I held my tongue and tried to ignore the ignorant individual who asked that question.
As most regular readers of my witterings know I have been visiting a friend who is currently being cared for in hospital. She is rational, lucid, intellectually able and still in control of her life. She is in the secure psychiatric ward because that is where a bed was available and she needs physical help.
They are trying to sort out pain medication and reduce her need for oxygen.
The staff in the psychiatric ward seem, from my observations, to like her. They look in as they pass. They chat. I have been in and out so many times that they know me as well. They "buzz" the door open if they see me coming and told me not to worry about reporting to the desk. Although ward rules say that patients can only use a phone near the nurses' station they have twice whisked a cordless phone down to her so that she can speak to the solicitor who is transferring her affairs from a neighbouring state.
Nobody is suggesting that she is anything other than "normal" - and she isn't. But, it is a disturbing place to be.
I know other people in there do have issues - some of them have serious issues. One or two are on frightening amounts of medication to keep them quiet. One of them wandered into my friend's room the night before last - shouting in another language.
Yesterday she tried the same thing while I was there. I spoke to her in one of the few words I know in her own language and she stopped shouting and started crying instead. One of the staff led her off - talking quietly and calmly.
"It's all right," the staff member told me, "You did the right thing."
Perhaps I did - perhaps crying is better than shouting when you are confused and surrounded by people who don't speak your first language. They don't want to restrain her or increase her medication and have her completely lose control. My friend understands that and has even tried to calm her as well. Perhaps she comes to my friend thinking that she will be able to listen to her?
Yes, some of those people have issues. Some of them are out of touch with reality but I am puzzled by this concept of a "loony bin". These people are human beings. They see the world differently. None of them are a danger to anyone except themselves - if they are even a danger to themselves. Most of them are unhappy. I'd turn the television set in the lounge area on to a non-stop quiet comedy show - not the commercial channel it is tuned to - but what do I know?
The ward is a strange place and I admit I feel more comfortable away from it but I don't feel alarmed or concerned about being there. I feel much more concerned by the person who went by and wanted to know whether they had let me out of the loony bin.
He has a much bigger problem to deal with.