Late January 2002, Thursday morning.
Everything we had been praying for, for three months, lost in one idiotic slip-up: letting Bink see Dr Ratched without us. We had no idea how she had persuaded her to go back into the Florence Nightingale Unit (then: we discovered later) but whatever it was, it was damned effective.
Bink looked utterly crushed.
“Your mother will go home and get your things,” Dr Ratched said sweetly, “while you go back to the ward. Now,” she added with an undertone of firmness.
“No,” I smiled helpfully. (But, I like to think, with just a soupçon of slightly impressive steel.) “I won’t know what she’ll need. You come back with us Bink, and we’ll pack together.”
I didn’t for a moment believe this oh-so-obvious tug-o’-war could work.
“Ok,” Bink said, and got up to leave with us.
Phew. Fifteen all.
A long match still ahead of us.
As soon as we got home Bink asked if she should pack.
“No hurry,” I said brightly. “Let’s have lunch first.”
I nipped upstairs to ring a few friends and ask them to pray.
And then a Neuro-Developmental Consultant, David Mulhall, who had treated Alexander. Alex‘s schooling was blighted by repeated and relentless requirements to perform tasks which, with his Asperger’s syndrome, he was completely incapable of. Particularly if they involved time, which Alex doesn’t really relate to. I’m still not sure what effect David’s numerous and tedious exercises had, morning and evening every day for three and a half years. Time seems to have remained a bit of a stranger, to be honest. But Alex credited David with enabling him to relate to neurotypicals, at least. (Being Alex, the exciting breakthrough came when he realised, face shining, that he could communicate with the horse he’d just been allocated for a week’s family trekking in Donegal. Perhaps it was an Aspergic horse and they were on the same wavelength. Which is kind of cool as well as significant, given that he now works in the Equities department of his firm.)
David’s treatment was costly (for a clergy family) and time-consuming. It might not help. But it was harmless. If he treated Bink, the worst he would do would be nothing.
Very much unlike the Florence Nightingale Unit, then.
He offered to see her that afternoon.
“Come on!” I said, with irritating cheeriness. “Let’s see if David can help.”
The thing about OCD is that if I’d asked Bink to go to an appointment tomorrow or next week, it could have taken her three months to get ready. If something is immediate, there’s no time for any of the rituals so you just shrug and do it. Sometimes.
He assessed her and said he might be able to help. In a flowering of kindest generosity, he offered to treat her for nothing. (And did, for the next two years.)
“Do I have to tell you how I feel?” she asked, obviously frightened.
“Absolutely not. You don’t need to tell me anything. I’ll just give you some exercises.”
“You don’t need to know stuff about my childhood? Or my emotions?”
“Not in the slightest. I wouldn’t want to.”
She could scarcely credit this. “Do I have to believe in the treatment?”
“Not at all. My exercises work whether you believe in them or not.”
Her relief was heartbreaking. What had they done to her in there?
As soon as we got home, I suggested tea.
“Don’t I have to pack and go?”
By supreme good fortune, a friend – of whom Bink was extremely fond and with whom she had played chess every week after church, in happier times – had just rung to say he was nearby. I seized my chance.
“Nick’s coming for supper,” I said. “Roast chicken, your favourite. Why not leave it till tomorrow?”
I hardly dared breathe.
The next day the spell has loosened sufficiently for Bink to tell me how Dr Ratched had persuaded her.
“She’s promised I’ll see Robin.” My heart sank. We couldn’t compete with this.
In case you missed this, Robin was the therapist who had bombarded Bink with inappropriate verbal and physical affection until, understandably, he became the most important influence in her life. Both he and the Unit had promised he would continue to see her in there, but after the first visit the Unit told him it would be professionally unethical for him to continue treating her while she was their patient. Probably the only sensible thing they ever did.
How the sands of morality had shifted so it could now be either professional or ethical to promise he would see her, as bait to lure her back in, will forever remain more inscrutable than the Bermuda Triangle.
And what if Robin himself hadn’t wanted to play ball? Daft question. For one thing, he was too wet (and presumably too terrified of his previous misconduct) to object. For another, they would simply do what they did first time around. You don’t need to keep promises to loony people, silly. Any more than promises to... I don’t know... spiders or children. And, you know, staff.
Perhaps Bink bore this in mind when she made a decision I never would have thought possible.
“I’ve realised,” she said later that day. “I don’t really want to see Robin that much.”
Shaun has a superb tactic – perhaps many men have – of simply ignoring someone or something unworthy of his attention. I answer my telephone to every cold caller. I explain in meticulously courteous detail why I believe they might be mistaken in thinking I’ve had an accident which wasn’t my fault, or am owed a life-changing fortune in mis-sold PPI. At some stage during the conversation, usually when I’m mid-sentence, my cold caller hangs up without so much as a goodbye or thank you. I’ve decided to stop feeling personally hurt by this.
The trouble is, such appalling behaviour isn’t the fault of the next cold caller, is it?
For once in my life, just once, I managed to employ Shaun’s approach. (Unlike each new cold caller who is an individual in his or her own right, Dr Ratched had form.)
She had been expecting Bink back on the ward since Thursday lunchtime. Heroically, I resisted the impulse to pick up the telephone any number of times all Thursday afternoon, to give her an über-polite update. I even managed not to ring her the next day too.
Last thing on Friday, she rang us. When would Bink would be arriving? Best before the weekend; the nurses would have her room ready by now.
“She won’t,” I said. No explanation. No excuses. No chit-chat. Then I hung up.
(After saying goodbye, of course. And hope you have a nice weekend. And… um… life.)
Shaun should have been proud of me.
I’d like to say, game, set and match. We had won that tournament, at least. Bink never went back into the Florence Nightingale Unit, or saw Dr Ratched again.
But alas: seventeen and a half years on and we are still whacking vicious balls over the net from the effects of those dreadful three months.
Which is why it is now down to the Priory to help Bink win the Grand Slam.