Some years ago shortly after I moved to work in Bradford, something happened that made me think carefully about what it means to be a psychiatrist. In the lead up to Christmas we managed to discharge many patients so that the ward was empty, ready to take the anticipated flood of admissions that usually occur over the holiday period. I went home to my family, comfortable, warm, loved and secure. I didn’t pause to think how fortunate I was.
A few days later after the holiday period came to an end, I returned to work and was surprised to find the ward as quiet and as empty as it was on Christmas Eve. When I asked the sister in charge how things had been, she told me they had been quieter than usual and they’d had only a couple of admissions. Why was that, I asked? No idea, she replied.
A few days after New Year’s Eve I understood why it was everything had been so quiet over the holiday period. One of my patients was admitted to the ward in a very distressed and incoherent state. This person, a man in his mid 40s whom I shall call “Paddy”, was a regular at Bradford Mind. I couldn’t get any sense out of him other than that he kept saying he’d had no sleep and no money. In those days I held regular drop in sessions at Mind, where anyone could come and ask for advice and help or support. A few days after Paddy’s admission, I was approached at my drop in by a woman, a survivor friend of Paddy’s, who asked to speak to me.
“I suppose you know that Paddy was admitted last week.”
“Yes” I replied. “A real shame. He’d been doing so well before Christmas.”
“Well do you know why?”
“No?” I replied, curious.
“He had loads of people staying over with him, dossing down on his floor. His flat was full. They ate him out of house and home, and he had no sleep for several days listening to them, talking to them.”
“Why was that?” I asked, naively.
“They were all in crisis themselves and had nowhere to go. The last place they wanted to be over Christmas was in hospital, so Paddy took them in. If he hadn’t they would all have ended up in hospital. He must have prevented a dozen admissions.”
So, as we settle down with a glass of wine to watch some crap movie on the TV with our families, friends and loved ones, please pause and remember Paddy, and the countless others like him, who out of compassion and solidarity with their friends in crisis, in innumerable acts of untold kindness and generosity, offer human comradeship in these darkest of selfish and intolerant days.
Happy Christmas to you all.