This incident occurred 25 years ago. It is true, although names have been changed.
You can be the judge in this story: Was Clara guilty? Or was she left, unsupported and unheard in an impossible situation?
Was it Wilful Blindness?
I had given up smoking, so I was not at my best.
Just a touch crabby, I was struggling with a complicated knitting pattern to try to keep my hands busy, when the front door bell rang. I was trying to create a beige heron on a green background at a blue pool which was surrounded by red flowers. There were so many coloured strands – and now I had to put it down and answer the door.
Carefully, I placed the work of art on the chair, and went to see who wanted me at nine o’clock at night. The bell rang again, impatiently.
“Coming!” I shouted, trying to contain my frustration.
Clara stood on the doorstep. She was the daughter of my next door neighbour. We didn’t see much of her. I had maybe spoken to her twice. She was in a state of severe distress. She was both crying and shaking uncontrollably, exclaiming at frequent intervals that it was not her fault.
I took in the scene – and I was appalled. Hanging limply from her right hand was a hammer, which was dripping blood on the doorstep…….
My mind automatically clunked into top gear. This girl had been released from a high security prison, but she had done very well. She had put new curtains and carpets throughout her parents’ house. I had seen her working very hard frequently, washing windows, bringing back shopping, laying out the flower beds. Our paths simply had not crossed often.
“Nobody listened to me!” she wailed. “I told them I couldn’t do it THREE TIMES!”
“Okay, I’m listening “ I said, with just a hint of trepidation. “Tell me what happened.”
“I put the hammer through Mum’s head, that’s what happened. I told them……”
“Wait just a minute…have you phoned anybody… the ambulance….?”
“No” she said.
“Okay, just give me a tick – I’ll need to get some stuff. I’ll see what’s happened and we’ll sort it out. Okay?” I rushed to get some swabs and bandages, and said to my husband that I thought there had been a serious incident.
“Phone an ambulance” I shouted to him, as I went with the distraught girl – still clutching her hammer – to her door.
We entered Clara’s home– and it was much worse than I had expected. Her mother had part of her skull missing, and there was blood all over the floor. I set about seeing what I could do. It was a head wound and it was bleeding furiously. She was only partly conscious, but I spoke to her and made reassuring noises as I worked.
“I TOLD them!” Clara insisted.
“Yes, I know – you said. Would you mind putting the hammer down and helping me with this? I need to get some pressure to stop her losing so much blood. “
She responded immediately – for which I was immensely relieved. She was still trying to explain that she had been driven to it – that she had been provoked – that she had told them again and again that she couldn’t manage.
“They told me I could manage in the Community,” she went on. “Community Care was good, they said. They’re not using the big institutions any more. And I wanted it to work. Why didn’t they listen to me when I wasn’t coping?”
I tried to make soothing noises in between my bandages, but she was inconsolable. I wondered what they would make of this job at the Royal Infirmary. It would probably stick to the wound, and I would get my blessings for even trying. Meanwhile, Clara was wringing her hands in despair.
“It’s all going to happen again, isn’t it? They’ll take me away again, and it’s not my fault!”
I felt heart sorry for the girl, but there was too much to do.
“Perhaps you could get me a newspaper. Do you have one?”
She went off to the kitchen and came back with an Evening Times. I found this appropriate. I laid the paper out on the floor – I wanted to get as much blood as I can on it – so I could estimate the loss. It is so difficult to estimate blood loss, I thought if I collected it on a newspaper, weight would have helped in the calculation. But of course, a lot had seeped into the carpet.
My husband entered at this point, and said he had phoned the ambulance, and greeted Clara’s dad. It was only then that I realised that her husband was sitting in the corner – not reacting at all.
I apologised for ignoring him, but he brushed my excuses aside. He was disabled and only moved with difficulty, and sitting in silence from the shock of what he had witnessed.
“That’s a hell of a woman!” he stated. She just doesn’t know when to quit. You could see poor Clara getting more and more distressed.”
“I understand” I said.
I had heard more of their arguments at full volume through the wall than he would like to know about. I had even once been called in to rescue the mother from the kitchen sink. It was an old Belfast model and she had decided, for some reason known only to herself, that this was the best place for sulking after one of their fights. So she took all her clothes off, and climbed in. It was only when she couldn’t get out, and he was unable to help her, that I was called.
However, I digress.
The tragedy, in this instance, was three-fold:the daughter was destined for a secure unit again:the mother was going to be in hospital for a long time:the father was going to go into care for the rest of his life.
These stories do not make the headlines, but they cost money.
What was the price paid by these three for a total lack of vigilance?
What was the cost to the NHS of an inappropriate decision ? It must have run to tens of thousands of pounds – in the short-term.
In the long-term, none of them were able to function independently again. No price can be put on that.
When will the Community learn to care? And who will teach them?
And, until they do learn, are people like Clara really culpable, or have they been badly let down?
©Linda Jane McLean