We are their doctors and nurses, their parents, their arresting officers, parole officers, judge and jury. Needless to say, we are not trained for the last five roles, nor are we particularly good at them.
A single principle guides us: You cannot use your drug of choice on our premises, no matter how much you may need it and prefer it to our proffered alternatives. Around that immutable core swirl large clouds of negotiation, compromise, duplicity, manipulation and general misery for all involved.
It’s a complete alternative society, in which new people step into the shoes of parents, police, and courts. No doubt they also have interrogators, torturers, and executioners as well. It’s a new society in which all the old rules have been swept away and replaced with new ones.
A bit like Sharia law or something.
It’s a society which starts inside hospitals, and then extends to the hospital grounds, and then out into the surrounding streets, and finally into the police stations and courts and councils and parliaments, bringing general misery to everyone.
And all guided by a single principle: You can’t use your substance of choice here. That’s the complete new Constitution and Bill of Rights.
One patient is tying his shoes as we make our rounds in the morning, and tells us cheerfully that he is going out for a smoke. He’ll be right back. We inform him, not without sympathy, that in our hospital smoking breaks are not allowed. If he leaves for even half an hour he will officially be considered discharged. His bed will be given to someone else, and to resume his medical care, he will have to go back to the emergency room and start the cycle all over again.
I couldn’t help imagining another patient also tying his shoes, and saying cheerfully:
“Just nipping round the corner for tea and biscuits. I’ll be back in two ticks.”
guards nurses looked at each other, thunderstruck.
“What sort of biscuits?”
“Oh, I dunno, whatever they’ve got. Hobnobs would be fine…”
There was an audible intake of breath.
“No tea. No biscuits.” one of them eventually said, shaking his head slowly but firmly. “They’re restricted substances. Tea kills. And tea and biscuits kill even quicker. Hobnobs kill in minutes.”
The patient began to protest, but was silenced by one of the guards who’d stepped forward.
“I lost my daughter to tea and Hobnobs.” he said, his voice cracking. “She was a happy girl until she started drinking tea and eating Hobnobs. I tried to stop her, but she locked herself away in her room. She even refused to come downstairs for her lentil soup. She said she hated it, and she wanted to be free. When I finally broke down the door, she was lying on the floor surrounded by tea paraphernalia – teapots, tea strainers, spoons, floral cups and saucers – and lots and lots of empty Hobnob packets. It’s a terrible thing for a parent to find his precious daughter lying on the floor with semi-liquid Hobnob fluid dripping from her mouth after her final binge…”
Tea. Biscuits. These also are substances of choice. And just as addictive as, say, chocolate or iced doughnuts. But what about…
“Just going down to the pond. I’ll be back in a bit.”
“What are you going to do there?”
“Oh, sit in the sun and watch the ducks or something.”
“Pond? Sit? Ducks?”
Meaningful looks exchanged.
“The pond is very deep. And the ducks attack on sight. We don’t want to be finding your sun-blackened body floating face down in the pond being savaged by feral ducks.”
“We can’t allow it.”