Introduction (15 May 2016)
You arrive within a week of each other, although you have only fragments of memory as to how you came here – perhaps due to the illness or trauma that you recently experienced, perhaps because this facility was recommended to you by a family friend or through your own personal physician; it is difficult to remember. You don’t think it was against your will and you have some small sense of relief that someone is going to help you, although you are not sure how.
When you arrive, your personal possessions are quietly and politely taken from you and placed in storage. You are each issued with drab standard patient garb bearing a number. You each undertake a physical, performed by a Doctor Parnassus; a hairless, featureless MD wearing a Head Mirror. He makes various notes on your chart, confirms details around your next of kin, and takes a sample of your blood. Your motor skills are tested, there are questions around inoculations, trauma that may have been experienced during the War, and finally you are required to sign a waiver stating that you accept the authority of the facility and the medical professionals housed therein to undertake your treatment and you will do your best to comply with their instructions. You sign.
Once you have been processed, you are admitted through the main doors and into the sanitarium proper. You are issued with bedding and shown to your room. It is spartan, has a small external window that is barred and a single electric light encased in a cage. There is no light switch. Your name is written on a small slip of paper that has been slipped into a metal holder under a door slot set at head height. There is a separate wider slot that you presume could be used to issue food. The door is made of metal, painted khaki, has no handle and is opened for you via a key by a muscular orderly called Robinson. There is a cot, a toilet and washbasin but no mirrors or reflective surfaces and the corners of the door, room and ceiling are coved. There are no clocks and no one wears a watch, although many of the staff wear dark glasses, perhaps to compensate for the constant light.
The most ‘normal’ space, and the one in which you find yourself most often, is the Lobby – a waiting room near the front entrance. Your many walks around the complex inevitably lead back here. It is comprised of low-slung dark leather chairs set at intervals around a large glass circular coffee table covered in a strange assortment of old magazines; the only reading material to be found. On the opposite side is the Office of the Director; Dr Burroughs and the only clock in the Centre – a large, steel electric mechanism with a secondhand that sweeps hypnotically slowly around. Here you are allowed to congregate, sit read, talk under the watchful eye of the Pear-shaped orderly who sits in an adjacent office quietly wheezing. Meals and sleep cycles are signalled by a buzzer and both taken in your rooms. You can shower and change and exercise but there is a pervasive sense of ennui and after a week, you are beginning to wonder when Dr Burroughs will call for you.
On one wall of the lobby is a painting of a lighthouse and a narrow causeway leading out to it in the middle of a tremendous storm. This reminds you of the rain you hear in your room at night when they switch out the light.
On the other side is a map of the island and the facility. You can see that the section in which you are housed is only part of a larger complex that extends westward on the other side of the Exercise Yard that occupies the centre, near the Infirmary. This is the secure ward and previously the main penitentiary when the island housed prisoners during the war. You have seen at least one patient draped in wires and dressed in a surgical gown running screaming from Robinson and one other orderly (Randy) before being tackled to the ground and restrained. Later he was wheeled in a gurney across the yard and through the large gun-metal door on the west wall, apparently sedated. Still other patients shuffle their way around the complex in some sort of fugue state – completely uncommunicative. Randy tells you not to worry, that they are harmless and coming to the end of their treatment. ‘Waiting for their epiphany,’ he says.
You sit nervously waiting to meet the Director for the first time, you know your treatment is scheduled to start any day and you are eager to begin – after all – how else are you going to get well?