Late January 2002, Monday morning.
After three long months. Three months in which I had lain awake sick with worry every night, aching to bring her home. Three months of dreading, and fearing, and being impotent to prevent, the damage the hospital was doing to her. Three months of hopeless and helpless hell.
Bink on the telephone.
“This place is awful,” she said. “I can’t stand any more. Will you come and get me?”
I had to write my Thought for the Day script for the next morning – something I find almost impossibly difficult – before anything else or my day could slip out of control down the plughole and I’d still have nothing to say by midnight. My producer and I had agreed the topic. We had discussed the line I might take. Now to the writing, which can easily go skidding off in directions you really don’t want.
“Of course! Let me just draft this script. I should be able to set off in about an hour.”
“Ok,” she said, and hung up.
Eh? What did I just say?? Write a script! What was I thinking? I must be more mad than she was...
I rang my producer (and very dear friend) Christine.
“Go!” she said. “For goodness’ sake, go! Go and get your daughter!”
There’s a phrase I’ve heard Thought producers use occasionally, to instil a sense of proportion. You know: when your mother’s just been rushed into hospital with a massive stroke and you think it would be really irresponsible to ask if you might swop your slot; if you’re tempted to stay at your desk finishing your script when your house has caught fire. That sort of thing.
“It’s only radio!” Christine reminded me.
When I reached the Florence Nightingale there were very few people around. Bink was waiting for me, all ready: no packing needed. A concerned nurse fluttered, anxiously, saying we’d better wait for Dr Ratched. The psychiatrist would need to discharge her: she would be doing her rounds soon, she was sure.
I know what that means in hospital-speak: half a day at least. Nonetheless I wasn’t taking any chances. I couldn’t get Bink out of that building fast enough.
Dr Ratched wanted to see us. Could we attend, with Bink, on Thursday morning so she could discharge her properly? We’re conditioned, aren’t we? Less now than a couple of generations ago perhaps, but when someone with a hospital badge and letters after her name says jump! you find you’ve done it before you’ve had time to work out that you were on the edge of a cliff.
Thursday morning, and we arrived a bare five minutes before our 11 o’clock appointment.
“You go in,” Shaun said. “I’ll park.”
By the time he found me in the waiting room, Bink was gone.
“Dr Ratched wanted to talk to her on her own first,” I explained. “She was called up without me.”
“You should never have allowed that,” he said ominously.
“Excuse me,” I went straight to the reception desk. “All three of us were invited for this appointment. When will we join our daughter?”
“You’ll be called.”
Five minutes later, “I’m sorry to disturb you again, but we’re wondering when we’ll be shown upstairs.”
“She’ll call when she’s ready for you.”
Another ten minutes. “My husband has an appointment and we really can’t stay any longer,” I insisted with fierce energy. “We need to go up now.” No need to add that Shaun would cancel a dozen appointments for his daughter if he needed to.
When Bink had left the waiting room half an hour earlier, she walked upstairs with a spring in her step, her head held high and her cheeks rosy. By the time we were shown into Dr Ratched’s consulting room she was curled in an armchair, foetal, grey and mute. She looked dreadful.
The psychiatrist welcomed us with a beaming smile.
“Good news,” she said. “Bink has agreed to come back in.”