Like all of us, at various points in my life I have had a wide range of jobs. Also as with most of us, the great majority of these jobs were ones I had on my holidays when I was a student. And most of them were pretty mundane – factory work, truck driving and so forth – they produced the money that I wanted to enable me to wander around Europe as a hitchhiker, but did nothing much else for me.
However, some of these holiday jobs had a profound effect on me in one way or another, and there are a couple that really stand out in my memory as significant to me and my world view.
The first of these jobs that I can bring to mind was when I was a driver/salesperson in one of those vans that chug around selling soft ice-cream to people. On the face of it, a harmless occupation – but it had its dark side too….
This was the relatively large number of people in the Council house estates I trundled around in with my van and chimes, who came out every day (I did this 7 days a week) with large jugs that I had to fill with the soft ice I sold… Literally every day these misbegotten people bought kilos of ice-cream from me, and presumably ate it too…
Can you imagine a diet based around about 5 litres of ice-cream every day? It really saddened me – no, lets be honest, it disgusted and revolted me to think of the harm these people were doing to themselves and their kids by eating the chemical rubbish I was selling as ice-cream…
Death Of A Centurion:
However, the job that really got in amongst me was when I worked as a Ward Orderly at a huge mental hospital. Though frankly to call it a hospital seemed to me to be a wild overstatement, as the poor people in the ward where I worked never saw any doctors, except on rare occasions when they flipped completely and needed stronger tranquilizers to keep them calm and easy to control.
At the time I had this job I was about 19 I think.
I worked in what was called a “closed ward” in the male section of this asylum, which meant that I was given two enormous keys, which opened the two doors that allowed me to get into the ward. These two doors were in effect a sort of airlock, as I could only open one at a time, thus making it hard for the “patients” to escape.
Once inside the actual ward consisted of two large rooms, one which was full of beds, and the other full of tables and chairs. The inmates obviously spent the nights in the bed one, and the days in the tables one. As well as this, there was a large sort of bathroom with baths, showers, basins and lavatories. And as the cherry on the cake, we also had about 5 or 6 padded cells as well.
These padded cells I found to be really comfortable places for a quick doze every so often, as they were really padded, floors, walls, door and ceiling…
Apart from myself, there were also three proper male nurses in there all day (at night there was only one male nurse attending to anything the inmates needed at night), and our work mostly consisted of getting them up in the morning, dosing them all with strong tranquilizers to keep them quiet all day long, washing them, feeding them, and then simply keeping a vague eye on them all.. And then at the end of the afternoon, reversing the process… more tranquilizers and sleeping pills, and tucking them up in their beds for the night.
Most lunatics I discovered, possibly owing to the tranquilizers did nothing much, simply sat and gazed blankly at the walls.. But some few did seem to be living in something approaching reality. These tended to be those suffering from that dreadful disease Huntington’s Disease (Here is a link to tell you all about this horrible disease). Those suffering from this one were until the last stages of the disease perfectly clear mentally, and in no way lunatics, but for some reason were classified as lunatics, and thus locked up with the real nutters in there. This ward by the way, was for people who were considered to be incurable, so basically they were shoved into this ward and left there to die. Which is exactly what many of them did while I was working there.
I had seen people dying before I worked there, but never been quite as closely involved in people’s deaths as I was there. I still remember one poor old fellow, who managed to break his hip falling out of his bath, and went the way that many oldies do who suffer from that one.. pneumonia being the actual cause of death.
This fellow was the only one in there who actually behaved the way madmen are supposed to behave. He firmly believed he was a Roman Centurion, and he and I spent many happy hours as he told me about how things were going in his military work (he was posted in Palestine he believed). In passing I mention that no one knew who he was, as in common with all too many of the men in that ward, he had been found wandering around, completely out of it, not knowing who he was what he was called or anything about himself, and no one had ever reported him missing, so as he was obvious nuts, he was sent to this hospital to stay there until he died.
So there he was, broken hip and loads of pain. As he was an old man, and a mad one at that, he received no treatment apart from Morphine for the pain. A doctor had come and gazed at him briefly when the accident happened, and prescribed the Morphine and instructed us to put sandbags around his leg to immobilize it.. As he was both mad, and out of his mind on Morphine, he would keep trying to get up and report for duty (he was a Centurion after all), which of course caused him immense pain as the broken parts of his hip grated against each other.
As it happened, when it came time for him to finally die, I was sitting beside him and he was actually at peace, asleep. But in some way that I have never understood, the moment he died, I knew it had happened, and not simply because he had stopped breathing… For some time before his death he had almost ceased breathing, so it wasn’t that… But I did recognize his death at the exact moment it occurred….
I noticed this curious thing several times while I was there and people died as I was with them. Something really does go out of a person when they die, I can’t explain it, but it is very obvious when it happens.
But the thing that really shocked me, and caused me to leave that job was when I discovered that I was capable of being very brutal to some of these defenseless and harmless patients. We had a number of men there who were in the last stages of Syphilis, and owing to their illness were extremely disagreeable and very prone to refusing to accept orders from us – much like very young kids in many ways I suppose. One day I was trying to get one of these men to go to his bed, and he was simply refusing to go, and instead of taking time, being patient and treating him as he should have been treated, I simply grabbed him, and frog marched him to his bed, and when he struggled against this, I grabbed his hair and forced him to his bed.
This was how the full time male nurses treated patients who didn’t do as they were told, and nothing was thought of it. But when I found myself doing this, and in effect treating the poor guy as some sort of sub-human trash, I was totally shocked by myself, and appalled to see how thin the line is between normal civilized behavior and how an SS man would behave actually is….
In fairness to myself I should add that we had about 70 men to get into their beds, and many of them were complete vegetables, and could do absolutely nothing for themselves, even eating was a matter of opening their mouths, putting a spoon full of food in, and then gripping their lower jaws and starting them chewing, and then stroking the front of their throats to make them swallow the food…. So the getting them all into bed each night was a hell of a performance to put it mildly.
But that in no way justified the way I had treated that man.
At the end of that shift, I handed in my notice, with immediate effect, and never went back there again. And have remembered that feeling of power as an abomination ever since.
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Have you had any interesting or curious jobs, or jobs that changed your lives in some significant way? If you have, do share them with us here please.