is familiar to me. A friend spent some weeks there several years ago. She was not in need of psychiatric help. There was simply nowhere else for her to go while she waited for a place in a nursing home. I went in to see her frequently, got to know some of the staff and the routines of the place.
I didn't get to know the other patients. My friend didn't either. She tried chatting to one or two but they didn't want to make contact so she respected their wishes and left them alone. It made me wary too.
Earlier this year a man I know was placed in the unit. He was in a depressed state because his wife had died. They had no children and they had been so wrapped up in each other that he had very little contact with other people. I had known his wife. He asked me to clear her craft things away because he couldn't bear to look at them. I didn't want to do that but he insisted that he would "throw it all out in the rubbish" if I didn't. I packed it into boxes and, with the help of a neighbour put it in the unused room bedroom of their home. The day the neighbour found him sitting at the kitchen table with a large packet of painkillers and a bottle of whisky - neither of which had been opened - he phoned his doctor and then, when he was admitted, phoned me.
He's well on the way to recovery now. He's doing some work for a local charity and has plans for the garden in the summer. We will watch out for him.
It was while he was there though that I met someone else, another patient. She was sitting in a sunny window seat in the corridor and knitting. Without intending to say anything I found myself saying, "That's lovely!"
Oh, had I done the right thing?
She looked up, barely made eye contact and gave me the briefest of smiles.
It was genuinely lovely. She hesitated and then spread it out slightly for me to look at. I asked a couple of questions, "yes" and "no" sort of questions so she didn't have to speak if she didn't want to. Then, in almost a whisper, she told me she loved to knit.
"My husband hates it when I knit."
All sorts of thoughts went through my head but I said nothing more than, "My father refers to my lace knitting as 'that stuff you make with all the holes in it'."
She did smile at that.
We had a few more chats over the following couple of weeks. One of the social workers asked if I knew her. I told her no, we were just talking about knitting. I was asked to go on doing that if I could. I was probably told more than I should have been told about what had happened to her.
The man I knew saw her knitting too. He knew I had talked to her.
As he was getting ready to leave the day before he was discharged he asked me, "Do you suppose she would like D's stuff?"
"Why not ask?" I said, "Ask the social worker first in case there's a problem but it might help both of you."
Yesterday in the shopping centre I saw him wearing the cardigan that "D" had been making for him when she died. Yes, the woman he had spoken to had finished it for him. She had apparently taken the huge step of leaving her very abusive husband and, with help, found a place of her own. She now had room for "all D's stuff" and she was busy making things for the homeless from it.
They have agreed it might be nice to be "just friends and have coffee together occasionally". I hope they do.