Suzanne and I were happy. We had a pretty good life, money wasn’t plentiful but it was enough and the fact I made our clothes made a real difference. But in the back of my mind, I always felt I wasn’t doing a good enough job. There was always something I could do better. I went to the doctor about it once and he gave me some antidepressants. I took them for a couple of weeks but I didn’t like the side effects so I threw them down the toilet. I also thought that some of the professionals didn’t think Suzanne should be in the community. There were places for people like her. The closest to us was Tokanui about two hours drive away.
My fears were confirmed when an appoint was arranged by CDU for me to see a paediatrician. This was nice kind encouraging Dr Dawson, this was an older woman definitely old school. Suzanne had just turned four. I was worried about what she would say, especially since my lesson from the previous post.
In no uncertain terms she told me that as a single mother, I was not capable of caring for a child with such severe disabilities. I had no support and I should face the facts and put Suzanne in Tokanui. I protested but she said these places were far better equipped to care for Suzanne than I was. They had trained staff and she would get the best care. Much better she said than I could ever give her.
For that reason they had organised a day trip for me. I could see for my self. In a couple of weeks, they were taking a Mrs Diamondaris from Te Puke to pick up her daughter who went there every years for a month to give her mother a rest. I would be able to see where Suzanne was going. It was a done deal.
So, three of us, Mrs Diamondaris, a lady from CDU and I went to Tokanui. Tokanui was a huge institution. It was a psychiatric and a psychopaedic hospital. It was just out of Te Awamutu in a beautiful country setting. From the outside it looked lovely. Spacious park like grounds with buildings dotted about.
We went inside. The building had two wards and we walked into the one on the right. I was speechless. The room was white, there was no colour. Mattresses with white sheets were all around the edge of the ward and on each of them lay children of all shapes and sizes, with broken bodies, limps grotesquely twisted out of shape. There was no sound, no music just their unanswered cries fro attention.
Mrs Diamondaris was reunited with her daughter Edna. Edna had the most beautiful eyes I ever saw. Big brown almond shaped. She older than Suzanne around 14 and had similar disabilities. She lived at home with her family apart from her yearly visits here. She was excited to see her mother. It was wonderful to see.
I was introduced to the sister in charge of the ward. She showed me her son. He was one of the patients. He was huge, about 30 years old, he was on a bed. unlike most of the others. She said it was a nice place and that Suzanne would be well cared for. I was in shock, I was still looking around. Now remember I was brought with two sisters with disabilities so disability was not new to me. What was shocking was the starkness of the place and the number of people. I had never seen so many people with disabilities in one place.
There was worse to come, it was lunch time. every one was put put in chairs and taken to the dinning room next door. Nurses feed 3 or four people at time a horrible grey soup like mixture. There was no eye contact, just the shovelling of food into open mouths. Worse still were the sparrows. When the building was designed, a gap was left between the walls and the celling and sparrows would fly in and grab any spare food. The nurses said, it was lovely for the patients to see the bird flying around.
All I could think about was bird shit, falling into the mouths of those people waiting to be fed. After that I developed a real phobia of birds particularly sparrows inside. In the years to come, if I went to a cafe or building with sparrows in side, I would have to leave. I certainly couldn’t eat the food. It took some really good counselling to work through it. It doesn’t worry me so much but, even now, I still shudder when I see sparrows inside.
We went home. I was in the front seat this time, Mrs Diamondaris was in the back with Edna. The driver chatted with me about how ideal this place was for Suzanne. Even mentioned the dreaded phrase about her being with her own kind. I just sat in silence.
I didn’t know what I was going to do. How could prevent my beautiful Suzanne ending up in a place like that.
© Barbara Hart 2014