While Harry received his safety briefing upstairs, Ron walked around the loop of the adult psych unit in search of a particular patient. Ten minutes ago, he had spotted a streak of red dashing past him in the opposite direction, and there had been no sign of her since.
He found the patient in the activity room, pulling paper towels out of the dispenser. Her hands moved like the blades of an electric ceiling fan.
“One-two-three-four-five-six-seven – ” She spoke so fast that the consonants blended together, and she paused only to glance over her shoulder at Ron. “Who’re you? Eight-nine-ten-eleven-twelve-thirteen-fourteen – ”
“Hello, there, Ms. Jones!” said Ron. “I’m the medical student. My name’s Ron. The doctor asked me to come and say hello.”
“– forty-nine fifty fifty-one fifty-two fifty-three fifty-four my shoes are white and your coat is bright, balloon baltic baby birthday banana Santa Ana – ”
“Um, right,” said Ron. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
“Bandana bonanza – how old’re you?”
“I’m twenty-two,” said Ron as he took a seat at the table next to the paper towel dispenser. He felt as if his brain had just been centrifuged.
“Oh yeah, and the speed limit on the highway is fifty-five! Chives St. Ives hives and broken eyes – ”
“Ms. Jones, why don’t we throw some of these paper towels away?” Ron scooped up most of the paper towels from the table and stepped toward the garbage bin by the doorway. He smiled as the patient followed behind him with the remainder of the towels, all of which landed squarely in the bin.
“Good job, Ms. Jones!” said Ron.
“Paper packet jacket – ” The patient lifted her sweatshirt over her shoulders and dropped it in the bin with the paper towels, but Ron reached down and handed it back to her.
“I think you need that to keep warm – er – ” Ron shrugged as the patient left her sweatshirt hanging by its hood from the hand sanitizer dispenser. She stepped outside into the hallway, and Ron followed.
“Would you like to go for a walk?” asked Ron. “I need to ask you a few – ”
“I’ll leave my jacket, yes,” said the patient, “And I’m wearing this shirt – “ The patient tugged at her T-shirt – “and this shirt – ” The patient lifted the first T-shirt to reveal another underneath – “and this shirt, and this shirt, and this shirt, and underneath’s my belly button, and my pants– ”
With that, the patient loosened the drawstrings of her paper scrub pants, and tugged at her conglomeration of T-shirts as if she was about to fling them over her head in one swift movement.
“No, Ms. Jones, I don’t think – ” Ron found his voice reaching a higher pitch than he had known was possible – “not out in the hallway – ”
Harry was lost again.
This time, he was stranded in the pediatric psych unit. The walls were painted with psychedelic rings of yellow, turquoise, and neon pink. The ceilings glowed with a dim red light that revealed only the space within five feet of a locked door. Further than five feet, among the twists and turns and secret elevator shafts of the psych hospital, everything was shrouded in darkness. Forget the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; Harry thought, with a wry smile, that his new workplace resembled the spiders’ lair from the forest of Mirkwood, in the realm of Middle-earth. He half-expected a horde of oversized arachnids to scuttle out of the shadows and spin him into a web.
Rounding the corner, Harry found a nurse sitting on a chair beside a keypad on the wall. He breathed a sigh of relief.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” said Harry, “Do you know where I could find – ”
Harry turned in time to see a dark figure hurtling toward him from the side. He sprung back against the opposite wall.
“ARRRRGGGHH!!! YOU FESTERING FURUNCLE!!!”
The dark figure slammed his face against the glass window of the door, took a few steps backward, and charged toward the door again. The entire hallway pulsed with shockwaves of electricity, and the overhead lights flickered off as the figure pounded his fists against the hinges.
BOOM. “YOU CARNAL CARBUNCLE!” BOOM. “YOU GNASHABLE GNOZZLE!”
“Thanks for coming so quickly,” said the nurse, wiping sweat off her brow. She had to raise her voice to be heard against the background disturbance. “Mr. Wood here tried to break into the stairwell. I wrote down the start times for restraint and seclusion so you can add them to his chart.”
After Harry had gathered the necessary information, he peered around the corner into one of the unused seclusion areas, a locked room seven by eleven feet in size. The walls and floor were bare except for a series of jagged, faded markings around the corner from the door. It looked as if the housekeeping staff had tried to scrub off the permanent ink, but had not done a perfect job of it. Harry pressed his forehead against the window to read the letters in the dim red glow:
**** THIS PLACE
“Holy ****,” Harry whispered underneath his breath. A shiver ran down the back of his neck. He staggered in the direction of the nearest elevator (or so he hoped), glancing over his shoulder as he went.
In the calm of pre-dawn, Ron and Hermione sat in the on-call room with their textbooks and diagnostic manuals spread across the floor. Dr. Hagrid had dismissed them both ages ago, but they were waiting for Harry to return from an assignment. Fortunately for Ron, Hermione was not one to waste an opportunity for a round of Interrogation, Psychiatry Edition; after all, they both needed to prepare for their exam in two days.
“What is the name of the sensory distortion commonly associated with LSD and other illegal hallucinogens?” asked Hermione.
“Synesthesias, such as seeing music and tasting color,” Ron recited.
“Electrolyte abnormality associated with ecstasy and eve intoxication?”
“Overhydration leading to hyponatremia.”
“Describe the overdose effects of K2 and Black Mamba.”
Ron blinked. “Um – what?”
Hermione sighed. “Some experiential learning would do wonders for your mastery of this chapter, Ron. All right then, describe the packaging of Spice Diamond and Yucatan Fire.”
“Hermione,” Ron spluttered, “these new synthetic street drugs aren’t in the textbook! Where’d you even find out about – wait – Hermione –”
On the last day of their psychiatry rotation, Hermione added finishing touches to her History and Physical note for her newest patient. She had struggled to recall the names of several designer street drugs; she made a mental note to check her professor’s PowerPoint slides from yesterday.
In all seriousness, after a month of psychiatry training, Hermione felt dazed. Some nights, she struggled to fall asleep among the bombardment of images: patients screaming obscenities at the doctors and hurling their fists against walls, children crying and covering their faces when they were asked if they wanted to go home. Even when Hermione did fall asleep, she would wake up feeling as if she had been up all night, with all the vestiges of her unpleasant dreams just beyond her grasp. Her youngest patients had the worst stories, the kind that left extended-release capsules of nausea seeping into her chest for days. Her soul ached for them. She wished that she could have done more.
That afternoon, Hermione went around the hallways of the adult unit to say goodbye to her patients. She found one of them, a woman in her eighties, reading a psalm in the activity room after a music therapy session.
“You’re leaving? So soon?” The patient sighed. “Please keep me in your prayers.”
“Of course,” said Hermione. “And keep me in yours.”
“Tell me your name again. Miss Herm – ”
“Hermione, “ said Hermione, straightening her ID badge.
The patient smiled. “I’ll remember you as Maria.”
And then, before Hermione could react, the patient threw her arms around Hermione’s shoulders. They stood together for a long time. When they parted, Hermione could feel tears soaking into the sleeve of her white coat.