There’s really only one reason: the smokers’ courtyard.
A hotbed of gossip, a conduit for information, a short-circuit by which data is transmitted between patients and across ward boundaries … if you’re not a smoker, you’re out of the loop.
“Why,” might you ask, “do smokers bear this privilege?”
Well, it’s because you’re not allowed to smoke inside an Australian hospital. That’s fine and dandy if you’re a patient or visitor at a regular hospital: you could just wander outside for a quick fag. However, if you’ve been admitted to (or have asked to be admitted to) a psych ward, there’s a mandatory “no leave” policy for at least the first 24 hours, so during that time at the very least, smokers can only smoke in one designated area.
The thinking behind this is clear: we all know smoking’s bad for us, and by corralling all the smokers in one (often unappealing) area, the hospital is doing its best to discourage the habit. And discourage they do. Ramsay, one of Australia’s largest private psychiatric service providers, has a comprehensive wellbeing programme which embraces staff and patients alike, with quit programmes supported throughout the network.
There’s just one downside to this segregation of smokers: you create an “information apartheid” system, where some people have access to far more info and goss than the others. The smokers know who was screaming at the other end of the ward last night. The smokers know why such-and-such a nurse went home early on Friday and hasn’t been seen since. The smokers know who’s on what medication, who’s going through court, who’s had a few drinks on the sly while out on day leave … and if they don’t know, they’ll quite happily make it up!*
Well, that’s what it looks like to me, an outsider, as I sit with the other non-smokers in the dining room at morning tea and we gaze benignly out the window at the huddled mass of nicotine addicts. Because I choose (or at least try!) not to actively participate in ward gossip, I’m always one of the last to know who smuggled in razors, who went “off” and was transferred to another facility, who said what about whom … but maybe I’m selling them short. Maybe they’re all out there discussing the finer points of CBT, DBT or EMDR. Maybe they’re studiously comparing Jungian and Freudian psychotherapy. Maybe they’re collaboratively completing their ‘Challenging Negative Thoughts’ homework for our next group therapy session.
But I kinda doubt it 🙂
* Word to the wise: Spreading false rumours about other patients is a very easy way to end your time in hospital early. I’ve seen it happen, and fair enough, too: we’re all here living through interesting times; there’s no need to add libel into the mix.
- New Data On Smoking During Treatment (whatmesober.com) My favourite quote from this page: “For more than half a century it has been assumed by the psychiatric community that allowing people in psych hospitals and treatment centers to smoke was a good idea. This was based on several untested assumptions — common sense, if you will — never a good idea when it comes to mental health issues, including addiction.”