“Ward 24” by Nancy Kerrigan

Nancy Kerrigan, APRN, MS

WARD 24
St. Patrick’s Day, 1966

Mental hospitals and snake pits, synonymous,
when I began my career. Stairwells smelled
of Lysol. Patients lay on the dew covered
lawns, their dormitory bedrooms padlocked
all day long to prevent napping. Eight-hundred
milligrams of Thorazine made walking feel
like trudging through deep mud.

Women slept coiled on communal bathroom
floors, guarding handbags, pictures of children,
a fork for a weapon. Hems of hospital-housedresses,
fabric worn thinner than tissues, wiped away
the few tears that managed to escape
this overmedicated state.

Come to my group, my plea, as I knelt offering
filtered cigarettes as free admission tickets.
In empty silence, we sat on single beds, arranged
in a square, in a room as cavernous as an airplane hanger.
What was my hurry, most had lived there twenty years?
Hardly a word dropped into the atmosphere

until St. Patrick’s Day, when I presented
a single green carnation to each woman in the group.
Anna sniffed the blossom; Edna placed it between
her breasts. Rose wore hers over her ear.
Vivian shared a memory about the feel of seeds
in her hands when she gardened. The oldest patient,
Lillian, who had a lobotomy, watered
the blossom with her drool.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007
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