Friday 1 May 2015

The Simulated Real World - Kingston University

The knock on the front door echoed throughout the cold rooms of the Crime House and we all tensed in anticipation. Inside we waited for the nurses to enter and visit their patients, yet this wasn't a ward scene but one firmly placed in the community. What could be more ordinary than a leafy street in suburban Kingston-upon-Thames, although what was going on behind the closed doors was a series of teetering narratives not light-hearted Margo and Jerry tittle-tattle . Who knows how common these unravelling stories are, how often desperation creeps under the crack in the door or for those lives in disarray to be rebuilt piece by piece. This was a chance to see behind those ordinary doors and capture the individual worlds of three people.

Julia Pelle
This is my third and final year as artist-in-residence at the School of Nursing, Kingston University and St George's University of London. Previous years have seen me ensconced in a corner of the simulated mental health ward furiously capturing the drama in sketches and words. Today (01/04/2015) we had the chance to see students working in teams throughout a simulated weekend where patients/clients were rooted between the four walls of a house.

Sharon Putt
Alice was recently returning to the family home after a hiatus, the dynamic of husband and children creating a soap opera of instability; Julian was back in the 'real' world, desperately trying to survive without money and in a barren and inhospitable bedsit; Peter found himself in the care of his parents once again, trapped in a world dominated by the dubious reality of the internet.

Kevin Acott
The day started for the students in a lecture room with the promise of an emotional assault course to come. Lecturers Julia Pelle, Kevin Acott and Sharon Putt set the scene. "This is a proper home visit, you're really going to get it today!"

Mostly in couples and sometimes alone, the students made their way to the Crime House door. This house is usually used by Forensic science students who find themselves quite literally at the scene of the crime. One after another over the course of this simulated weekend (that in reality lasted but one day) each group of students had to visit their patient, assess, advise and help. They would then have a meeting with their counterparts who would be the next people to visit the patient. So it was both an exercise in being the person at the cutting edge of the situation but also the ability to move forward as a team. It meant as an outsider I observed and sketched 3 unattached narratives, like jumping across random pages of a novel.

Martyn Keen
The story I first opened would be a Dashiell Hammett, it is short and full of motivation. I am the detective, not the hard-boiled kind more soft and pliable in the hands of actor Jane who plays the role of Alice. With us in the room is Martyn Keen, the professional who is keeping any eye on proceedings. Our two students accompany Alice into the room but there is another presence here too. It is the room's elephant, who is the shadow of the past.

Alice is here in her house on a weekend pass, so this is a fleeting visit for her too. For the past five weeks she has been on a mental health ward. Alice hugs a child's toy, she rocks gently squeezing it's soft body with an intensity that would rid a lemon of not only its juice but its zest as well. Her voice wavers like a doll, it's as if someone had pulled the ringed cord at her back and her words rise and fall, changing in pitch and emotion.

Student - Olawumi Olatunde
The two students sit across from Alice, directly in her eye line, close but still giving her the space to breathe. There's a hysterical tinge to Alice's voice and they pick up on it immediately. "No, No I'm happy" Alice says, "When I'm upset I'm tearful. No I'm happy". There is talk about a 'chat' with her husband and it's the first shift that pulls the rug from underneath my feet and the elephant stirs again in the room.

Student Olawumi Olatunde asks if Alice has the 'urges' at the moment, and her colleague speaks honestly, helping Alice realise she is teetering on the verge of a 'manic phase'. Tears start to well in Alice's eyes and the most revealing words escape between her lips, "I'm worried they're going to find me out".

It is one of the finest interactions I have witnessed between student and patient. Martyn Keen thinks so too as he launches into a debrief, he tells the students "Alice was more honest with her nurses than she was with her husband or children". Alice is left alone and someone will be here to check on her progress in the days ahead.

The second visit is to see Julian (actor Nigel) who's numb bottom is aggravating him more than any mental rollercoaster. He has spent another night sleeping on the cold linoleum of his bedsit. Money is an issue and the support that he should be a receiving is a safety net which has more than one hole in it.

The students who have to unpick Julian's problems are Isaac and Maddie. They have been proceeded by colleague Danny who has already made Julian promises, for who wouldn't. Julian's situation is heart-breaking, the room is bare, a tin of beans and bottle water sit beside him, the fireplace is boarded up and there's no discernible signs of heat.

Harvey Wells
Isaac and Maddie are caught in the same Groundhog Day as Julian. They go through a check list, making sure their patient is safe but unfortunately not changing his immediate dilemma, there is still no furniture and no money for food. There is a genuine frustration and sympathy for all the people concerned because the 'system' is a tanker of behemoth proportions that doesn't change course easily, let alone in these choppy financial waters.

The impasse is best illustrated in this short exchange. Isaac asks "If we sorted out all your problems out would you feel better?" and Julian replies "Of course." Then after a long pause he adds "You can help me by helping me".

Harvey Wells is overseeing this exchange in his role as facilitator and the pursing of his lips is only interrupted by a pensive tap of his pen before it makes another note in his book. Time is the winner, the turgid second hand ticking variety. The minutes that stick in Julian's room barely escape the firmly shut door nor permeate the condensation that lines the window. It is not just the maze of mental health that makes Time move slower but also the inability to sit on a sofa or watch the TV. Small comforts that we take for granted.

My third and final chapter was a much more animated affair. Peter is back at home with his parents and there's enough tension between father and son to inspire a Greek tragedy. Conspiracy theories are rife, the internet as we know is a fountain of knowledge but in Peter's hand it is starting to fuel his fears and insecurities.

David Condon
The man who has to help Peter is student David Condon, and he has to decide how much fuel he wants to add to Peter's fire. He is determined to dominate this exchange, he is fluid and forceful, never scared and very impressive. David is a terrier, never letting go of the conversation and yapping at Peter's heals until he relinquishes a ball to chase down.

David Tracey
David has decided that Peter's conspiracy theories aren't to be indulged for too long but by curtailing these conversations he's cutting down on the information he needs. It is a balance of listening, thinking ahead and deciphering the past. It is a skill that is developed in simulations just as this, and it is one you can't help but admire.

Under the gaze of facilitator David Tracey it is David our student who makes the gesture that catches me by surprise. It is the difference between being on the ward and out here in suburban London. David needs to get Peter out of this environment, even it's only for a few hours, away from the addictive conspiracies and the volatile father son dynamic. Rather than a solution constructed of words David offers one made of actions. He will go with Peter himself, out there beyond the boundaries of this secure bedroom and into a world full of permutations which are ready to trip them both up. It is also a world that offers support and friendship, the first steps will be physical, taken together, while the latter ones will be navigated by Peter alone.


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