Brick Oven

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Wherever you are on this hot night,
be thankful you're not in the Waterford

This day was quite the scorcher, wasnt it? Temperatures were up in the low 30s, with humidity factored in. By now, youve thrown open all windows and doors, hoping for the faint breeze to cool down the house before bedtime.

Try to imagine, then, the plight of the patients and staff at the Waterford Hospital. It is hot in there tonight. Insufferably so.

The Hospital for Mental and Nervous Diseases, as it was named, was built in 1854 one year after Charles Dickens published Bleak House. However, it was known widely as the Lunatic Asylum. It had more in common with a prison, than a hospital.

It was not a pleasant place to be, even fifty years ago, when mental illness was still misunderstood, stigmatized and mistreated. Much has changed, of course, but the building remains. And, on a week like this, with temperatures in the 30s, it is an extremely unpleasant place to be.

It is hellish, in fact.

I have this on good authority, from an employee who visits the institution regularly, and has experienced firsthand the conditions in the older part of the building.

It is brutally hot in there, said my source, who asked not to be identified. Its a terrible environment, for staff and patients.

Few people realize that patients and staff swelter in the Waterford every summer, whenever temperatures rise, and the old building transforms into a giant brick oven.

None of the units are air conditioned, and not many windows open, my source said. Those that do, only open a few inches, due to the potential for suicide attempts. One worker said it was 41c on their floor the other day, and even at night it is wickedly hot in there. It's the only hospital where you see staff wearing shorts, which is against the dress code, but what can staff do? Its the only way they can tolerate the heat.

While the work environment is poor, conditions are far worse for patients who stay for weeks, months and even years.

It has to be awful for them. There are acute units, an elderly unit, the forensic area, units for the developmentally delayed, and more that's a lot of unfortunate patients who are affected by this. People who are already feeling bad, in a variety of ways, are only going to feel much worse.

So, tonight, when a gentle breeze enters your bedroom and cools your brow, spare a thought for the poor souls in the Waterford.

They deserve better than this.

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  • Anna
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54

    Also spare a thought for the poor folks at St. Partrick's Mercy Home. My friend's father is a patient there and she said the smell of urine is so bad they can't breathe half the time. It's a good thing we don't get weather like this often, but then one day is one too many to live like this when you have no control over your life.