Occupational therapy at the hospital consisted of painting, pottery, basket weaving and engraving on copper. With all the occupational therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and orderlies, clearly, there would be some kind of treatment for our David. He never told us exactly what he did there, but neither did the staff. Patient confidentiality, I suppose. What we needed was to hear a diagnosis. We had to know what we were up against.
We had no preconceptions but we both had faith in modern medicine. We knew that mental illness was a medical condition, that it was probably resistant to certain kinds of treatments and responsive to others. David was there because he was ill, we told ourselves as we both believed that he would enter the hospital ill, but exit healthy. We must have been pretty naïve in those days.
When our daughters visited the hospital with us, we often sat in stony silence. The continual pacing of other patients, wails from behind closed doors and the abject misery on patients’ faces upset us all. Our daughters tried to act naturally but their body language gave them away.
During one visit, David introduced me to an older Russian woman wearing a kerchief on her head whose worn, grief-stricken face was etched with deep lines. She pushed the tiny garment she had knitted into my hands saying; “It’s for my grandson but they won’t bring him to visit me here. He’s four months old,” she said, swiping at her eyes with a grubby damp handkerchief. Then David turned to me saying: “Mom, maybe you’ll end up here too, one day?”
“You’re certainly working hard on it,” I replied, and he smiled.
Finally I’d manage to joke and elicit a smile from my son, something that came naturally to his dad all the time. I was going in the right direction.