Peter McMillan The author is an ESL instructor who lives with his wife and one remaining flat-coated retriever, Ollie, on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario.
Ward 4-2, the mental health ward, was quiet this time of night. Dinner, the only meal of the day worth waiting for, had already been served, group sessions were over (it was mindfulness tonight), and the TV room was long empty. All the doors were closed, both those secured by card reader locks--the lights all red--and the residents' door which were always left unlocked for the nurses.
It was good to walk the floor alone, to not have to have conversations (good or bad), to feel the open space of the wide corridors, to experience the muscles tensing and stretching and the breathing getting deeper and faster, to be in the moment.
The floors on the ward were polished to such a sheen that in the distance waves of brightness rose up like highway mirages. The floors were well taken care of like the rest of the $2.2 billion hospital. The floors were buffed twice a day by a small, wrinkled old man who expertly guided his massive, humming machine around the ward eight times, each strip twice.
The best part of the walking was when the thoughts fled leaving behind a vague awareness of the body in motion, and since there was no chance of interruption this could go on for an hour or more at a time. The nurses had just completed their rounds and were busy at their stations doing paperwork, while all the residents, even the bad apples, were safely tucked away in their private rooms with their benzodiazepines, anti-psychotics and whatever other night time medication they required.
Occasionally, a negative thought would return and block out all the other senses, but on good days, these thoughts were short-lived. With a great effort of thought, they would eventually starve for lack of attention, shrivel up, and blow away, and then that elusive sense of the body in motion would settle in again even for a little while.
After an hour or so, the body was finally exhausted. No anti-anxiety sleep aids were necessary. A good thing because the nurses didn't like to dispense 'as needed' meds. Time to say good-bye to another day. It had only been a week, but it seemed like a month. Some of us weren't allowed to leave the ward and that was tough. The days dragged by. When I first arrived I called it the cuckoo's nest, but I was teaching myself to suppress such negative thoughts. Besides, the facility was different in almost every possible way. It was a hospital not an insane asylum, and it was new, modern, and well-appointed.