rewarded. At his tribunal the judge told him that nothing in any of the reports that he had read was affecting his decision. He was granting him a discharge based solely on the way my friend had handled himself during the hearing. He had proved himself beyond any shadow of a doubt as an intelligent, articulate and compassionate human being. That is the man I know and love. Finally someone has found a way through the prejudice of madness and seen him for the man that he is, my friend, free at last.